Having gone through injuries and other setbacks, James Stewart came to a point when he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue to race motorcycles.
The sport had gone from becoming fun to one that was more like the grind of a 9-to-5 job.
He knew a change was needed, and so when he crashed in a race in Houston in 2012, he also took the opportunity to leave Joe Gibbs Racing.
That led to joining Yoshimura Suzuki Racing Team.
“Nothing was working,” Stewart said. “I was like, ‘I’m going to get hurt like this.’ I walked away peacefully from JGR and got an opportunity to race with a new team. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be racing right now.”
Now only injuries can keep Stewart off the bike, and unfortunately for him, he hasn’t been able to avoid them.
A wrist injury forced Stewart to miss the final three races of the AMA Supercross 2013 season, causing him to finish 10th in the standings.
But this time Stewart didn’t consider walking away once adversity struck. He came back even stronger, and this season the 28-year-old won five races entering Saturday’s AMA Supercross season finale at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Stewart, who had the top qualifying time Saturday, was third in the standings entering the late-evening event, with a chance to move ahead of Ryan Dungey into second.
“I felt like I could’ve won a championship this year,” Stewart said. “I had a couple of races where some weird things happened, and I dug myself out of the points hole.”
Stewart crashed in consecutive in races at Atlanta, Indianapolis and Daytona Beach, Fla., that cost him any realistic shot at catching eventual series winner Ryan Villopoto. In those three races, Stewart totaled 27 points compared with 65 each for Villopoto and Dungey.
He entered Saturday’s race 11 points behind Dungey and 72 in back of Villopoto.
Stewart, though, is a trailblazer, the first African-American to win a major motor sports championship. He won a record 11 AMA amateur national championships before turning 16.
Then after going pro in 2002, Stewart, who is from Haines City, Fla., raced well enough to become Rookie of the Year.
Two years later, Stewart won the AMA 125 East Supercross championship and the AMA 125 Motocross national title, and in 2008 he became the second rider to win all 24 AMA Motocross races in a season.
He broke through at Supercross’ highest level in 2007 and won the season title, then followed that with another championship two years later.
But if Stewart’s career has been marked by success and breaking through, it also has been marred by injuries that have cut into his potential. He was forced to miss the 2008 season and most of 2010, and had his injury problems at the end of last season.
Maybe this season will get Stewart back on track, though he came to Las Vegas with an injured knee. It wasn’t enough to keep him out of competition, however, and he said he also will be able to compete in the AMA Motocross season, which begins May 18 in Sacramento, Calif.
His contract is open-ended, and Stewart is having fun and doesn’t see any reason to begin thinking about retirement.
“For almost three years now, barely winning races to being hurt and almost (having to) reinvent myself and come back and race the best and beat the best,” Stewart said, “I feel like I can build off that.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.