MXA INTERVIEW: MALCOLM STEWART ON BEING THE REDHEADED STEPCHILD
MXA INTERVIEW: MALCOLM STEWART ON BEING THE
REDHEADED STEPCHILD TO HIS BROTHER, JAMES STEWART
BY JIM KIMBALL
MALCOLM, WHAT WAS IT LIKE GROWING UP WITH AND WATCHING YOUR OLDER BROTHER JAMES RACE? Growing up with James was cool. Obviously, he was 7 years older, so as soon as I realized what was going on, we were already racing and traveling all the time. I am always going to say the things my brother did—breaking the records and being the first African-American to win championships. I think he already really set the bar. It was a really cool time. Obviously, you have to give it up to my pops. He is the one that gave everything up for us. He took us to the level that we are today. So, it was cool. Being the little brother, I was like the redheaded stepchild growing up. I did not take racing too seriously. I was going to say that I loved it, but my heart was not in it yet. I was always talented, but I was like, “Yeah, whatever,” and then the next thing you know, I just started getting better and better—and here we are.
“BEING THE LITTLE BROTHER, I WAS LIKE THE REDHEADED STEPCHILD
GROWING UP. I DID NOT TAKE RACING TOO SERIOUSLY. ”
WERE YOU EVER RESENTFUL ABOUT JAMES HAVING THE FOCUS ON HIM? Yes, of course. But you know, without my brother, we probably would not be here, as well as with my dad. My dad is the one that set the bar for everybody, just doing everything he could, working double shifts, and that was just part of it. My mom was critical to the racing, too. Both of them sacrificed a lot for us. I think that every family goes through some sacrifices, but you know we had it hard. My brother paved the way for me, and it was a little easier. I did not have to struggle as he did. That is the benefit of my being seven years younger (laughs). There were definitely tough times that we both had to face, just with media and stuff like that, but you know that is all part of life. You live, learn and grow up. I am just so happy to be in a position where I am at now, and as maybe I said, it is all from James.
DID YOU THINK THAT YOU COULD RIDE JAMES’ COATTAILS AND JUST HAVE FUN? Yeah, of course! I was definitely enjoying my time hanging out at the races and watching my brother be successful. That was just cool in general, and for me, the only thing that really just pushed me into being who I am today. I was like, “James, one day I am going to be just like you.” Years later, here we are. I won a 250 East Championship and truly discovered the whole feeling of racing. It is one of the moments that I am proud to say I achieved. I’m thankful for the family we had and how we all pushed each other. Even though he was racing and winning championships, I was still at the track pushing him.
WHEN DID YOU DECIDE THAT YOU WANTED TO GET SERIOUS ABOUT RACING MOTOCROSS? Well, at one point my dad said, “You are going to be working 9–5.” That is when my heart decided to go all into it. That was all part of it. I just decided that I wanted to be a professional athlete. I saw my brother having all the shine, and I knew that I was talented enough to do it. I was 17 and about to turn 18, and I said, “I’m going to give it a shot.” At my first race, I qualified second for the main event, and from that point on my first rookie year changed my whole attitude. I thought to myself, “You’ve always had the talent. If you put in the work and put all your ducks in a row, you could be a champion.” Then, a couple of years later in 2016, I end up winning a championship. Now I’m trying to go after another one.
“I DON’T KNOW WHAT I AM DOING.” IT WAS ALL NEW TO ME, WHICH WAS FUNNY BECAUSE I HAD WATCHED MY BROTHER AT EVERY RACE SINCE 2002. INSTEAD, I WAS LIKE, “WHY IS IT SO DIFFERENT NOW THAT I AM RACING?”
GIVEN HOW GREAT YOUR BROTHER WAS, DID YOU FEEL THE PRESSURE TO LIVE UP TO THE EXPECTATIONS? No, I actually didn’t. James was doing his thing, and I was doing my own thing. I signed with Suzuki City, went to the first round and was like, “I don’t know what I am doing.” It was all new to me, which was funny because I had watched my brother at every race since 2002. Instead, I was like, “Why is it so different now that I am racing?” The whoops looked a lot bigger when I knew I had to hit them. This triple looks a little bigger. It is a lot easier to watch from the stands. When you are out there racing, things become different. When you are on the track, you finally get to see both sides of it. People are watching you instead of you watching those people.
YOU WERE ON THE SUZUKI CITY PRIVATEER TEAM AND THEN THE NEXT YEAR THE JDR KTM TEAM. THOSE WEREN’T EXACTLY FACTORY TEAMS. HOW WERE THE BIKES? You know, the whole JDR KTM program was really good. That team worked really hard. It was actually Nathan Ramsey who was a key guy on the team. They were from Australia, and everything was new, even the mechanics. We all started as a brand-new team. It was very fresh, and that was right when KTM started transferring over. They were changing bikes year after year after year. At that time, KTM was struggling, but nothing was terrible. Everybody put their heart and soul into it, and we worked the little bugs out. We went out there and did the best that we could, and it put me in some good results.
WHEN YOU WENT TO THE TLD HONDA TEAM, WAS THAT A STEP UP? Yes, that is true. The Troy Lee Honda team had been around for quite a while. I liked the Honda CRF250. I got better as a rider. My training was getting better. I started to figure everything out. Sometimes better surroundings are all it takes to get stuff going, on and off the bike. I got all my ducks in a row, and everything started clicking. I got some podiums, some heat-race wins, and overall things started really going. In 2013 and 2014, I went and rode my first 450 debut outdoors and got a podium out there.
WHEN YOU MOVED UP TO THE 450, YOU SEEMED TO REALLY EXCEL. Yes. People were like, “Oh, he is always going to do better on a 450.” But, you know, I was still kicking butt in the 250 class. Then, a couple years later, I didn’t have a ride. I got the call from Geico Honda to ride the Monster Cup and did well. From there, Geico Honda gave me a shot in 2015, albeit back in the 250 class. I won my first 250 race. In 2015, I had some good races, took some podiums, and won some. Then, in 2016, I won the 250 East Championship. From 2013 to 2016 were like golden years. Everything was just clicking. I was moving forward. I had a little fall back in 2017 and then had a little injury in 2018. In 2019, I broke my femur, and here we are in 2020.
WINNING THE 2016 AMA 250 EAST SUPERCROSS CHAMPIONSHIP MUST HAVE BEEN EMOTIONAL FOR YOU AND JAMES. It was very emotional just knowing that we are the only two brothers who ever did that. To win the championship that day was unbelievable. It is like the Williams sisters in tennis. It is rare to see in any sport. We know all the stuff that we have gone through off the bike, switching teams and stuff, and all the things we went through on the bike. There is a lot that goes into being an athlete in general, so when you see success like that, it just takes all the weight off your shoulders. Of course, it was a very emotional feeling, and you can see that with any rider who wins a championship. They just start crying, because they went through so much to try to win. I feel like you almost go through a midlife crisis to make that sacrifice, but when you finally stand up there and you are holding that #1 plate, it pays off.
“I GOT BETTER AS A RIDER. MY TRAINING WAS GETTING BETTER. I STARTED TO FIGURE EVERYTHING OUT. SOMETIMES BETTER SURROUNDINGS ARE ALL IT
TAKES TO GET STUFF GOING, ON AND OFF THE BIKE. I GOT ALL MY DUCKS IN A ROW, AND EVERYTHING STARTED CLICKING. ”
WHICH DID YOU PREFER, RACING A 450 OR A 250? It’s not that simple in AMA racing. Originally, you just go wherever you can find a ride. When I was on the Troy Lee team, they were able to give me a 450 for some races. When I went to Geico, I knew they were a 250 team. They won lots of championships, and it was a very good bike. I knew that when I went to the 450 class full-time that I could not go back to a 250. That is when things get a little tough. I went to MCR and showed some speed and some talent, and now I’m a full-time 450 guy.
WHY DID YOU ALWAYS SKIP THE NATIONALS? IT COULDN’T HAVE HELPED YOUR CAREER TO STAY HOME FOR FIVE MONTHS. WHAT WAS THAT ABOUT? I had a kidney disease called rhabdomyolysis; it was basically not enough fluids. That is really what it came down to, and then it really stuck with me for a little bit and really put me down. That is nothing to be playing around with, so in 2014, that was my very last outdoor race. But, I actually did an outdoor race not too long ago. I want to say two years ago I did a race in Amsterdam. But yes, we basically capitalized on avoiding situations like that. Now that I’m at Moto Concepts, they don’t do outdoors, so for me, it is a Supercross-only deal.
AFTER WINNING THE 2016 SUPERCROSS CHAMPIONSHIP, YOUR CAREER WAS ABOUT TO EXPLODE; BUT, YOU DIDN’T SHOW UP AT THE NATIONALS. WAS THAT GEICO’S DECISION OR YOURS? That was part of my contract. It was a Supercross-only deal. That was what they hired me for. At the time, Geico also hired a couple extra riders. I think we had three East Coast guys, and if somebody got hurt, they filled the slot. I think Christian Craig got hurt right off the bat and then somebody else jumped in. Geico just wanted me to win the 250 East Supercross Championship and not worry about anything else. I was all right with it, because that was kind of the way it was. So, we did not do the Nationals in 2016. It was out of my control. I was not going to go out there in my own pickup truck.
YOU MUST HAVE GOTTEN OFFERS FROM OTHER TEAMS TO RACE THE 2016 NATIONALS. No, I did not get any phone calls at all. There was a lot of talk, but that was really it. Later I went to JGR for a fill-in ride. I put in some decent results, and then I got a call from Moto Concepts and hit the reset button. Unfortunately, I ended up getting hurt, but they signed me for 2020. It was great to have a team that believed in me and signed me so early.
HOW MUCH DID YOUR 2019 GLENDALE CRASH SET YOU BACK? My 2019 Glendale crash was just a freak accident. It was just one of those things, but everyone said, “Man, he is fast. He is super fast.” Moto Concepts knew all the sacrificing I did coming out to California and staying out there. It is a lot for me, because I am a Florida boy. The team saw that, and they saw that I got a trainer, but then I got hurt, did my recovery, and stayed out there. I did all my recovery, and then went home for the summer. It was kind of like a reset button. Those guys gave me another opportunity, and I am thankful for it. I would say that these guys are awesome, and they are good people to work with.
YOUR BROTHER DIDN’T BREAK THE COLOR BARRIER. ANDY JEFFERSON DID THAT DECADES BEFORE. BUT, JAMES SET THE STANDARD. HAVE YOU TAKEN OVER THAT ROLE? Of course, right now, being the only African-American out there, I would say I’m just making dreams come true. The way I look at it, I am the only one out here doing what I am doing, and I am hoping to get more African-Americans to take my place. Actually, Jordan Bailey is doing the 250 East Coast Supercross series, so I am hoping I can pass the torch on.
WOULD YOU SAY THAT THE YOUNGER, LESS SERIOUS, FUN-LOVING BROTHER MIGHT BE THE MORE SERIOUS, HARD-WORKING BROTHER? Yes, probably. But, I must confess that years ago when we were both racing, I did not put too much work or effort into it. But, when the competition starts catching up, you have to start putting in a little bit more work. I think I just combined all of it about the same time. Now, I go out and give it 100 percent every time I am out there.
ARE YOU NOW TRULY AT A POINT WHERE YOU CAN WIN RACES? Oh, of course I am. We put ourselves in the position to go out and win races. It is not over yet. I have more races to go, so we will see. My career is not close to being over.
YOU AND JAMES ARE AT DIFFERENT POINTS IN YOUR LIVES. DOES HE STILL HELP YOU WITH YOUR RACING? Of course. We always talk about things after the race and before the race. James is very involved. He is just watching his little brother try to be successful, so we always have these talks. He may not be here, but he is watching.