The Fastest Man On the Planet: Part Four of a James Stewart Retrospectiveby Jack Gaffney August 13, 2021 2 comments
When we last left James Stewart in the summer of 2012, he had just made the switch to Yoshimura Suzuki on the heels of a nasty breakup with JGR Yamaha. Heading into 2013, he would begin what was ultimately the final stretch of his storied career, while also entering the gear game with the Seven Brand. That is where the finale of this four-part series begins, at long last.
Before 2013, Stewart had previously been running kits from Fox and Answer over the years. Entering 2013, however, he made the call to start up his own gear company. It was simply named Seven, after the number that he had run since 2006. The endgame was to try and do something different than what most gear companies were doing. Overall, they have done a good job meeting that goal, as of these last few years they have done an excellent job mixing simplicity with uniqueness. They even partnered with Ethika this year to bring some Los Angeles Lakers-inspired gear to life.
On the innovation front, Seven began to offer kits with a compression undershirt, as you can see above. This also allows for some unique combinations of over and under-jerseys. No major gear provider save for Seven appears to offer this as an option. As far as riders who have sported Seven gear, both James and Malcolm Stewart of course are the most notable. In the past, riders such as Jake Weimer and Tyler Bowers have as well. That’s not even mentioning arguably the most notable Freestyle Motocross rider in the world today in Axell Hodges, before he split earlier this year.
Stewart entered into what was his first full-time year as a member of Suzuki’s RM-Army. Unfortunately, this would be a far cry from some of his Supercross tilts in the past. He opened up the year at Anaheim tearing his ACL in practice. Stewart made the call to tough it out as opposed to going under the knife here but started 2013 with zero top five Main Event results. Including a 12th and 19th at Anaheim 2 and Oakland. Outside of a dead last result at Dallas, his next five-race stretch went pretty well. Stewart scored a win at Atlanta, a second at St. Louis, and a pair of fourths at the third round in Anaheim, as well as in San Diego.
That Atlanta win ended up being his only of 2013 however. After another strong three-race run afterward, Stewart would score finishes of 18th and 19th at Houston and Minneapolis, which would be his last after opting to sit out the final rounds of the season. Despite missing the final three rounds of Supercross, Stewart still finished 10th in the points that year, with Ryan Villopoto winning his third straight title.
By taking the last three rounds of Supercross off, Stewart gave himself a month break before the 2013 outdoor tilt. Even with some bumps in the road, it was a solid campaign for Stewart. He scored four Overall podiums including a win at Millville. On top of a commendable 11th Overall outing at Unadilla after a mid-week practice crash as season highlights.
What ultimately did him in in the title chase firstly, was a three-national stretch of 19th, 12th, and 10th place outings at the midway point. Then later having to pull out of the Utah National in the opening moto, scoring zero points on the day, ending his season one round early. Although a fifth-place points finish was a great result, Stewart left 100 points on the board and could have finished fourth over Trey Canard.
Despite a subpar season by his standards, Stewart ended up having a notable offseason. He first participated in the first unofficial Red Bull Straight Rhythm event with a slew of other Red Bull-sponsored riders.
Later on in October, he would take part in his first-ever Monster Energy Cup event in Las Vegas. He had opted to skip the first two runnings of the All-Star event of sorts but came in guns blazing for the third-ever running. Either a $1,000,000 or $100,000 payday was up for grabs so he absolutely had to bring his A-game. His night would not start off great, he would finish eighth in the opening 10 lap sprint. His second race would go much better, He would outduel Villopoto before he crashed out of the race and ended his night early. Stewart then proceeded to win this second sprint,
With a number of riders with up and down results in the opening pair of races, the $100,000 prize was wide open. Stewart was in the thick of it with Ryan Dungey and a quartet of young riders in Ken Roczen, Justin Barcia, Marvin Musquin, and Eli Tomac. Roczen would holeshot the final sprint, but Stewart tracked him down and passed him in short order, en route to his first and only Monster Energy Cup win.
Coming off of a Monster Cup win, Stewart had a ton of momentum entering into 2014’s Supercross opener in Anaheim. After a second place in his heat race, he felt poised to do one spot better in that evening’s Main Event. Despite being buried on the start, Stewart managed to storm up to fourth place at the halfway point. Then with five laps to go, he had made it all the way up to first place Roczen, who was making his official 450 debut this night. Stewart had all the momentum in his favor here with five laps left but threw it all away in the whoops. What could have been a statement win to open up 2014, turned into a dismal 17th on the night. As Roczen took home career win number one with Red Bull KTM.
The good news was that Stewart was not seriously injured, and the best was yet to come for him. He went on to podium in five of the next six Main Events. While winning a pair of those at San Diego and Dallas. Seven rounds into the season, Stewart found himself right in the title hunt, 14 points back of points leader Villopoto and three back of second-placed Roczen. His momentum would however stall for a brief period, having a triad of dismal outings at Atlanta and Indianapolis. Followed up by a seventh at Daytona which did not help matters. Then Stewart went on a three-week heater and made some history in the process.
Road to 50
His most recent win at Dallas was the 47th of his career, putting him third all-time behind Ricky Carmicheal and Jeremy McGrath. The week after Daytona, he tied Carmicheal for second all-time with 48 wins in Detroit, holding off Villopoto. That next week in Toronto, he passed Carmicheal for sole possession of second on the all-time wins list. Doing so with what was arguably the best run of his entire career. Which is probably better to see than tell you.i
Finally, a week after in St Louis, Stewart took his 50th and final career Supercross win. Putting him with McGrath as the only two Supercross riders to ever reach the 50 win plateau. Unfortunately, Stewart was still nearly 40 points back of Villopoto for the title and Stewart never recovered. He ended up fourth at season’s end behind Villopoto, Dungey, and Roczen. He would also never again crack a top ten finish in Supercross after his second-place outing in Seattle. More on that later.
Motocross and Offseason
Stewart would open the outdoor tilt in 2014 in excellent fashion. Picking up results of fourth, second, and first in the opening three rounds. Despite an eighth at round four, he was still title contention, but his season was about to be cut short. After Stewart finished seventh in an opening Moto at Millville, he let his team know he was feeling dizzy afterward. This would not only end his day but the season as well. What could have been a top-three points finish ended up being a ninth-place finish.
Stewart would end up skipping the 2014 Monster Energy Cup but would run in the Red Bull Straight Rhythm event. Not only did he participate, but he won that year’s open class. Beating Justin Brayton in the finals 2-0 in a best of three set. After that, this is where the beginning of the end of Stewart’s career begins.
The 2015 Supercross season had as hype as any in recent memory. With Villopoto off to MXGP after four straight titles, Supercross was as wide open as it had been in years. Stewart was among the presumptive title favorites, of course, coming off a five-win campaign in 2014. But he would never see a gate drop. On December 17th, 2014, Stewart was given a 16-month suspension from the FIM and WADA via a failed drug test. The test in question was during Seattle Supercross in April of that year and the suspension was retroactive to that test. The banned substance that came up was amphetamine, an ingredient in Adderall, which Stewart had been medically prescribed with for years.
According to Stewart in a 2019 sitdown, the suspension essentially came down to not filling out paperwork. Which does check out with a therapeutic use exemption. On top of that, Stewart also claimed the FIM wanted to further increase his suspension. That ended up not being the case, fortunately, but this knocked Stewart out for all of 2015. Stewart in that sitdown video also was quoted as saying the following.
“That suspension basically…ruined the rest my career or any kind of comeback…One, I’m not a cheater, and the people who suspended me know im not a cheater…I dont understand if you try to appeal something, and say ‘I’m not that way’, how can you get mad at me and say ‘We’re going to add more months’ if I try to say that I’m innocent?”
Knowing now that spending all this money [on the appeal attempt], that it didnt matter. It was just a waste of time. I was going to get suspended the whole time…But rules are rules and at the end of the day the only one who was at fault was me.”
Stewart also went on to say a ton of personnel from riders, to team managers, and so on, showed a ton of support and knew he was not a cheater. A couple of other notable crooked suspensions to the aforementioned Tickle and Christain Craig happened in the years following. Fortunately, what happened to those three hopefully is a thing of the past. As of this summer Supercross is no longer an FIM World Championship, and by default, is no longer required to use WADA as a doping agency.
Back to Stewart however, his appeal was denied in April of 2015. That being a year after the failed test, and four months after the suspension. A year where he could have further added to his legacy wiped out, all over Adderall. Although this was not the official end to Stewart’s career, we would never see him at his peak ever again.
Stewart’s return was of course a big headline entering into the 2016 season. With Dungey and Roczen cementing themselves at the top of the food chain a year prior, Stewart had his chance to budge in. His start seemed promising at Anaheim, qualifying third and then finishing third in his first heat race of the season. In that evening’s Main Event, he eeked out the holeshot by inches over Barcia but settled in behind him after a couple of corners. Entering the second lap the two were in a battle with Jason Anderson for the lead with Dungey, the reigning champion, in tow. Then came the final corner of the lap (3:14-6:00).
If the suspension a year ago wasn’t the death knell of Stewart’s career then this crash absolutely was. This freak accident with Dungey cost Stewart a couple of weeks with a concussion, but when he came back at Oakland, he simply wasn’t himself. He only raced four rounds total on the year, In the third of those rounds, he cost the aforementioned Musquin what would have been his first career win in Atlanta as a lapped rider on the last lap of the race. His final ever round of Supercross would be a dead last at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara California. Stewart would be present for his brother Malcolm winning that year’s 250 East Championship in Las Vegas, however.
Motocross and Failed 2017 Plans
Stewart made the trek for three rounds of the great outdoors in 2016, but injuries once again persisted. On the second lap of the opening Moto of the season, Stewart would overshoot the final corner of the track big time, and crashed hard off track. This would result in a 40-40 day and knocked him out once again for two months. He then came back for what were the final two starts as a professional Motocross rider at Millville and Washougal in July. After scoring a pair of 15th overalls with sub-top 30 Moto 2’s at both Nationals, Stewart never raced professionally again.
Stewart was out of a ride entering 2017 and was not present at Anaheim to start out the Supercross year. Which loomed large on the season-opening festivities. Rumors persisted of a startup team for Stewart, one specifically where he would come back at Daytona that year, but we never saw him.
Save for an annual ride day event that he holds at his compound in Florida, Stewart essentially dropped off the face of the earth from 2017-mid 2019. You likely had better odds to win the mega millions in consecutive years than you had at finding him during this period. It is not often to see an athlete of Stewart’s caliber simply vanish from the public eye in the fashion that he did. It got to the point where a pair of heroes in Adam Cianciarulo and Steve Matthes did some of the top investigative work of our time to find him. Attempting to do so, unsuccessfully, in August of 2018 in a two-part YouTube series.
Ironically enough, the first major “Stew Finding” happened right before the second video aired. Hodges in an Instagram story had a clip of the two meeting up at a Seven event in California. A few more sightings would happen sporadically in the months following, but nothing major per se.
Around late April of 2019, Stewart came out of nowhere with the announcement of a multi-part interview series. Which became appointment viewing for fans in the three weeks they were released. Stewart delved into close to everything on his career in these long sitdowns. His 250 days, split from Kawasaki, Bubba’s World, the suspension, pretty much everything. At the end of the third and final part, he came out and said what most people had already known by then, saying that he was retired. Not a shock since it closing in on three years since he raced, but we finally heard it come from the source.
So what is Stewart doing in the year 2021 you may ask? First and most importantly, he is a dad now to two children that are still relatively young. Stewart also just this year made the call to offer his services as a trainer, taking Chase Sexton and Cianciarulo under his wing. Both riders have been practicing at his compound for quite some time now.
The Seven brand also keeps him busy, especially with their 2022 catalog likely to drop relatively soon.
The Finish Line
When you talk about some of the biggest groundbreakers in sports history, Jackie Robinson and Tiger Woods are names that immediately come to mind. Guys that came into predominately (100 percent in Robinson’s case) white sports and became all-time greats while breaking racial barriers in the process. That is exactly what Stewart was to Motocross, one of the most dominant motorsports athletes of the last quarter-century. He obliterated racial barriers in motocross along the way. While there still are not many African American riders, guys like his brother Malcolm, and up and coming 250 rider Jalek Swoll look to carry on his legacy.
Stewart was not called “The Tiger Woods of Motocross” by mistake, he was that good and then some. His style has, is, and will continue to influence up-and-coming riders for generations to come. The best way to really describe Stewart ironically comes from one of the worst sports takes ever. One Max Kellerman pounding the table that Aaron Rodgers is not better than Tom Brady, but he is more talented. As moronic as that is, replace Rodgers with Stewart, and Brady with Carmicheal and that analogy is spot on. Even by Carmichael’s own admission, Stewart is the most talented rider he has ever seen. Most fans would also agree with that sentiment.
By all accounts, Stewart is the “Fastest Man on the Planet”. Then, now, and forever.
Follow Jack Gaffney on Twitter @JackGaffneyPTST
Main Image Credit: Ultimate Motorcycling