This article was originally printed in our May 2017 issue of TransWorld Motocross.
Real Talk | The Malcolm Stewart Story
By Mike Emery
After winning his 2016 250SX East Coast Championship, Haines City, Florida’s Malcolm Stewart was slated to make his entrance in the highly competitive 450SX Class this January. That was until Anaheim I came and went without Malcolm or his brother James anywhere to be found on the entry lists. Life doesn’t always hand you a glass of sweet, cold lemonade, and in Malcolm’s case he had to take a few of those off-season lemons and mash them up to get where he is today aboard his lemonade-yellow Suzuki. Malcolm is now back home working on assembling all the pieces needed to succeed with his RIDE365.com/Stewart Racing team, but is more importantly focused on making the most of every day he gets to ride his dirt bike as a professional. Mookie is one of the most genuine and outgoing racers in our sport, and the following words are nothing but real talk from the number 47…
So you’re into your first season on the 450, but you started a couple races late. First, backing up from there, you’re the 2016 250SX East Coast Supercross Champion! That is a huge milestone for you and your career.
Yeah, winning that 250 East championship is one of those things that very few riders can say that they’ve done. It took a lot of heart and determination to win it, and there are a lot of people that get put in that situation to win it and a lot of them don’t. The ones that do know about all the blood, sweat, and tears it takes, and when you finally win it’s like, “Holy crap, I’m one of those guys that have won a championship. I can say I won a championship!” There were times that I was nervous, times I was devastated, times I was happy, and times I was sad. When you get that weight on your shoulders it literally feels like you have 1,000 pounds on your shoulders and you have to go carry it. You only put that pressure on yourself because you care, and I kind of had to give myself a reality check, like, “Why are you doing this? Are you doing it because this is what you want to do?” and I thought, “I’m doing this because I didn’t spend 18 years of racing to not be in this situation.” I’m just lucky enough to be in it now and making it work. So once I won that championship I felt like a bird, man! I was free! I had no more weight on me. I was like, “I’m gonna have a big steak tonight! Whatever I want, bacon, whatever!” [Laughs]
It was cool, man. After the championship, I took the summer off and I really just hung out and chilled. I fished. I kind of got to just enjoy my life a little bit.
What was on the agenda for the time off?
To be honest, going fishing was number one. But realistically, catching up on family events, seeing people I don’t get to normally see like my grandma, my aunties that come down from Atlanta, things like that, you know? To know my brother was going to have a baby too and to have that happen, and be able to hold the baby for the first time—it was all nerve-racking—everyone was nervous! On top of all that, I’d go to the races he would go to and support him and all that. I didn’t really leave racing; I was still riding and doing my thing to try and help James out during the week, but it was more of a laid-back, relaxed time. It’s not like I would have to go out there and pound two 30-minute motos and then go race on the weekend. I could go out and pound two 30-minute motos and then go sit on the couch or fly to a race and be like, “Hey, I’m sitting on the sidelines…good luck!” [Laughs]
And your contract was Supercross only, right?
It was a contract for Supercross only, and we would have had to do another contract for outdoors. It was set for nine races, but there was no time to figure out things and negotiate for outdoors. The team never discussed it from the beginning to the end, and nobody ever expected me to go race outdoors. The deal was to go win a championship.
And realistically, you’re a bigger dude on the 250 for outdoors.
Yeah, and I remember Jeff Majkrzak [GEICO team owner] and I were talking about it. I mean, I like outdoors—I don’t have any problem with it—but the last two years were Supercross-only contracts. Like I said, it was never brought up [to fill in] when anyone got hurt. He was like, “You’ve done enough for us, you won the championship, go do your thing.” They hired me for a job and I succeeded it. It was kind of like we shook hands and not necessarily parted ways, but they supported me riding a 450 through the summer.
So moving on, can you lay out the sequence of events that led to you not having a ride?
So pretty much during the summer it was cool and I was chilling and all that. It then got to the point where I was open to looking for deals and nothing was coming up. It just kind of got to a point where October was here, then November was here, and I’m sitting here waiting and I’m like, “I have to be ready for Anaheim I!” Anaheim I was the number-one thing, racing the 450 class. Then I realized things weren’t really going to go the right way, and I didn’t’ think about that until around mid-December because there were some deals that were brought up and I’d get all stoked. Deals would start going the right way, and I made so many phone calls from October all the way to December; I called everyone in the sport, and at the time I didn’t think I was going to do it on my own. I was looking at any way people could help me. There was no talks of salary, there was no money involved in anything pretty much from the entire summer. We pretty much never got a call back.
And in your mind, you’re thinking GEICO might have your back since they’ve done that in the past. You’re also on their bike knowing you might eventually have to give it back!
Yeah, in my mind—and it sucks the way everything happened with the whole Honda thing—I’ve seen it in the past, everyone who’s ever won a championship has always had a ride, even back to Kevin Windham. So I knew that it wasn’t necessarily a backup plan, because it was also always my number-one plan, but it just wasn’t coming together. It kind of bummed me out, and Majkrzak and I were talking twice a week, and I give the guy credit: He was trying to make it happen. Honda had all of their delays with the 2017 Honda, and the earthquake in Japan slowed down everyone getting new bikes. Getting those bikes here was really delayed. There were some things that we tried to offer, and we tried to twist and pull, but it just didn’t work, and in the end this is a business. At the end of the day, he’s a 250 guy and his job is to win 250 races and not 450 races. It bummed me out, but I just kept moving on, and the next thing you know it was around the week before Christmas and I’m like, “I’m going to have to do this on my own.” It was pretty devastating. I think that’s part of the reason I’m so behind now, there were a lot of days where I was happy, then others I was sad. I would get happy when things started to fall into place, and next thing you know I’d have to hit the reset button. It was literally the week after Christmas when I got my Suzukis and I started going from there. Jayce Pennington hooked me up—his dad has a Suzuki dealership and they helped me out. I got my first Suzukis, and we immediately sent the suspension out to Showa. I remember we were overnighting stuff trying to get things fastest. Everything was out of pocket, and we had to stop overnighting things because it started getting expensive! [Laughs] But yeah, we got our suspension, and I remember I was like, “Nothing is ready, I’m not ready.” It was only my seventh or eighth time riding the bike at Anaheim II. It was also the first day of riding it with a modified engine, and that changes everything. I’m still learning to this day—there are things that I find out I like and don’t like. It’s a huge learning curve for me. I kind of wish I waited, but at the same time I’m glad I didn’t wait too long so I could get up to race pace. I know what I’m missing, and I’m not trying to jump in midseason hoping for a top 10. The class is stacked; there are a lot of great riders. At Anaheim II I’m looking to my left and to my right thinking, “There are at least 15 guys out here that have won a race or won a championship! This is insane.” It’s crazy to think that, but I can also think, “I’m one of those guys that have done that, so I can be in this class too!” It was fun. I’m just happy to be out there now.
So who were the main people who made this team happen?
Yeah, so the week before Christmas I got my motorcycles and that’s when we were kind of speaking with RIDE365.com, but nothing was finalized. At that point in my head I was just thinking, “I’m going to do this out of a Sprinter van for the first couple races and just go from there.” I went through the good and bad of all the phone calls, and next thing you know everything fell through, so in my mind I wasn’t sure. Then RIDE365.com confirmed it, and this all wasn’t really supposed to happen. Everything got rushed, and then Roger Larsen from Seven stepped in and told me, “We’re going to try and race Anaheim II. The stuff that they did to get it all going was insane, and the first time I actually met Jarrod [Rogers, RIDE365.com owner] was at Anaheim II! It was kind of weird, when I finally met him I’m like, “Oh, you’re Jarrod! Thank you! Thank you for helping me out!” That was a huge relief; RIDE365.com stepped up, Seven MX wrapped it, and the rig looks really official. We look like a factory team!
But you truly are all doing this thing for the love of the sport and exposure. This isn’t a huge paycheck factory ride…
Yeah, every dime I make, man—just me making it into a main event, that 2,200 dollars goes into my mechanic or my flight. If I get 10th or 12th, all of that goes into the motorcycle. My Shoei helmet deal, my Gaerne boot deal—all of that money goes back into the motorcycle. I’m not making any money out of this; I’m just trying to go out and do the best I can so the following years I can be back on a factory ride and not worry about breaking parts. Every time I fall, that’s more money coming out of the pocket!
I think it’s cool that your family is into things outside of moto. Your lifestyle seems to flow from your dad’s interests in classic cars. Is it a Polk County Boy thing?
PCB boy! [Laughs] No, you know with my dad, he has always preached to James and me, “Make your money, invest in it while you’re racing and while there’s an income coming in.” He’d always say, “You gotta put up hay! Put some hay up.” I mean, I’ve been into old-school vehicles ever since my mom brought me to school in a Z28. Just the smell of the gas…everything! It’s always something I’ve wanted to do; the more I’m getting older I think about flipping cars. It’s a business—it’s an expensive business, but it’s a business. When you see it done correctly, you see there is money to be made. I’m always trying to better myself, and think like, “What can I do, what can I do?” I’m not saying I’m trying to leave the industry, but I always think of ways I can have fun while I’m racing and expand the industry and open up the eyes to help our industry.
Your personality brings you a ton of fans. Like when you’re winning and dancing, that’s fun and people appreciate that.
Yeah, and the last guy to dance before me was James. You know what’s funny is that when I did it I didn’t even think about him dancing back in the day. It was more so like, “Why do I have to do what everyone else does? Why do I have to pull off the racetrack and just start hugging everybody like everyone else does?” I just wanted to start dancing and doing something different! I can already say I’m the first African-American professional racer that has dreads. I’m the only one that’s out there flapping in the wind! [Laughs] I want to be different. I want to tell the world I like fishing. And I can say last year when I won that 250 Championship I fished more than I rode! [Laughs] You know, when you win a championship you’ve got a lot of weight on your shoulders, and the only thing that could clear my mind was fishing. When you’re in a jam, and you’re just thinking about dirt bikes, and you’re just putting pressure on yourself, there’s nothing better than wetting the line. Even if you don’t catch anything, you’re just taking your mind off of it. When it’s game time, obviously you’re ready, but I went fishing Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, every single day! Do I take any of it back, going fishing? No! I won a championship, but it sounds like I might need to go back to fishing again! [Laughs]
Talk about your first time doing opening ceremonies.
Opening ceremonies for the first time was probably the most nerve-racking thing I’ve ever done. For some reason, I don’t know why I was nervous, but I didn’t want to make a mistake and crash while waving to the crowd. That’s a lot of boos in front of a lot of people! It was something that if you’ve never done it before, you don’t know how it feels. For me being in opening ceremonies for the first time was like me winning my first race. Like, “Oh my gosh, it’s about to happen, it’s about to happen!” I was literally having an anxiety attack. I’ve always wanted to do it, watching my brother all those years. Then when I finally did it I was like, “I’m out here! I finally did it! People are cheering for me!”
What’s your ultimate goal in the sport? You seem to flow and do what makes you happy.
I flow. I take life as it goes, and I’m just thankful to be waking up every day and throwing my leg over a dirt bike. When that day is over I’ll be grabbing my fishing rod and be on the lake. If that doesn’t work out, I’m going to be helping kids out achieving their goals, whether it’s dirt bikes, football, baseball, or whatever. I just want to help kids out. I just flow. It doesn’t really matter what I do as long as I’m happy. I’ve reached my goal, first off, which was to be a professional dirt bike racer. Then you have some other personal goals, like win a championship…I’ve done that. That’s an amazing feeling. I can say I’ve done that, and of course I still want to win races. My next goal is to keep living life as it goes.