IMAGES | MotoConcepts & Stewart
Last week Malcolm Stewart made waves through motocross by posting a quick image of a SmarTop/MotoConcepts/Honda with his numbers and a caption that said “First day out!” Instantly there was talk that Stewart had inked a full contract with the team for 2019 but as initially reported by Steve Matthes at Racer X Online, the deal is currently just through the end of December. Because both Mike and Jeff Alessi lined up for our SLAM Pro Race over the weekend at Milestone MX Park, we had a chance to talk with Tony about Stewart’s program, the future of the team, and his recently formed AME Minicross series that runs through Southern California. As always, Alessi was open and honest on each subject and gave great insight into what is necessary for success at the top level of the sport.
Everyone saw the photo that Malcolm posted on Thursday with the bike. We had heard rumors about for a while about this, but how did Malcolm and the team finally come together?
The relationship between Malcolm and SmarTop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts/Honda has evolved over the last few years. It's been something that we both wanted to do for a couple of years and the time was right this time around to put ourselves in a position to help. What we are doing for Malcolm is through the months that will lead up to Supercross, which will be from now all the way through October, November, and December. We will assist him with bikes, parts, mechanics, and help at all of the offseason overseas races that he has this year. He's here right now and we're doing our best to get him ready for Montreal, but he's already exceptionally good. The idea is that if he has some success over the next three months that sponsors would be interested to contribute with the costs associated with his program for the 2019 Supercross season. That's what we're working on right now.
So right now it hinges on him putting in the results and a company that is not already a sponsor of the team coming in to help fund his part of the program?
Yeah. And we're not even asking for a sponsor to fund his whole part, but just a contribution towards the costs of running a guy like him for seventeen races.
In the past the team has had three people, like in 2018 with Vince Friese, Jake Weimer, and Justin Brayton. Was the plan for 2019 to just have two riders with Vince and Justin?
Initially, the plan was just to have Vince and Justin. That was how we set our deals up for 2019 with existing sponsors, but with this opportunity with Malcolm becoming more relevant, it's hard for them to adjust the budgets they have already set for the two riders we have. It's easy for us to run his program in the offseason because there is no travel cost, that's what the promoters take care of, and we blend his day-by-day stuff in with what we're doing here because Justin is in Australia. It makes this a no-brainer. We are able to help him at a one hundred percent level in the offseason and we will build him a stellar bike for the Monster Energy Cup. I think he will do really well and I'm excited. I've gotten to the tracks at 6:30 in the morning just to get the guy on the track because he's really good. He's a cool guy and very punctual, he's polite, so it's fun for us to work with him.
As a media guy I have to not be biased, but from my perspective, it seems like it would be a no-brainer for a team to try to sign him just off of the crowd reaction and publicity that he gets. Anything we post online about him gets a huge reaction and he has a long autograph line at the races. It's something that has surprised me about teams because he brings exposure for sponsors.
That would be the idea and that's the idea behind Supercross too. It's like, "Here is the platform and now sponsors will jump onboard." But the reality is that sponsors don't do that. I don't have an answer for that and I'm surprised by it. We had a great season last year and we won a race, had five podiums, five heat race wins, and had a good amount of television time. We have to pay more now to our riders for the level of participation that they had last year but we can't get anyone to contribute more. And to add Malcolm would be a huge undertaking. My thinking is that Malcolm will win Montreal and people will talk about him a bit. Then he can get a podium at Monster Energy Cup and then people will want to get on the program and it goes from there. That's my ambition and if we can make that happen then we will have the funding for him to have a successful Supercross season in 2019.
This last year has been great but I would say that MCR has been building for the last three years with Honda coming in, the team getting Justin, and everything being consistent all the way through. For someone in your position, have you done and changed many things to get to this point or did it just take time for everything to come together?
I've always felt that our platform is crazy good. We have a team owner that is into it and there is no compromising on our team with materials. We build really good packages for the riders in terms of engines and suspensions, so the performance of the bike is equal to a factory bike without being a factory bike. That took a lot of work and experience to get it done, but I feel that we have done a good job with it and it showed last year. More riders are seeing this and seeing that they can be successful. And that's been the goal. At some point in the very near future, we would like to have a team that contends for championships, but that's an evolutionary process and it takes time to build that up. We have to have the right materials in place to get the riders and for them to get the confidence that they can achieve things with us. That's all still building.
For all of the time that you have put into this team, how rewarding was 2018?
It was exceptionally rewarding for us. It was like the first opportunity to get recognized for the effort that we put in. And don't get me wrong, there are other riders and teams that put in equal effort, but they may not get the results. We've been there for a few years before this. To finally break through and show that your program is capable is an amazing feeling.
You've put so much of your time and energy into the sport as a whole, with the boys being near or in their 30s now. Did you ever think that what you are doing now was obtainable or did the goals change over time?
Initially, I got involved in the sport because I loved to ride and race, just like everyone else. All of a sudden I had kids and they were good, so we knew we had to do something about it. Obviously, we participated in their program and the goal was always to be the greatest rider there ever was. That was the vision that we had. Mike raced professional Supercross from 2004 to 2017 and he was four-time runner-up in the outdoor Nationals. He finished second in the 250 championship to Tedesco in 2005, second to Villopoto in 2006, and 2007 was his rookie year in the 450 and he wasn't even 20 years old yet but he finished second to Grant Langston. Later on in life, he came onboard with the MotoConcepts team and we got him second overall. In the term of his career he won lots of races and got lots of podiums, led more laps than probably anyone in that timespan, and that was all exciting. As Mike is winding down now, the ambition is still to have a rider that is the best in the world and can prove to be the best there is. That hasn't changed and is still there with me. I want to achieve that at some point and that's my life's ambition, to win a championship. I'm 53 so I think I can do it for twenty more years.
Once Supercross wraps up, you have an entire summer to work towards the next year. This year you brought the AME Minicross series to Milestone and it's cool to see someone in your position give back to a level of the sport that rarely every receives attention from high up. Where did the idea come from?
I felt like with my boys I missed it on Supercross. We put so much effort into Loretta Lynn's and winning that we were 99.9-percent motocross and we missed the Supercross element. Realistically, I think it was a big nail in Mike's confidence and when he went to his first Supercross, he was slower than the test rider at KTM, which was Casey Lytle. It took about ten years for him to get decently good at Supercross and we could have had those ten years in prior to pro racing if we had a program like Minicross. It's a junior level, scaled down Supercross track run under the same format. We do heat races and main events just like a Supercross. I feel like because I missed it, I don't want the other local kids to miss that.
Supercross is so different in every way. When I see riders go to a Supercross for their first time, they are often lost. It doesn't matter how good of an amateur rider they were, because they are lost in something that is unlike anything they have ever done.
I felt I needed to do this to make up for what I didn't in the past. The kids come out and love it. And you wouldn't believe how good they get so quickly. They start at a really low level but a month later they look like pros. The next series will start with a warm-up on the last Saturday of September and that's when we'll break in the brand-new amateur Supercross track that Milestone is building. We'll run two events in October, two events in November, and two events in December, with half of them being run on the Stadiumcross track at Glen Helen, just to mix it up and make a real champion at the end.