James “Bubba” Stewart is probably one of the most successful Black athletes you never heard of. Well, that is, unless you are a fan of motorcross racing. If you are, then you know this guy is red-hot in a sport where even championship motorcross purses max out at a meager $12,000. Stewart’s endorsements, however, exceed $10 million.
Until the past two years, the 25-year old Stewart has had few peers in motorcross or supercross. (Motorcross is outdoor motorcycle racing on dirt courses with fast speeds and jumps of different heights. Supercross is all of that – except indoors.) Until the last two years, Stewart was boss of supercross and motorcross winning every championship in the sport. One season, he was undefeated; wining all 24 races he competed in. But, recent crashes costs Stewart competitive time. In 2010, he suffered a broken wrist and a 2011 collision sidelined him as he was within reach of another supercross championship. Watch any of the YouTube videos from fans, sponsors, or the sport’s association and its no wonder this guy is a sponsors dream and an orthopedic specialist’s nightmare.
“James approaches the sport differently from anyone else,” says Jeremy Malott of Red Bull, one of Stewart’s sponsors in a recent Fortune magazine interview. “Other riders do the same jumps, same obstacles, but James has that X-factor. He’s criticized a lot for his style of riding, and he crashes a lot, but James will win or die trying, literally.”
Being a Black superstar in a predominately white sport has drawn comparisons to Tiger Woods. But, Stewart is unfazed and continues to blaze his own trail with unique branding opportunities like his reality show Bubba’s World on Fuel TV. Like Woods, Stewart’s father, James Stewart, Sr. (who goes by “Big James”), was heavily involved in his son’s racing competitive racing career which started at age 4 and when he turned pro at 16. Stewart gained his first sponsor, Oakley, at age 7. In 2009, he counted Red Bull, Yamaha, Nike, and Answer Racing as sponsors. Undecided about whether to re-sign with Yamaha or go with Suzuki in 2012 is a major decision now. Stewart also has a 10-million selling motorcross video game with THQ. The game features Stewart on the cover but also replicates on level of his private course in Haines City, Florida.
With a total number of wins at 42, Stewart is focused on 73 – the number that will give him the all-time number of wins in the sport.