“The Next Big Thing”
Interview with James Stewart
Story & Photos by Eddie Graveline
After seeing him in Fox’s Terrafirma videos and reading about him in Loretta Lynn’s reports for years, James “Bubba” Stewart is finally a professional Supercross rider. The fact that he is the first African American to achieve the kind of success that he has in motocross is huge in itself. Even without that angle, though, his talent is enough to make waves all by itself. James Stewart is fast, really fast. I first saw him ride an 80 at the U.S. Open three years ago. Even then, he was so much faster than his contemporaries. Coming into the 2002 season, it was no secret that “Bubba” was the cream of the rookie crop. From the moment that the gate dropped in the very first heat race of the season, Stewart has been backing that hype up with blazing speed. While there’s not really any question that he’s the fastest guy in the 125 West, he’s crashed himself out of wins a couple of times already. I had the chance to talk with James in San Diego, where he won his first Supercross and became the youngest rider to ever do so.
Q: James, you’ve made it. After all the years as an amateur, racing all over the country, you’re finally a Pro. This is what you’ve been working for since you were a little kid. How do you feel now that it’s actually happening?
A: “It’s an awesome feeling being able to ride for such a great team like Kawasaki. Being out here with all of the people and all of the interviews is awesome. I think my bike’s working awesome and if I just keep my head together, I can do real good out here.”
Q: Are you already just getting bombed with media and fan attention?
A: “Yeah, it’s cool. Back when I was an amateur, I had a little bit, but now it’s like double time. There are so many people out here and being around the whole scene is just awesome.”
Q: You’ve been with Kawasaki since you were on a 60. It must have been the most natural thing to start your Pro career with them.
A: “Yeah, I mean, Team Green and Kawasaki have been behind me the whole way. I think I’ve been riding for them for about eight years now, over half of my life. They’ve been behind me the whole way and I thought it would be best if I just stayed with them for my first couple of years and see what happens.”
Q: How do you like working with J-Bone (his mechanic, Jeremy Albrecht)?
A: “J-Bone’s awesome. I love that guy. He’s so cool. He takes working on the bike and being a mechanic seriously, but he likes to hang out and make jokes. It’s just been real good. We get along good.”
Q: Being from Florida, do you plan to stay in California a lot or do you want to train at home and do your own thing like Ricky Carmichael does?
A: “Now I have a trainer here, so we can do our program anywhere. It’s not bad for me to stay out here. I’m going to be out here for a month, for the first five races. It doesn’t bother me now. I like California, it’s cool.”
Q: There was no question that you were planning for a career as a professional rider. Now that you’ve made it, has anything caught you off guard?
A: “No, not really. I’ve been to Supercrosses and I knew what to expect. I know how it is with all of the fans and stuff. Probably the only thing that caught me off guard was how good my bike is. My Pro Circuit bike was good before, but this bike is setup more for me and it just makes it a lot better. The media hasn’t caught me off guard and the riders haven’t caught me off guard. I’ve been prepared for this for a while. I think I came well prepared.”
Q: There’s been a lot of hype surrounding your rookie season. Have you detected any animosity from any of the other riders about you getting so much more attention than them?
A: “I don’t know. I say hi to those guys, but I don’t talk to them a lot. I’m usually always doing my own thing and always doing interviews and stuff. I don’t know, I guess you’ll have to ask them.”
Q: Man, I have to ask you about your pink gear! Was that Fox’s idea, or do you really like that stuff?
A: “I like this stuff. You all can think whatever (he’s laughing). I think it’s different and it sticks out. I think Fox did a real good job with it. It was actually my idea last year and we’ve been working on it for a while. I think it’s awesome.”
Q: James, I get the feeling that you’re not interested in laying low and staying below the radar, so to speak. You want to make a statement and establish yourself right away, don’t you?
A: “Yeah, I mean, I want to be known as a really good rider. Pretty much, I just want to go out there and have fun throughout my races. I think my riding ability and being around all of the fans and stuff should help me out a lot.”
Q: Speaking of your riding ability, we’ve already seen enough to know that you’re very fast on a Supercross track. What’s it going to take for you to keep it on two wheels and start winning?
A: “It was kind of like a freak accident. I had a lot of bad luck last week (in round 1) and went down in the first corner. It was awesome because I know how I can ride. I can ride that pace all night without getting tired or being out of control. Even when I was coming through the pack, I wasn’t out of control. Running into a couple of riders and trying to get around everybody just kind of screwed me up. I think if I just take my time and have fun out there, I should be able to keep it up.”
Q: I know you’re probably getting asked this kind of question a lot now, but you’re the first African American to do what you’ve done in this sport. Is that significant to you? Do you feel that any kind of added responsibility comes with that?
A: “No, I mean it’s cool and everything, and I’m glad I’m the first African American to do it. I just go out there and race, because I think we all look the same under a helmet. Kawasaki’s been keeping all of the pressure off of me with the fans and the media. It’s not too much different.”
Q: Do you think that your success will influence more African American kids to get involved with motocross?
A: “I hope so. I mean, Englishtown, New Jersey is awesome. I like going there and seeing all of the different people. I hope all of the young kids come up and see what I do and take an interest in this sport. It’s so much fun.”
Q: Ken Griffey Jr. is a friend of yours and his kids are getting started pretty early, aren’t they?
A: “Ken and his kids have been riding a lot. They come out to our house about three times a week to ride. I would like to see that happen, even for them to just go to the races and ride. We’ll see.”
Q: Does Ken ride a lot himself?
A: “Yeah, Ken’s pretty decent.”
Q: Yeah, he’s not too bad of an athlete.
A: “Oh, no. He’s an awesome baseball player. He’s so much better when he’s riding than I am with a bat. It’s a night and day difference. He’s a good rider. He’s fun to hang out with. The Larkins (Barry and family) and all of those guys are awesome too.”
Q: Have you set goals and decided what you’ll be happy or unhappy with in the Supercross series as far as results?
A: “I think I can win. I’ve got the speed and everything. The other riders are really good, but I want to win this season to get my confidence up. I’ll do real good in the outdoors too. Hopefully I can win that too. Pretty much, my goals are to just win a lot of races and win the championship.”
Q: A lot of people are saying that you’ll be a good Supercross rider, but look out when the Nationals start because you’ll be a threat as a rookie.
A: “I’m good in the outdoors too. I’ve been riding outdoors all of my life. I’m really good in Supercross too, though. I think I’ve got a good combination.”
Q: Well, we’re really excited to finally have you in the pro ranks. Good luck this season and keep it on two wheels.
A: “I would like to thank my Mom and Dad for helping me out, Kawasaki, my mechanic, Jeremy Albrecht and all of the fans out there. Thanks a lot.”