To marvel at James ‘Bubba’ Stewart in action is to behold a man totally in his element. But how big of a wonder should it really be that the 24-year-old motocross king would seem such a natural?
As the first African-American to ascend to superstar status in his sport, at times Stewart may seem a force of one, but his evolutionary rise has been a project long in the making.
Just hours after his birth, his father, James Sr., took him for his first motorcycle ride, and within three years of that, James Jr. was treading about town on his own dirt bike. By the age four, young James entered his first race, and by the time he reached seven, he had blazed a trail to his first sponsorship.
With that, James Sr. shrewdly purchased 40 acres of land in Haines City, Fla. Father and son soon began endlessly running laps on the track they built there, ultimately devising a nouveau race style that miraculously shaved seconds upon seconds off the son’s all-important qualifying times.
And the payoff for all that labor has become legendary. By the time he was 18, Teen People tabbed James Jr. one of “20 Teens Who Will Change The World.” And indeed prophesy has come to life in a career that has bore Stewart 11 American Motorcyclist Amateur titles, 2002 Rookie of the Year honors and countless other AMA national championships and awards.
But perhaps more than any of that, it’s the style, personality and grace with which Stewart has made his move in outdistancing the legendary Ricky Carmichael as the new, distinctive face of motocross that’s helped make Stewart’s rise so easy to bear among the masses.
Somehow, someway, the man feted by many as “the Tiger Woods of Supercross” has mastered the art of dominating without being domineering. Consider how Stewart came to wear the somewhat unorthodox uniform number 259.
In 1993, a then up-and-coming fellow African-American rider named Tony Haynes suffered an injury during practice that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Not only was James Stewart shaken by the tragedy that befell the then-8-year-old budding star, he was moved by it.
After speaking with Haynes, he asked if he could sport his number in honor, all the while assuring, “I’m going to take this to the top.”
It seems promises made are promises kept for James Stewart.