Evolution is usually a word linked to progress.
Evolution is usually a word linked to progress.
Lead Photo By: James Lissimore
I’ll be the first to admit that I, like many fans, have found myself respecting Chad Reed more and more as he gets older and continues to mature. He’s honest and shows no regard for creating a line of separation between perception and reality. Chad Reed’s evolution has been on an ascent for years and appears to continue that pattern as 2016 continues to unfold.
This week’s focus though, is on a different kind of evolution. A sort of ironic evolution.
I honestly don’t really know where to begin here.
James Stewart has always been an enigma of our sport. From the moment we got our first Memorex’ed® glimpses of James in Terrafirma, we had a notion that this kid was going to be special in so many ways. Even as a pint-sized berm-blaster, James had personality boiling over and an exuberance which mirrored his on-track capabilities. He turned pro and forged his own path by leap-frogging the Kawasaki feeding team of Pro Circuit and going right inside the Factory Semi. A strategic career-decision but a divisive and alienating one as well.
In those early years as a pro, it was like James was a Superhero amongst mortals. On a 125cc two-stroke, his speed made the two-stroke to four-stroke divide appear much closer than it was and more-so anyone else had before. James was inadvertently the original two-stroke poster boy. His electric personality was amped up by his wins and incredible ability to charge through the pack. We saw it in the PulpMX Classic Commentary with Ping at Anaheim. Ping won the race but the TV coverage was all about James charging from last to second. That’s how enigma’s work. His abilities captivated us much like Lloyd being caught in Mary Swanson’s tractor-beam… “Sucked us right in”.
When James made the move to the 250/450 class, his exuberance was not hindered despite him being down 200cc’s and two-strokes(get it?) from the GOAT, the “Thunder from Down Under”(as it were) and a rotating-cast of perennial podium finishers. His introduction to the class and formative race-craft was centered around working from a deficit and pressing the boundaries of his comfort zone. James may have always had an elevated comfort zone but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he introduced the concept of not just peaking over that edge but buzzing right on it for 20 laps in Supercross or two-moto’s in the Nationals.
When the four-stroke was finally availed to James, the race-craft mold had already catalyzed in his brain. Maximum intensity, zero patience, add a measure throttle to whatever those around him are utilizing and lastly jump things no one else is imagining or willing to risk. Many times in the early years on the big bike, this worked for James and continued to evolve his legendary status. There was no debate over who could lay down the fastest lap on any given surface or at any venue. It was the guy willing to press it furthest and for the longest duration. It was always James.
As his competition started, gradually, increasing their pace and comfort zone “in the red”, the overall pace of competition ramped up and as the law of reciprocity dictates, so did James’ intensity.
The faster you go, the harder you hit. Flirting with the edge of disaster increases the propensity to hit the ground and with those higher speed ejections come injury. More specifically, unconsciousness and a real scare(and arguably of late, proof) of long term head trauma. We’ve all seen the videos of wickedly scary crashes involving James and unconsciousness on the track. With varying degrees of impact come an array of levels damage to the brain and I’m clearly no doctor but as evidenced by the last few years of racing, it takes less and less of an impact to put the brain into temporary slumber.
We’ve reached a point in the evolution of racing motocross and Supercross where brain trauma is more at the forefront than ever before. This isn’t just an argument of two-stroke vs four-stroke. It’s not about tilting the scale back toward rider-ability more than machine, it’s not about the smell of premix in the morning. It’s about recognizing the scary truth of where we are at and being proactive, not being regretful in a reactive and sad-state.
It really does make me so sad to see what has become of the evolution of James Stewart and I can’t help but think it could have been avoided. He’s the most exciting rider to have ever lined up and though it was a relatively accurate acronym, the “Crash or Win” description is in the rear view mirror and with every gate drop I believe we as a fanbase are just crossing our fingers, hoping that the seemingly inevitable crash isn’t serious. It bums me out to even type that out. I miss the days when it was just a given that James would be battling for the lead.
I started this column talking about the progressive evolution of Chad Reed’s public image and personal satisfaction as he gets older. Chad has always been a stubborn son of bitch and when many-a-fan counted him out over the years, he didn’t press too hard and end up unconscious or in a sling. He simply finished races and bull-heatedly continued on, believing he would ascend the podium again. Maybe he was half-heartedly lying to himself to make himself continue to think positively and forge ahead; but that self-imposed perception has reaped rewards in reality. Here we are in 2016, Chad has been in the premiere-class for 13 years now and his evolution is unequivocally on an incline.
James’ evolution, 11 years in the premiere class, went from an unassailable incline, to not even a plateau but a steady decline beginning in 2012 and it’s not due to lack of effort, desire or heart… it honestly may be due to an excess of each of those factors. Wholly admirable if not tragic in the results department.
I’m just hoping that James can stay healthy enough to reignite an ascending evolution so that his contribution to the sport is looked upon as positively as it was for the first half of his career. We all benefit from that as fans but more importantly, if that ascending-evolution is realized by James, it speaks positively for his health and that means more than anything.