I know we have had some polarizing personalities in the sport of Monster Energy Supercross over the years, but right now seems like an unprecedented time when you combine the sheer number of amazing personalities in the 450SX class with the fact that many of those characters have the ability to win on any given night. It is the personalities that can take a niche sport like SX to a new level and this moment in time is the healthiest in that regard that I have seen the sport since I started watching it back in the ’70s.
One of the biggest personalities amongst them all is Smartop / Motoconcepts / Bullfrog Spas / Honda’s Malcolm Stewart and, while he has not thrown his hat in the ring as a 450SX winner yet, he is definitely showing it might not be long before he does. After missing the majority of the 2019 season with a broken femur, the #27 hovered between 6th and 11th the first eleven rounds of 2020, but in the last two rounds in Salt Lake City, the man they call Mookie has really stepped it up by winning his first-ever 450SX heat race—passing the defending champ to do it—and grabbed his first-ever top-five finish in a 450SX main event as well.
Now riding a huge wave of some newly-found confidence, Malcolm will be trying to find the podium over the last four rounds of the 2020 season starting tomorrow at round 14. Yesterday, MotoXAddicts was on a Zoom call with Mookie and we transcribed a great Q&A session with him.
Malcolm, since we’ve been in Salt Lake City, you’ve been riding hard, but you’ve just had little things holding you back. Overall, are you happy so far with the trip?
I’ve been really happy with how everything has been going. We’ve done these three races and I’ve felt like we’ve been in different states because the dirt has changed so much. Really, for us, I was so nervous about the first race. It felt like Anaheim 1 for me again having everybody back and all healthy. It’s cool, we’re just getting the ball rolling. I got my first top-five yesterday so that was good. We’re gonna keep the ball rolling. It should be good and I’m really looking forward to Wednesday.
How about that heat race win last Wednesday?
That heat race win was good, I’m not gonna lie about that. I finally got literally all the weight off my shoulders. I knew I was due for one, it was just a matter of time. It’s all about timing. Winning a heat race feels like a little “Triple Crown” for us. There are so many guys that can go out there and go wide open for six minutes so just to get one of those is the next stepping stone for jumping up on that podium.
In that heat race win, did you surprise yourself when you found yourself catching Cooper and having the speed to go by him, or was it something where you were just comfortable with the pace and passed him?
It felt comfortable. Again, it’s all about the right timing. In the last couple of years, I haven’t been in the right spot or I’d throw the race away or whatever. I saw Cooper and he was struggling a little bit through the whoops. In that specific race, there were like 16 whoops so I had a little room to play with (laughs) And they were big too. The tracks have been pretty easy so far, but they through one big crazy set of whoops in there and that threw everything off. I guess I would say I thought I felt like I was one of the best guys through the whoops all night. It felt good to me. Just to finally win something. That was my goal anyway and I can at least check it off the list of like, “Alright, that’s good.” At the same time, I’m sitting here mad at myself ’cause I should have checked it off the list a long time ago. It’s just a moving step forward and, then we got the first top-five—my best career finish. From here on out, we’re just gonna keep the ball rolling and go from there ’cause there’s no telling what’s gonna happen next.
With being so fast on that track, what was going through your mind when you were on that ground during that first lap of the main event?
(laughs) Man, I had told myself going into the main event, “Alright, let’s get a good start, Let’s not hit the ground” and the next thing you know I’m coming around the corner looking at the ground again. I’m just like, “Here we go again”. (laughs) Obviously, the track was fast anyway and I don’t like taking any chances and now I have to ride out of my comfort zone. Especially through the whoops and the whole nine yards just to catch back up. By the time I got back up, Eli and those guys were already in the other rhythm section and I’m like, “Well, I’m not gonna win this race”. It’s one of those spots where you can think back and laugh about it, but in the moment you just put your head down.
You were top-five on Sunday, but a lap down. It had to be pretty surprising to be a lap down but to still be able to get such a good result inside the top-five?
There was carnage everywhere out there. I was literally coming around every corner and the yellow flag was waving. (laughs) It’s just one of those things. It’s a mud race and you just get through it. The hardest part of a mud race is staying up. I saw Zach [Osborne] for a little bit and I’d try to make a good charge but the next thing you know I look up again and he’s like two rhythm sections ahead of me. I’m like, “What happened?” It’s so easy to make those simple mistakes. There are lapped riders and riders are trying to get out of your way or whatever, but there are only like two or three good lines on the track. It’s something that everybody has to go through. It’s not like you’re going to get pissed off or bummed. All I was trying to do was get off the race track. (laughs) Eli [Tomac] and Cooper [Webb], seriously, they were in a different zip code than all of us around that race track. Those guys were moving. For me, I felt like a little turtle, I ain’t gonna lie. It was a fun race and I’m hoping we never have another mud race in Salt Lake again.
With all the changes to the schedules and the procedures, is there anything that you’ve seen so far that you think could carry over to the future? And what’s been the weirdest part about it so far?
Honestly, waking up one morning and you’re supposed to be on the bike at 10 o’clock in the morning and then the next race you don’t have to be at the track until 2:30 in the afternoon—it’s different! Me personally, I think that not having a track walk for some reason has actually been kind of cool to me. (laughs) We’re all professional riders and it’s cool to see how quickly we adapt to just rolling the track for two laps and the next thing you know we’re jumping the triples, the finish line, and the rhythm sections like it’s nothing. I like that aspect of it, but a negative part about it is packing your own gate and rolling up to the gate alone. It’s kind of one of those things, but even when I’m rolling up to the gate and trying to pick rocks out, Cooper Webb grabbed my bike and helped me out. It’s mutual respect and it’s cool to see us riders helping each other out. Definitely, in the future, I could see some things changing but again, there’s no telling how things really work.
You had the heat race win last Wednesday and the main event top-five on Sunday. How big are both those for you in taking the next step in your career of getting to the top step of the podium in the main event with everything going on in the world?
It’s one of those things you try not to take it all in at one time, but the process is hard. The biggest thing I’m trying to focus on is getting through these rounds and go from there. I finally started to get the ball rolling and, really, that’s pretty much it. We’re racing so much right now and I think that’s one of those things where I’m learning every race what I’m slacking on or what I need to do. With everything going on in the world, there is a lot going on. I have a lot going on right now but, for me, what I’m focused on right now is racing. I’ll move forward from there.
With the schedule being all in Salt Lake City and no real breaks, how do you use that time to go enjoy the state? Especially for you being an outdoorsman getting out to see a few of those things. Has it allowed you to recharge in a faster way rather than, end of race, get on an airplane, get back to practice and then fly to the next race?
Yeah, absolutely! I’m staying up here in Park City and it’s literally 25-30 minutes from the stadium. The good thing about most of the races so far is they’ve been pretty early, except one. It would be like if you were living in California local and you’re driving to Anaheim, California and when you get done with the race, you drive back. It is cool. I was going to go fishing this morning, but I woke up this morning and it was snowing so I’m like, I’m just going to lay back in bed. Honestly, there is negative with this whole Covid-19 thing, but I wouldn’t have ever known how cool Salt Lake City was if this didn’t happen. So there is some upsides and downsides to it, but I’m pretty happy with how Salt Lake City has turned out to be. I wouldn’t have ever thought we’d be so hot at the first race, then I’d look outside and it’s snowing. That’s just insane to me.
It was such a long rode for you. You won the 250SX East title, then you couldn’t get a ride and even started your own team. You were also a fill-in guy at one point and then last year you were getting it together and got hurt. What is it like to be in this moment now where it’s finally coming together? Your team is solid, you have a ride, and you’re healthy. What is it like day-to-day finally having it all figured out because the last four years have been tough?
Yeah, of course, I don’t want to go back to those memories (laughs). It’s really just going through the motions, honestly. Last year I got hurt right off the grip. I signed with the team and we were all excited then, bam, the second race we’re out for the rest of the season. I took my time and now I have almost a whole year under my belt. It didn’t come that early, but now we’re starting to get these races under our belt and it’s starting to come around. I’m happy to get the heat race win. I’ve always had the speed, but my fitness was lacking. Again, it’s a set program and I feel like where I’m at right now the results are coming.