So what’s up with James “Bubba” Stewart?
The multi-time American motocross, supercross champion and winning Motocross of Nations winning team rider has just signed up to race with Joe Gibbs Racing, the same Yamaha outfit that New Zealand MX1 champion Cody Cooper raced for in 2008.
And then he’s talking about racing Nascars.
“My No.1 focus is getting to 73 (supercross) wins and after that, we can hit (NASCAR) full force,” said the 25-year-old.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s motorcycle team wants to complete a five-year transformation from a fledgling dream to a championship-calibre operation. Motocross superstar Stewart wants to be great in another discipline of motor sports.
“It’s a perfect fit,” said Stewart, who ranks third on the AMA supercross all-time list with 42 wins. “I thought there’d be a good chance to take everything to the next level with their program and my program. When (team owner Joe Gibbs) told me, ‘We feel we can do just as much for you as you can for us,’ I was sold. That was the relationship I wanted: Someone who wanted me as bad as I wanted to be here.”
In signing a multi-year deal with JGRMX, Stewart is expected to race full time on a bike for at least the next three seasons, but he will begin dabbling immediately in stock cars. A test in a Late Model car is scheduled in a few weeks, and he hopes to squeeze in races in the K&N and Nationwide Series (feeder circuits to Sprint Cup, NASCAR’s premier series) as early as next season.
Stewart’s eventual transition from motorcycle racing to NASCAR might give a jolt of attention to a sport that actively craves a more diverse driver line-up. A charismatic black man in a mostly white mans’ sport, Stewart has starred in a reality TV show and has been among the few transcendent riders in supercross.
The short-term priority, though, will remain motocross for Stewart, who is coming off two disappointing seasons that were marred by injuries. He stills wants to win Supercross and AMA Outdoor championships in the same season and break Jeremy McGrath’s record 72 supercross wins.
“My No. 1 focus is get to 73 wins and after that we can hit (NASCAR) full force,” Stewart said. “We’re definitely making steps to hopefully be out there battling with Junior (Dale Earnhardt) and (Jimmie) Johnson.
“I’m looking forward to it as another challenge in life. The cool part is maybe I have a chance to be great in two different sports.”
Beyond offering future opportunity, JGR’s NASCAR resources also helped convince Stewart that its motocross team could win. The teams are based in the same Huntersville, N.C., office park, and JGRMX has access to vast engine, machine parts and suspension technology used by the NASCAR team. It also recently built a 66-acre testing facility in nearby Mooresville.
“A motocross team by itself couldn’t afford all that,” said team manager Jeremy Albrecht, who had worked with Stewart in the past.
“We piggyback it with NASCAR, and that helps a lot.”
JGR sent one of its NASCAR engineers to Stewart’s first tryout on its bike and also brought Stewart to North Carolina for a full tour.
“The facility was just unbelievable,” Stewart said. “I know we have the gnarliest capabilities of any team. When I saw their Yamaha compared to mine, I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? They haven’t won a championship yet?’ Let me come over and help these guys out.”
JGRMX has won one Supercross event in four seasons since Coy Gibbs left his job as a Washington Redskins assistant coach under his father to form the team.
“We’ve built a really good, solid team, and this is the right time for us to step up and get a guy and make it happen,” said Coy Gibbs, who is hoping to add a second rider to team with Stewart. “Obviously, James is the baddest dude on that circuit. To have James pick us, that’s a testament to how good our guys are. We put a ton of work in over the last few years, and they’re going to get to see it pay off now, which will be thrilling.”
Joe Gibbs compared the addition of Stewart to his NASCAR team signing Kyle Busch in 2008.
“We’re all so proud of Coy and what he’s done,” Joe Gibbs said. “We knew it’d be tough to recruit the top riders in motocross when we started, but we felt we could get the best team together, and we did. This gives us a chance to really distinguish Coy and the team and be a serious threat to win championships. It’s a huge step. That is the last piece of the puzzle.”
© Photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com