It has now been four hundred and eighty-six days since James Stewart last sat on a starting line, but his ability to attract attention is perhaps greater than ever. What is it that keeps drawing fans to the rider once dubbed as the fastest man on the planet? It is actually rather simple, believe it or not, as he possesses a level of star power that most strive for throughout their respective careers.
Star power can be hard to come by, although one could argue that winning races is enough to catapult a rider into an influential position. Experiencing success on the track is an integral part of the equation, of course, as fans hope to see the greatest talents on the starting line each weekend. However, there are additional factors to also take into consideration. History plays a role, for instance, as there are countless iconic moments that have involved James Stewart across the last fifteen years and fans reflect on those with fondness. After all, nostalgic fans are a large part of any sport. Did someone mention two-strokes?
It is not just a matter of waiting to acquire this status though, as Ken Roczen has become a prominent figure within just a couple of years. There is no set formula to reach such a desirable position. If there was, then each professional rider would follow the cheat sheet and climb their way to the top of the pecking order away from their machine. What is it that transforms a character then? Well, funnily enough, the latter part of that sentence may just sum it up perfectly.
Results are great, but being flamboyant away from the track or having a distinctive feature can really attract attention. James Stewart has many of those, of course, starting with the fact that he was often the first to bust out a mind-blowing combination in a rhythm section. Going even further back in time, perhaps it was the sprinkler move that he performed after each win that really stole the spotlight? The reputation that he had as a guy who either won or crashed cost him a championship or two and a lot of money, one would presume at least, but that alone ensured that most kept a keen eye on his progress. There was always a story when James Stewart was around and that made him quite the character.
Most characters tend to be polarising, no matter what series is being referred to, but that is again something that moves the needle. Although the reality-television show that Stewart had provoked various negative reviews from hardcore fans, how many of those actually tuned out? Instead it sparked debate that ensured that even more eyeballs were on the two-time 450SX champion. Is there really such a thing as bad press? The same could be said about Jeffrey Herlings, who is undoubtedly the most popular rider in MXGP after some controversial interviews when he first appeared on the scene.
Jeffrey Herlings may be a perfect ambassador both on and off of the bike now, but he has found a middle ground between infuriating sponsors and being honest with fans. That skill in itself can take years to master, as Chad Reed found out. Reed is praised for being one of the best interviews in the sport nowadays, but ten years ago that was far from the case. Now, however, he undoubtedly pulls more fans than any active rider in the Monster Energy Supercross series. Why? Most can relate to him on a personal level and he has mastered the craft of promoting himself in an effective manner.
Now that Monster Energy Supercross has lost a star, Ryan Dungey, most are intrigued to see how some newer faces evolve into heavyweights. Eli Tomac and Marvin Musquin have achieved an incredible amount in this sport, but do not quite have the same pull off of the track just yet. Could that change following an intense duel that spans across seventeen rounds? It is certainly a possibility, as fans will begin to truly invest in their endeavours. However, at the same time, it is also unlikely that either guy will become quite as charismatic as their predecessors in their post-race interviews.
Ken Roczen is already at that point though and set to become the face of the sport for many years to come. James Stewart once sat in that position, but nothing lasts forever. Absence only makes the heart grows fonder, however, and that is why his name will continue to pop up for years to come. Some fade into the background, others do not. There is a reason why Ricky Carmichael is still so desirable to promoters across the world.
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Monster Energy Media/Ryne Swanberg