Photos by: Chase Yocom
These “Privateer Showcase” interviews presented by Race Tech Suspension at MotoXAddicts tell the stories of the guys in the trenches week in and week out trying to chase their dream of racing professional Supercross. While the riders at the front of the pack get the money, the T.V. time and the glory that goes with it, there’s a huge pack of guys just hoping to get a spot inside a factory semi. We tell their stories.
This week’s “Privateer Showcase” interview is with probably the most supported privateer on the circuit, MicroBilt / PRBC / Yoshimura / Suzuki Racing’s Ronnie Stewart. Ronnie may not be a household name in moto like the Ryan Dungeys, Ken Roczens and Eli Tomacs, but if you look into the stands on Saturday night at MetLife Stadium, it becomes glaringly—in bright yellow—obvious that the #606 is kind of a big deal.
Each and every year since the Monster Energy Supercross series started going to East Rutherford, NJ in 2014, a whole section of MetLife Stadium is decked out in bright yellow Ronnie Stewart fan club shirts, waving yellow rally towels. It is a scene that you will see nowhere else, and it says a lot about who Ronnie Stewart is as a person, more than who he is as a rider. While every rider has a race they call home, nobody else has a section of 500+ totally committed fans cheering them on: win, lose or draw.
I have been to MetLife the last two seasons, and there is nothing like it anywhere. Whether Ronnie makes the main event or not, these are fans who appreciate the commitment that goes into just making it to the level Ronnie has made it to, and they show that appreciation in spades. Because I am heading to MetLife again this weekend, I thought I would give Ronnie a call and talk to him about his year, what it is like at MetLife and what goes in to making that happen.
Hey Ronnie, with your home race coming up, we thought it would be a good week to catch up with you.
Yeah, we have a lot going on this week. It’s an exciting week.
Where are you based out of during the week right now?
I’ve been based out of El-Chupacabra Ranch [Blake Baggett’s home training facility] from when the series went east after Dallas until last weekend when we drove up to New Jersey. We flew out of Jersey to go to Salt Lake and flew back to Jersey since we have so much to do the week of the New Jersey SX. Moving forward from here, we’ll just be traveling from race to race.
How did you get hooked up with riding at Blake’s facility? Are you two friends or is it just a deal where you lease time?
First of all, we’re friends. Blake and I are good friends. Also my wife and his fiancé are good friends. That made it natural for us to do some training together. That was the first step, obviously, and we worked out a deal that works for both of us.
What’s it like to have an SX and MX training facility like that to ride at? That place is incredible.
That place is incredible, top notch. They do things the best way possible with their tracks, their equipment and the whole nine yards. I was really grateful, and it’s an amazing opportunity to spend time there. I didn’t get to ride the outdoor track as much as I wanted to, but it’s unreal. It basically has highlights of every national track. From Henry’s Hill to a big triple step-up you could call Larocco’s Leap. And it’s similar to the one in Tennessee or Hangtown. They have incredible jumps, and elevation changes that they’ve made, so it was really fun. The SX is also top notch, probably the best one I’ve ever ridden.
It was cool to see someone like Blake throw down the money and really invest in his career, especially at a time when he was not on top of his game.
Absolutely! He’s investing in himself and in the right things. You know he wants to be in the sport in the coming years or else he wouldn’t be doing all this. It’s really nice to see him make that investment and have the confidence in himself so he can get to the top step of the 450 class. I’m really happy for him that he’s been able to show the speed and consistency this year. I’m really excited for him going into the outdoors.
Well let’s talk about you. In comparison to years past, this year has been a struggle, but I know you’re coming back from a big injury. You’ve made one main and the last two weeks you’ve looked really good. Glimpses of the old “Candyman” are coming out again.
Yeah, at the end of 2015, I did have an injury that was first noted to be a career ending injury, but the doctor did such a great job on it. The wrist is a really tough thing, especially the way I shattered it at the joint. As of this season, it absolutely isn’t part of my struggles. There’s guys that have ten times worse wrist injuries on the right side—the throttle side—and they do a good job. It doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, two months ago, I ditched the brace and don’t even put a wrap or anything on it, but it did take the better part of eight months to feel good.
Moving into this year, we were able to capitalize on a partnership with Suzuki and Yoshimura and we’ve been doing a lot with fan activation. We’ve increased our hospitality effort at the races, and on that end of it, we’re doing outstanding. We’re able to show a good return on investment for our investors and our sponsors. On the racing side, it’s complicated. On paper it’s been a struggle, but there are a few factors. I think the class is deeper and more competitive than it was in 2014 when I had my best year. It’s hard to compare 2014 to 2017. I expect to be a main event guy every week, and it hasn’t gone that way, but all I can do is to keep trying and moving forward. That’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been progressing and putting myself in good positions.
What did you think of Salt Lake last weekend? The dirt and track layout looked good and the obstacles looked kind of basic, but as the night wore on, it did bite a few riders.
I really did enjoy the track. Like you said, for Salt Lake the dirt was outstanding. I raced it in ’13 and I found it very desert-like. I thought that the track design was really cool. Like you said, the obstacles were pretty basic and everyone was doing the same thing. The whoops were very sharp and edgy. They were a little rutted, a little bit steep and round, so they were tricky. Later on in the night show, some guys were jumping them, and that’s where I lost it in the LCQ. I was jumping them and [Adam] Enticknapp was blitzing them fast. Blitzing them was ultimately faster but definitely the higher risk. For SX, you can only prepare yourself while in that environment, and the last couple of weeks I’ve been in good positions but making little mistakes. I attribute that mainly to not being in that position much. You almost have to just instinctively react, and there’s critical moments here and there that happen in a split second that work for or against you. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to put it together yet, but moving forward, I have two more chances and the outdoors, so hopefully I can keep learning and put myself in better positions to make results on paper.
This weekend, we have your home race at MetLife. For most it’s not a huge deal, but for you, it means hundreds of fans, a whole section of the stadium filled with yellow Ronnie Stewart shirts and towels. What’s it like heading into this week, and how many yellow shirts should we expect to see?
(laughs) It’s unreal that people are interested in my racing efforts and I’m able to inspire people and relate more to the general public. My playing field is not the Ryan Dungeys. I’m more relatable to the average rider or the average fan. It’s pretty cool that I’ve been able to catch on in the Northeast here. I’m not sure of the exact number, but it will be around 500 people in the section with the yellow shirts, and I’m sure there will be a bunch of rally towels and banners. (laughs) On top of that, there’s a lot of other people that come to the pit area and want an autograph or want to talk. It’s a very special race for me, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to do what we’re doing.
How did your mom put together the tickets this year?
We did it a little differently this year. We were able to do it electronically through Team Microbuilt PRBC’s website through the store. We made it easier for people to purchase the tickets. Just go online, purchase the tickets and then we are doing the seating chart tomorrow—my mom, my sister, my wife Brooke, some of our in-house guys at Microbuilt—so it’s a collaborative effort that collectively we make happen.
Does your mom and sister hand out all the shirts and towels as people show up? That’s a heck of an effort.
How we’re going to do it is, everyone that purchased a ticket, it will come with a t-shirt, a pit pass and a rally towel. So they’ll go to promoters will-call to get the tickets and we’ll do the seating. We bought the tickets last week and then we’re going to do the seating chart tomorrow. We’ll put all the tickets in promoters will-call tomorrow. Everyone picks up their tickets and then comes to the rig to get their t-shirt and rally towel.
It is so awesome to see, and it says a lot about who you are as a person. I’m curious, though. Does having all those fans in the stadium add any pressure or just make what you love doing more fun?
I put an extreme amount of pressure on myself in every aspect of what we do. I take is seriously, and I’m out there to do well. I do want to be able to put my best foot forward. I want to be a top guy and show my supporters I can do it, but the reality is everyone that roots for me, roots from home every week. Just because they’re there, it doesn’t really add too much pressure. It fuels the fire and I think I use it in a positive way. No matter what happens, a lot of those people in the stands are there to support me, no matter what. Last year, we had 550, and it wasn’t even a sure thing that I would be racing because of my injury. They’re just true fans, family and friends that are there to support me and have a good time, no matter what. I’ll definitely use that extra energy to hopefully get over that threshold and into that main event this weekend.
Well, good luck this weekend, Ronnie, and thanks for talking to us. Who are all your sponsors you want to thank for getting you to the races this year?
Thank you, Dan. I would like to thank all my sponsors: MicroBilt, PRBC, Yoshimura, Suzuki, Liberty Elevator Corp., H&S Enterprises, Ecstar Genuine Oil, ISC Racers Tape, RG3, Strikt, Hinson Clutch Components, DeCal Works, Hellbound Racing, 6D, Novik, Motostuff.com, Sunstar, DT1 Filters, Dubya, Kite, GET, Works Connection, VP Fuel, Von Zipper, Matrix Concepts