Sitting out because of an injury is something James Stewart can take. He knows mentally that he’s physically unable to race and the rehabilitation takes up most of his time.
Being parked because of a technicality was far more difficult. He was healthy and anxious to get out on the motocross track, but a decision he didn’t agree with kept him at home while everyone raced without him.
So when Stewart returns to racing for the first time in a year at Saturday’s Straight Rhythm races, there’s a good chance more than the usual amount of adrenaline will be flowing.
“I’m pretty anxious, a little nervous at the same time,” Stewart said. “It’s been about a year so I’m kind of excited to get back.”
Stewart was banned 16 months by the International Motorcycling Federation after testing positive for a stimulant at a Supercross race in Seattle in April 2014. Stewart appealed the decision, saying the positive test came from prescribed Adderall, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld the suspension because he did not provide the necessary paperwork before the test.
In case that wasn’t frustrating enough, Stewart was later cleared to take Adderall, but couldn’t race because he didn’t fill out the paperwork before failing the drug test last year.
“I’m not going to lie, I was shocked,” Stewart said. “It was like being out of school all year because I didn’t turn in my homework, but ultimately I didn’t know the rules. I messed up and took it like a man.”
Stewart, who has two Supercross titles and one in outdoor motocross, briefly considered retiring after learning the appeal had been turned down, but decided to fight his way back after receiving strong support from his fans, team and sponsors.
Stewart spent his time off healing up from previous injuries, working on conditioning and taking care of numerous personal things.
His return this weekend will end a 12-month layoff from racing at the place where he won his last race.
“I think it (the layoff) made the sport really miss me and I missed the sport, so there’s always positive in negative things,” said Stewart, who swept Justin Brayton in the finals to win the 2014 Straight Rhythm title.
Stewart makes his return at one of the most unique races in motocross.
Held at Fairplex in Pomona, California, Straight Rhythm is essentially a drag race held on a Supercross track unwound into a straightaway. A field of 24 riders - 16 in the open class, eight in lites - go head to head drag-racing style until the finals on a half-mile track filled with jumps, whoops and table tops.
Jason Baker, a former motocross racer, has been a part of designing the Straight Rhythm course since it was a demonstration event in 2013. The first year of designing a track unlike any other was a bit of a challenge, but Baker seems to have hit his sweet spot after three years.
This year’s track will feature bigger jumps, multiple line choices and more technical challenges than last year.
“This year’s track, the technical aspect of it has increased, certainly,” Baker said. “We’ve learned from the past couple years of doing it that the speeds the guys produce in a straight line, so we’ve been able to create some bigger obstacles and higher-speed jumps and the guys are able to go a lot farther than a standard stadium setting.”
The race will have a deep field with some of the world’s best riders.
Ryan Dungey, who has five combined Supercross and motocross titles, is in the field and so is 2014 motocross champion Ken Roczen. Brayton is back after reaching the finals in the inaugural race.
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