Supercross: Stewart’s the leader, on and off track

He seems so much more mature now. He has always seemed relaxed, if not always comfortable, but that’s because he’s been doing this since he was a kid. Now there’s a confidence when he speaks, an understanding of his words, a destination when James Stewart talks.

Tiger Woods? “When you’re worth a billion dollars and you’re the face of a sport, the things you do, good or bad, are scrutinized,” says the 24-year-old from Haines City, Fla.

NASCAR? “I want to be on a good team, go out and try to do something besides, ‘Hey, I’m black and I’m in NASCAR.’ I want to try to go out and try to win.”

Championships? “You always want the best person to win. You want the guy or the team that won the most games to be the best and win. One thing, I won’t fall into a championship. I’ll earn my championship.”

He is one of the most exciting riders in Supercross/Motocross history. In all of sports, there may not be anything so thrilling as to watch Stewart crash on his bike while dashing for the first-corner lead, restart, then begin picking off an entire field of professional riders until he reaches first place. It happens. He is amazing and predictable because he will crash. It’s who he is.

It’s not for lack of skill. It’s for lack of not wanting to finish second. He just wants to win every time he races, and let the big picture take care of itself. It’s a style that is as dangerous as it is rewarding.

Like last year while riding for a new team, L&M Racing, that had just won the championship with rival Chad Reed. The season opened at Anaheim with Reed’s Suzuki running up on Stewart’s Yamaha and causing the two to crash six laps in. It was a racing deal, but Reed went on to finish third in the race. Stewart’s bike suffered a knockout and he finished19th out of 20 riders. In a 17-race season, Stewart had to make up 18 points on Reed, which is no small feat the way he and Reed – the 2008 champion – dominate the competition. But Stewart won the next seven races. Then he crashed three of the next four races and faced an 11-point deficit with five races to go.

He won three of them.

The kid understands drama. His 11 victories provided him the most gratifying season of his life. “When the pressure was on,” Stewart says, “I was the one who prevailed and got it done.”

It is no surprise that he will be the subject of a reality TV show, “Bubba’s World,” on Fuel TV – a network dedicated to action sports – that premiers in March. He may be from Florida, but Stewart has Hollywood written all over him. He is marketing gold, whether it’s a motocross-driven sponsor like Alpine Star, or a more mainstream one like Nike.

He might not have accepted the offer to have cameras follow him around if he weren’t at the top of his sport, but since he has emerged as a leader – as one who recognizes his role – he said go for it. The collateral tugs of being a star can be difficult, but are necessary. “I’ve matured and grown up as a racer and being a leader in the sport,” Stewart says. “Two years ago, I couldn’t handle this role.”

But now, he’s the man, a 36-time winner and four-time champion who carries the No. 1 plate and wears it like the badge of honor that it is.

And Stewart wants to keep it. He thinks he has five more dominant years left in his career. Then, he wants to become a team owner. He wants to hang out at the track and watch his riders win races. “I want to be an owner in this sport and be involved,” Stewart says.

By then, he will be 30, and if he still wants to compete and not take the constant jarring that afflicts so many riders by shaking their insides like a paint can, he can follow the footsteps of Ricky Carmichael and head to NASCAR. He has plenty of crossover appeal.

“When I start losing, then I’ll go over there real quick,” Stewart says, a smile breaking across his face. “It’s hard to walk way from something you can be dominant at. Even when Ricky went over there, I think it was to the point where he felt like ‘All right, that time is getting close to where guys are gonna step up.’”

And the guy who was going to step up was Stewart.

“I wouldn’t want to go and just be a part of it, I want to do it right,” Stewart says of stock car racing. “Obviously, winning races here is a lot easier than winning NASCAR races.

“Right now, how could I leave something I’m so good at?”

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One Response to “Supercross: Stewart’s the leader, on and off track”

  1. Hollywood’s written all over him! NICE post!

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