Ricky Carmichael was known for his dominance in the sport. With perfect seasons in 2002 and 2004 and practically unstoppable in 2005, Carmichael looked unbeatable. However, once James Stewart got the 450 four-stroke he desperately wished for (Bubba rode a KX250 two-stroke in 2005), pit pundits predicted that there would be a changing of the guard. They seemed to know what they were talking about, as Bubba won the National opener at Hangtown in 2006. There were others in the mix, as well. Chad Reed and Kevin Windham had the pedigree to win the championship. Looking back now at the events that transpired a decade ago, it’s plain as day to see that it was a Carmichael versus Stewart battle all along. However, James couldn’t keep himself off the ground. He eventually finished fourth overall in the standings that year, while the wily Kevin Windham finished second.
Before the 2007 season Ricky Carmichael announced that it would be his last year, and an abridged season at that. Nonetheless, anticipation was high entering the 2007 AMA National series. James Stewart had won the Supercross championship and was looking to carry the momentum outdoors. Bubba fired the first shot by winning the opening moto at Hangtown, but Carmichael had the answer in moto two. Ricky raced the opening five Nationals and won every round. The only time he was beaten in a moto happened when James Stewart outpaced him. Carmichael collected his 100th AMA National victory at Budds Creek that year and was leading the standings when he stepped away following the Red Bud National. Carmichael’s abridged season put the pressure on James Stewart, who trailed RC in points but had a big lead over third.
Red Bud has been one of the most popular rounds on the AMA National circuit. Held over the 4th of July weekend and supported by a raucous group of midwesterners, Red Bud is as much a party as it is a race. The excitement typically spill over into the pits and, not surprisingly, the track. That effectively describes the second 450 moto at Red Bud in 2007. Ricky Carmichael and James Stewart had a battle for the ages, with the young Stewart trying to pull away from the veteran. Bubba stretched the gap, only for Carmichael to reel him in. With 3-1/2 laps to go, Stewart charged into a tricky right-hand corner. Taking the far inside line to protect his lead, James leaned over too far and caught his front brake on a hay bale. His momentum kept him moving forward, even though his front brake was locked. Bubba went over the bars, while Ricky Carmichael wheelied over the ruts, moving inside to outside, and passing Stewart for the moto win and overall. That moment epitomizes the difference between James Stewart and Ricky Carmichael. Stewart was often the fastest, but Carmichael executed every race with the precision of a surgeon.