Heading into the 2006 AMP’d Mobile AMA Supercross Series opener at Angel Stadium, Team Kawasaki’s James Stewart appears to be a man with redefined priorities.
Speaking at the Anaheim I press conference at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, this afternoon, the 20-year-old Floridian appeared to take a much different approach toward his personal goals and his outlook on the season. Stewart appeared to be an outwardly very humble man, a vast change from the 19-year-old boy who, when asked in 2005 if he would be looking forward to just racing with his peers in the 250cc class after racing all alone out front in the 125cc class, replied, “Well, if that’s how you think it’s going to go.”
That Stewart appears to be gone - and good riddance. In his place seems to be an updated version who is confident but by no means cocky.
“It’s going to be a long season,” Stewart said. “I actually see this race as the third race, not the first one. If I get a bad start, I’m just going to try to finish the best that I can. This is [AMA Supercross Series] is a 16-race series and not a one-race shootout. I think that’s how I looked at it last year, I was just trying to win every single race, but this year I’m just trying to win the race at Vegas and trying to win the title.”
Stewart has a right to be confident. After dominating both Canadian rounds of the AMP’d Mobile World Supercross GP, he comes to the Anaheim AMA opener in search of his fourth career Supercross win - and his first at Anaheim - with a lot of his homework done. There may be no need to makes apologies for poor performances this time around.
“It was great to go up there and race in the World rounds,” Stewart said. “After the season that I had in ’05, it was helpful for me as far as my confidence and getting back, knowing that I was strong and still knowing that I could win. You know, me and my dad just went back and have really been working hard, and it has just been great. I’m really more motivated for myself. I’m not out here to prove anything to anybody. I know that I have the talent to do it, but it’s just [about] putting all the pieces of the puzzle together and getting it done. I think that’s the main thing I really worked on this year, was to make sure that I was ready to go for the whole season.”
That’s something Stewart had a tough time doing in 2005, as injuries and setbacks plagued him and, arguably, the crushing pressure of the hype and expecations surrounding his debut in the 250cc class, affected his mental approach. Stewart feels that he is more ready to deal with it now.
“The pressure is always there,” Stewart said. “You know, some people say that I didn’t succeed in my goals last year, and I feel the same thing - I didn’t,” Stewart said. “But the pressure is always there. I mean, you win two races and people are talking about going undefeated. I just want to stay consistent and be on the box every weekend. I think that I should be able to make that happen.”
Stewart said that he looks forward to the kind of season-long battle with reigning World and AMA Supercross Champion Ricky Carmichael that the two were expected to have in 2005. The two were always just off each other’s radar screens in their amateur days.
“I always seemed to be a step behind because I was always a little younger,” Stewart said. “It seemed like it was Ricky, Travis [Pastrana], and then me. It just seemed like every time I would move up, he would move on. He started racing pro in ’96, and I was still on ‘60s back in ’96. We met last year, and now we get a chance to meet again, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
In order to beat Carmichael, Stewart will be employing the same approach that netted his rival four AMA Supercross Championships, and the same one that Carmichael hopes to use against Stewart.
“My goal is to stay consistent,” Stewart said. “Of course, all of us up here want to win the championship, but my main goal is to stay consistent and stay healthy, and I feel that if I can do that, I should have a good chance of winning. I’m really taking racing seriously this year. That right there is a new beginning for me.”
The proof will come on Saturday night at Anaheim and in each successive round of the AMP’d Mobile AMA Supercross Series, in which Stewart refuses to repeat the ignore the history of 2005, so as not to be condemned to repeat them.
“If I continued what I had last year, it would be short career,” Stewart said. “I definitely learned a lot from ’05, the things I did, and some of the races I won and some of the races I lost. Hopefully it should make me a better rider and have a longer career, and it’ll be good.”