At 19, James "Bubba" Stewart is no longer the new face of motocross. Called the Tiger Woods of his sport, Stewart enjoyed unprecedented success since turning professional three years ago, winning 14 events in the 125-cc class as a rookie (a series record) and countless accolades from both mainstream media and the chroniclers of his growing sport.
But as he rides into the area this weekend for the American Motorcyclist Association Motocross Series at Budds Creek, he's riding in unfamiliar territory -- atop a bigger bike, and still looking for a victory in the series.
This season, he's moved up to the 250-cc class -- similar to a boxer moving up in weight -- and it's been a test that has tried Stewart's patience.
"I don't think I've ever been challenged like this," Stewart said. "I just want to go out and have fun, but I feel like I'm not having the fun I used to have."
Stewart turned pro in 2002 after winning 11 AMA amateur national championships, which passed Ricky Carmichael as motocross' most successful amateur rider. Now Carmichael, who has won the first three events of the series, is one of his biggest rivals.
Moving up to the 250s was a natural progression for Stewart -- the larger, more powerful bikes are raced by the more seasoned and talented riders. Stewart won three supercross races, but in the first three races of the 12-race motocross circuit championship Stewart placed 12th, second and, in the third, failed to finish after becoming sick. He is just ninth in the overall standings and, while he acknowledges he has plenty to prove, he knows he must be patient.
"My mentality is that I will have my time," Stewart said. "My time will come for sure."
-- Walter Gabriel