To ascend to the summit of any professional sport takes a tough mental fiber found in few human beings. Confidence is key, and every champion from Michael Jordan to Lance Armstrong is overflowing with it. After setting the record for winning the most amateur championships, James “Bubba” Stewart strutted into the professional motocross world as a brash prodigy. At first, many of his competitors mistook his confident vocal style for arrogance, but now nobody can deny he was just telling it like it is. We journeyed to Bubba’s home in Central Florida searching for the ingredients that make him the most exciting young prospect in the history of motocross racing.It was a cool Monday morning in Bubba country, and photographer Ari Michelson and I bristled with nervous energy as we bombed down a country road in a slow rental car. A surreal state overcame me while I soaked in sprawling orange groves and luscious green fields guarded by the occasional solemn willow tree. As I rolled down the window for a relaxing breath of damp morning air, I saw the mailbox whiz by out of the corner of my eye. It was just as it was described to me–a lone mailbox on a rural road with a motocross tire mounted to the top of it like a black rubber rainbow. I blew right by it in typical lost-tourist fashion, so I had to continue down the road and over a rise before I found a place to flip a U-turn. As we emerged back over the rise the custom mailbox reappeared, but now there was someone standing beside it.That’s where I first met Bubba, on a country road at the end of his long driveway, pulling big bags of trash from his Kawasaki mule utility vehicle and tossing them into a giant dark-green dumpster. He seemed to be wearing the same discontented face I used to put on when my dad would ask me to take out the trash, but then he flashed us that cool smile I’d seen on television and said, “Hey, what’s up guys? Follow me in.”I’ll never forget driving behind Stewart down his driveway and through the security gates that seal his property. Entering the Stewart compound is like something out of a motocross dream. The whole scene seemed to expand as we made our way in, and I couldn’t stop gawking at the massive supercross and motocross tracks outside the driver’s side window. At first we saw a couple of the fattest doubles ever, then as we continued to drive in, the pristine red clay track seemed to be endless. The jump sections looked big and scary, but I’d later find out Stewart connects them in ways I couldn’t have imagined.Eventually, we pulled up in front of the house and got out to introduce ourselves. Stewart asked us to hang out for a few minutes while he hauled another load of shop garbage out to the dumpster, so we started to unload our gear. The first thing I noticed about the Stewart household was it felt like someone was running a business there. There was a mechanic working on bikes in the shop, a guy trimming the grass and a couple of tractors working on the track; and Stewart’s father was meeting with his sports manager. Bubba Motocross, Inc. seemed to be in full effect. At that point, I began to develop an appreciation for the commitment this team has to winning.Bubba finally finished his dirty work, and upon his return he was pleased to find out he had a hot waffle breakfast waiting for him inside. We didn’t see him again for about 20 minutes, but I was glad he had his gear with him when he reemerged. He talked on his cell phone as he geared up for another day at the office. It was a cool moment watching one of the world’s best go through the daily practice ritual, but it seemed to take forever because the opportunity to see him ride this track made me feel as excited as a 10-year-old boy. Finally, the moment came: He mounted his green Kawasaki and kicked it to life with a crisp rap of the throttle.The next few hours were simply awe-inspiring. Some of the jumps on Bubba’s track are inconceivable. I know there are a lot of guys who can go big on a motocross bike, but the leaps at Bubba’s place are the biggest I’ve seen in person. We watched him run some warm-up laps, and then he started to cut loose for our cameras. Bubba is pushing the whip to a new level. Watching him huck it made me feel nervous, he was cranked so upside down it looked like he was going to fall right off the bike. He played aerial contortionist while we burned through a few rolls of film, then we sat back and watched him work out a new section on his supercross track.This new rhythm section was a combination of doubles and triples that could be connected in a variety of ways. It was awesome watching Stewart try the different combinations for the first time, never hesitating or taking any time to size them up. After about 10 minutes he had everything down with perfect precision. Then, without warning, he came through with a double, then a triple; then a shocking loud “braahhhp” screamed from his bike and he quadded his way through about half the section in a single leap. I damn near wet myself, and the track builder yelled “holy …” from the tractor he was operating one lane over. Bubba rode over and exchanged some words with the guy in the tractor, then rolled over to where I was standing. He was so excited about clearing that quad, and he said Barnett couldn’t believe he did it. I asked, “Barnett?” And he said, “Yeah, that’s Mark Barnett driving the tractor.” How cool is that? One of the best racers in history just happens to be Bubba’s track builder. I was in heaven.Bubba put in a few more laps, and then we all agreed it was time to break for lunch. I was hoping to hook up with some good Southern barbecue, and Bubba made my wish come true when he suggested we check out a popular joint in town. Bubba pulled his KX into the shop and went inside to change out of his gear. At least I thought he was going to change out of his gear. Instead he came right back out with cranberry juice, ready to go while sporting his pink Fox gear, boots and all.We were definitely on the receiving end of some strange looks when we walked into Sonny’s Restaurant. The young hostess twisted her face into a strange look and asked, “What do y’all do?” in a thick Southern drawl. I quickly replied, “We’re in a boy band,” and she blushed and giggled. We had a good laugh, but I couldn’t talk Bubba into busting out with any dance moves, so I think she knew we were yanking her chain. It was fun going to lunch with Bubba decked out in full gear.Stewart put in another moto after lunch, and then we got into shooting some of the portrait photos for the story. Bubba was super cool and patient with all the things we asked him to do. So we spent the rest of the afternoon shooting photos, talking smack and picking on each other. All day long Bubba had been talking about racing his 10-year-old brother, Malcolm, on their mini supercross track, so I think he began to get a little impatient when the daylight started getting low. We shot our last frames and sent him on his way so he could have his playtime with little bro.Watching Bubba and Malcolm do battle aboard their KLX110s was probably the coolest part of the day. They both have their mini track completely dialed in, so it made for some of the closest racing we’ve seen Stewart do in a long time. They volunteered me to be their starting gate, so I held my arm straight up like some chick from a scene out of a 1950s movie about teenagers dragracing their cars. The boys revved their little green machines to a frantic pitch and roosted away hard banging off gears when I dropped my hand in a most dramatic fashion. Bubba won the first couple of motos, but Malcolm would have his revenge in the third and final race, taking out big brother with a strong move in the whoops. The smile coming from under Malcolm’s helmet seemed bigger than his face, if that’s possible, and he celebrated his brave win with a giant, no-footed one-hander over the finish line jump. The crickets and birds chirped like a stadium full of fans, and the racers went home as evening gave way to the darkness of night.This day with Bubba was probably the coolest experience I’ve had during my short time as a motocross journalist. Bubba is a unique blend of superstar and regular teenage goofball. He possesses a quick wit and the same immature sense of humor as my friends and me. But there is always that flicker of light in his eyes, that edge that makes it impossible to mistake this 17-year-old for anything other than a motocross champion. Bubba is supremely confident when he talks about racing, but he manages it in a way that makes him totally approachable. He never pulled any celebrity, big-time attitude with us even though we worked him all day long. I can honestly say Bubba is the kind of guy you would want your kid to look up to. It’s hard to figure out how a person in his position can be so extremely well balanced, especially when you consider he’s not even a legal adult yet. It almost makes me feel sorry for all of the other young guys who dream about winning a championship right now, because any honest person knows Bubba is an undeniable force on a path to sheer dominance.We’d already put in a nine-hour day, so I felt kind of bad asking Bubba to sit down for the interview, but he was cool with it. We got down to it after he grabbed a glass of Kool-Aid and exchanged a barrage of insults with his brother.MXr: You’re extremely competitive when you get on a bike. Does that competitive attitude translate to other parts of your life?JS: I guess I am a competitive person, because I always want to win and to be the best at the things I do. Off the track I’m really not that competitive, but in racing you have to be extremely competitive, because that’s the only way you can win. There are a lot of guys out there who aren’t competitive–they know it themselves–and that’s why a lot of them don’t win. Then there’s Ricky Carmichael, who’s one of the most competitive guys out there. I think I’m right up there with him and Chad Reed.Where do you find motivation when you’re dominating like you are right now on the 125?I try to lap at least half of the field and I try to win by at least 20 to 30 seconds. So far I’ve done that in four out of five races, that’s just kind of a confidence thing. I like going out there and having fun, I just try to make it interesting for myself. I know the crowd gets bored of it, so I try to ride hard and push myself to keep it interesting.How does it affect you emotionally when you don’t get a good start and have to come through the pack?I just try to relax and take my time, like when I got a bad start at the first Anaheim; I try to stay up for the first couple of laps. Basically, now I know how to judge those guys–I watch them all the time and I know what they have–so I just worry about staying up and getting to the front. Sometimes I ride mad, but I’m usually more embarrassed when I get a bad start and lose.Jeremy McGrath recently retired and took his Showtime title with him. It looks like that torch could be passed to you, judging the way the crowd reacts to your style on and off the bike. What can you do to take it to a higher level?I think I’m prepared for that. I have the speed and confidence and my Nac Nacs are getting a lot better (laughs). I think that would be a cool thing for people to pass me the torch, which means they kind of trust me. I hope I’m doing a good job. I like hanging out with the fans, that’s a big part of it for me. I’m also thankful for the help from Fox, Oakley, Chevy Trucks and Kawasaki–they make this all come true for me.You must be dying to take a shot at racing Carmichael and Reed. Is it frustrating to have to sit back and wait for a chance?Actually, I’m having fun in my class. My class isn’t easy and I’m only 17, so I have a long time to go. I’m not in a hurry or anything, because eventually I’ll be there.You’ve ridden a 250 a couple of times; how much more strength does it take to ride the 250 compared with the 125?A little bit more, I’m actually pretty strong, I just finished my third time riding it. I’ve been riding it a little on the supercross track and my outdoor track, and I’m faster on it than on my 125. I feel more comfortable on a 250, but it’s just something I’m going to gradually work my way into. Maybe you’ll see me on a 250 next year or the year after.Is there ever a point when you feel like you’re riding over your head or out of control to run the pace?No, I always feel under control. If I’m riding over my head I’m trying to ride someone else’s pace, and I need to go back home and do a lot of homework during the week. So far in my career, I don’t feel like I’ve seen someone ride so much faster than me that I have to ride over my head. If that does happen, I’ll just wait until the next week and come back with answers. I made some mistakes last year, but I wasn’t riding over my head, I was just holding myself back.How much better can you get? Do you still feel a lot of untapped potential when you’re out there riding?Oh definitely, I think you’ll see how good I can get when you see me on a 250. I will get better and faster, but right now I’m trying to win the 125 class. I think I have a lot of potential left and will show it here soon. You saw me jump that quad out there, and I still think I can get better at jumping–and jumping makes you faster.You’re expected to win in the 125 class. Does that take any of the sweetness out of victory?To me every victory is sweet. When you win a lot some people react negatively, but I don’t care what they have to say. I just care about my team, my family and my fans out there. I always try to win, but all that really matters is I try my best.How do you train off the bike?When I’m in prime condition, I go to the gym and ride every day. Training is just an everyday thing. Racing on the weekend is really the easiest time of the week, and fortunately I usually get to feel good after a win.Have you done any riding in the sand dunes or any of the other epic play-ride spots?No, I want to go to some of those places. I want to go to the sand dunes, I’ve never been, and I think it would be fun. Maybe one day I’ll go to Mike Metzger’s house and bust out a back flip, but he’ll have to teach me how (laughs).Do you hang out with any of your competitors besides your brother Malcolm, who appears to be a serious threat on your mini supercross track?No, I guess I never really hang out with anybody because there’s nobody who really lives near me. The only person I ride with or hang out with is Eric Sorbe. I like to ride with him a lot, he’s a cool guy and I think he’s a really good rider. For his second year in the United States, he’s doing pretty well.What about race day, is there much smack talking going on out there?No, not really, but eventually there’s going to be some. Last year I started talking a little smack and saying I was going to win before I even went out there, and I ended up winning. It makes me more confident, because I actually go out to win. I probably started doing it after Redbud when I came from last to second and caught Chad. Then before the race at Unadilla I said I was going to win. It’s not cockiness, I just do it because I’m confident. I don’t think Bob Hannah was cocky, and he used to pump up the crowd on the starting line. I think Hannah and I would have had fun (laughs), because we would have hated each other. Bob’s a really cool guy though, I like him.What about Chad Reed? Is there any real bad blood there?Reed and I still talk to each other; I think the media played that up, which made us not like each other more than anything.What would you do if you had a regular job?I think I would like to work for NASA or be a schoolteacher, but you’d see me on the news all the time, because I’d have a kid like my brother in the class and I’d be whooping him every day. I guess I’d like to be a college professor, because all the kids would be over 18.If you could be a pro athlete in another sport, what would it be?Probably basketball–those guys make a lot of money for throwing a piece of rubber around.It’s obvious you have a good sense of humor; do you have any practical jokes you like to play at the races?I like saying my bike sucks when everyone knows it’s the best motorcycle out there, and I like to hit the kill switch, then gas it and pretend it blows up. The guys at Kawasaki dedicate their lives to building the best bike, so I like coming off the track and saying ‘This suspension is unridable.’ They have a heart attack and ask, ‘What can we do?’ and I just start laughing and say, ‘Oh, nothing,’ and walk away.Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera?(Long pause) I’m going to have to say both.You have to settle for one, you can’t be selfish.Everyone’s all about Britney right now, but Christina’s kind of cheap. Um, I’m going to have to go Britney.