Team Chevy Trucks Kawasaki rider opens 125 Eastern Region series with Houston win
HOUSTON (Feb. 14, 2004) ¿ Team Chevy Trucks Kawasaki¿s James Stewart picked up where he left off last season with a convincing win on Saturday night in the opening round of the 125 Eastern Region Supercross Series at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The event was the seventh round of the 16-race THQ AMA Supercross Series and was played before a crowd of 45,126.
Kawasaki has experienced a great deal of success in the 125 class through the first seven races of the season. Stewart¿s victory comes on the heels of his Kawasaki teammate Ivan Tedesco¿s string of five wins in six 125 Western Region races aboard the new Kawasaki KX250F four-stroke machine. Stewart was piloting a KX125 two-stroke in Houston, marking the first time this year that a rider has won a 125 race aboard a two-stroke bike.
Stewart, who spent the first six rounds of the season preparing for this day, showed no sign of rust as the two-time AMA 125 Champion was faster than the field the entire day, clocking lap times that were two seconds faster than his nearest competitor.
There was an abundance of pre-race hype and excitement surrounding Stewart¿s debut. He visited with NBA guard Steve Francis of the Houston Rockets prior to the Rockets¿ Wednesday night¿s game with the Los Angeles Lakers. Francis, a Stewart fan who follows his races on ESPN2, gave Stewart a Rockets jersey with Stewart¿s number and name emblazoned on the back. Stewart actually wore the Rockets jersey in his warm-up lap prior to the 125 main event on Saturday in honor of Francis, who was attending the NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles.
Stewart admitted to possessing pre-race jitters but showed no signs of nervousness as he rocketed off the start in his heat race. He blazed to the early lead, but as luck would have it, things quickly took a turn for the worse. While in the lead on the opening lap, Stewart clipped a course-marking box and bent his gear-shift lever, leaving the lever inoperable and trapping his bike in third gear. In typical fashion, he would overcome the setback for the remaining five and one-half laps and held on for the remarkable victory.
In the 15-lap main event, Stewart¿s luck would improve but his start did not and he found himself running near tenth place as the 22 riders exited the first turn. Stewart patiently picked his way through the field, and by the end of the third lap, he had caught the leader, Broc Hepler. The pass for the lead came in typical Stewart fashion. After blitzing the whoops, Stewart set up Hepler with a lightning quick, inside-to-out move in the turn after the whoops and overtook the lead.
Once in the lead, Stewart quickly checked out and wound up winning by a 21.07-second margin over Hepler. While taking the checkered flag, he introduced the Houston crowd to a new jump move that Stewart likes to call the ¿rodeo,¿ where he whips his bike and imitates a rodeo cowboy holding his left arm in the air. He later jumped off his bike and performed the ¿worm¿ on the ground, a dance move that had his body flopping forward on the floor.
¿I got a decent start off the gate but just ran out of room and thought it was smarter to back it off and hope to make up ground later on in the race,¿ said Stewart. ¿Maybe in the earlier days I would have forced the issue and tried to stuff my bike into that first turn. But I¿m a little more experienced these days and I knew that I was the fastest coming into the race, so I guess you could say I used a little patience.
¿The rodeo move is something I¿ve been doing on my track back home. One of the guys I always looked up to was (Jeremy) McGrath and his nickname was `Showtime¿ for doing stuff like that. I like to perform for the crowd, so the rodeo and the worm weree for the fans here in Houston.¿
Team Pro Circuit/Kawasaki/Chevy Trucks rider Eric Sorby placed another Kawasaki KX125 on the podium with a solid, come-from-behind third place finish in the 125 main event. He came from ninth place and closed within a few bike lengths of Hepler at the finish line.
Team Chevy Trucks Kawasaki¿s Paul Carpenter, out with a broken wrist since December, did not receive medical clearance from his doctor prior to the Houston race and was forced to sit out the opening round. He is scheduled for another visit this week and hopes to be back on a bike soon.
In 250 action, Team Chevy Trucks Kawasaki¿s Michael Byrne shot his Kawasaki KX250 off the line to start the 250 main event, nearly claiming the holeshot. He would battle up front for most of the race before bringing home a ninth place finish. Chad Reed was the winner. Byrne remains in fifth place in the standings with 96 points. Reed holds the lead with 169.
The THQ AMA Supercross Series makes its annual winter visit to the friendly indoors of the Minneapolis Metrodome for the eighth round event next Saturday (Feb. 21).