In his first competitive outing in a year, James Stewart repeats as the Red Bull Straight Rhythm Champion, while brother Malcolm tops the 250cc class.
Story and Photos by Steve Cox
Yoshimura Suzuki’s James Stewart spent the entire 2015 AMA motocross and supercross racing seasons sitting at home in Florida due to a penalty for failing to inform WADA (World Anti-Doping Association) that he was taking a prescription for medication to treat his ADHD. While he was home, his biggest rivals were out putting in motos, winning races, and winning titles. Once his appeal was officially denied in April of 2015, Stewart did what he always does; he committed. Except this time the commitment was to relaxation.
His suspension officially ended in August of this year, yet Stewart decided not to rush back into competition. His first race back would be the 2015 Red Bull Straight Rhythm at the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona. California, an event in which he was the defending champion. Meanwhile his brother Malcolm–who finished third behind winner James and runner-up Justin Brayton at the inaugural Straight Rhythm a year ago–signed up for the 250cc class on his GEICO Honda.
Apparently, the time off did Stewart some good, as he laid waste to the competition yet again to claim a second consecutive Red Bull Straight Rhythm title today, capping one half of a Stewart family double, as Malcolm was just as dominant on his way to the 250cc Straight Rhythm win.
James Stewart was noticeably rusty during qualifying on Friday. Although he still managed to qualify third overall behind fellow Red Bull athletes Ken Roczen (RCH Soaring Eagle/Jimmy John’s Suzuki) and Ryan Dungey (Red Bull KTM), he was fully seven-tenths of a second behind them. That may not seem like a lot until you realize an entire lap only takes about 40 seconds. Even so, Stewart was hardly worked up about it afterward.
“I’m just going to take it as a process,” Stewart said after Friday qualifying. “I can’t rush it. I have to take it as it comes.”
Stewart appeared to be much smoother on Saturday, as he made quick work of Suzuki privateer Nick Schmidt in round one, then had a little more trouble with Monster Energy/Shift Racing’s Josh Hansen in round two, although he beat both riders, taking two straight in the best of three pairings in each round—to advance.
Things got really tough in in the semi-final, though, as Stewart matched up against defending AMA 450cc Supercross and Motocross champion Dungey. Stewart led their first race until just a few jumps before the finish, when Dungey was able to carry more speed through a rhythm section to become the first rider to beat Stewart all day. Malcolm Stewart, who witnessed the race, gave older brother James a pep talk between runs.
“After Dungey beat him, I told him, ‘You are not letting Dungey beat you,’” Malcolm said. “And he didn’t.”
Stewart struck back at Dungey in their second race, then beat Dungey again in their third and final match-up. Dungey was relegated to the Bronze Medal race, where he ended up defeating BTOSports.com KTM’s Justin Brayton.
In the final, Stewart faced off against the very capable Roczen. Stewart made up a lot of time through the whoops (a strength for him all day long) in their first race and just nipped Roczen at the finish line, defeating him by less than a bike length in the right lane.
“I actually was faster in the left lane all day, so once I beat him on the right, I figured I could end it in the lane I liked more,” Stewart said.
The two switched lanes, and Stewart immediately began pulling away from Roczen, who made a costly error and jumped across the center line, then pulled out of the race. Stewart took the win, completing the Stewart brothers’ sweep.
The win leaves James Stewart undefeated at the Straight Rhythm, and he heads to next weekend’s Monster Energy Cup in Las Vegas with a lot more confidence than possibly even he expected.
“With all my time off, I didn’t know what to expect, but it definitely makes me feel better to know that at least I haven’t lost my speed,” Stewart said. “There are some things I definitely still have to work on, but my goal is to get to Anaheim in January healthy and ready to go after the championship. This was just a bonus.”