Catching Up with…#78 Ronnie Stewart
By Billy Rainford
You don’t have to look very hard to find good people in this sport. I’d never met #78 Ronnie Stewart before, but when I saw him come off the track, head back to his white van, get greeted by his wife, Brooke, and his dog, Mya, today while at Lake Elsinore MX, I jumped at it the opportunity.
Sure enough, these two seemed like the privateer couple I was hoping they’d be: friendly, hard-working, and polite. I shot some photos of Ronnie riding, while Brooke gave him lap times and encouragement from the side of the track. We spoke for a while afterward, and this is that conversation:
Direct Motocross: First of all, hello, Ronnie, and thanks for chatting with us today.
Ronnie Stewart: You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure.
Let’s back it up and let people get to know you a little better. Where are you from, where did you grow up racing and when did you turn Pro?
I’m originally from New Jersey and I turned Pro in 2009. I started off doing as many Nationals as I could get to, primarily on the east coast. In 2014, sponsorships came together and we were able to form a team so we were able to compete in the full Supercross and Outdoor schedules.
I’ve been full-time since 2014. But before that, prior to turning Pro, I raced amateur in the north east. Raceway Park was my local track in Englishtown, New Jersey.
Speaking of your amateur career, what was your top finish at one of the big amateur nationals?
I didn’t do any of the big amateur nationals. I raced locally and practiced as much as I could. I got my points through Arenacross to get my Pro license.
We’re at Lake Elsinore MX today. How has the season been going and what are you working on today?
If I may, I’ll actually back you up even further than before the season. Coming into the season, we had a lot of changes. We were a really established team and we had a corporate sponsor that we had been developing for the last 5 years, but they’re not with us anymore since this past off-season. So, a lot of changes moving forward, one being switching to the red bike. I’ve been on Hondas now since the beginning of December.
My pre-season was a rough one. We did everything possible to try to keep our team running at the same capacity as in previous years, and then when that didn’t happen we were scrambling to try to start a new program and re-establish ourselves.
I got a Honda and about 2 weeks into pre-season training, in the middle of December, I took a really hard crash in the whoops section which set me back about a month. I actually didn’t start racing until the 4th round in Phoenix.
It’s been a slow start to the season, but here we are today, feeling much better, physically. I’m back up to par with my conditioning. I’m really enjoying my bike.
Last weekend was not an indication of where I’m at. It was extremely rutted and I struggled, which I’m sure a lot of others did as well.
Today, I’m feeling great and I’m going to keep that momentum going for another practice tomorrow and I’m hopeful that I can have some good races coming up this weekend in San Diego, so I’m very excited for that.
OK, let’s talk about that track last week. Everyone I talk to says the same thing: it was tough and they were just happy to get through it.What did you think about it?
You know, it was scary. Everybody says the same thing. I wasn’t comfortable, and I don’t know what to say…it was a high risk situation and with me just kind of getting going again, the risk/reward just wasn’t there for me quite yet.
I just played it consistent, got through the night, I had two good starts and finished 9th in my LCQ, so it was better than the previous weekend. We’re just going to keep progressing and focusing on making steps toward the main event.
We’re in San Diego this week and then we’re heading to Dallas. Are you doing the whole series this season?
Yes, we’re going to do the whole Supercross series. I’m always excited to go east. It’s a little bit more of a comfort for me, being from the east coast. Here, the dirt is a little different and the environment is just a little bit not the same. It’s nice to go east. I’m really looking forward to racing in Dallas and then going to Florida.
A lot of my family actually relocated to Florida, so it will be nice to see them and race there.
What kind of result are you hoping for this weekend with conditions sure to be a little more “normal?”
I’m focusing on just making steady progression. Obviously, I know I’m a main event rider. I’ve done may main events in the past. Right now, I’m just focusing on improving my weaknesses and getting better.
Last week, I got 9th place, so if I can get closer closer to the main event that will be a positive and a successful weekend for me.
OK, we’ve got to talk a little bit about this privateer lifestyle. You’re from the east and you’re here with the classic Pro Motocrosser white van with your wife, Brooke. How does it all work while you’re on the road?
We have a 44-foot Haulmark motorcoach. Ya know, on the whole “privateer thing,” the whole industry has this perception that you should feel sorry for the privateers and “Oh, poor them…” and I just think that we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard and be professional.
Even though, as a privateer, you may not have the OEM support, you may not have as many resources, it doesn’t mean that you can’t hold yourself to a high professional standard with staying clean, neat, the way you brand yourself, the way you present yourself, not looking like you’re starving.
It’s not a good image when fans come to these events and it looks like you’re just a wreck and you have stuff everywhere. We try to act as clean and professional as possible and I just don’t like when there’s this perception of privateers like you’re hungry and you’re starving and you’re struggling.
Of course, it’s a little bit of a struggle, but I don’t look at is as a “poor me” type of thing. Like I said, with a Hallmark we’re pretty comfortable on the road. We have lots of space.
(Brooke walks over and gets Ronnie to talk a little more in depth about what life on the road is like)
My schedule varies from week to week. You do the best you can. Whether you’re resting, riding, training, riding is always difficult. Next week we have about 1500 miles to go to the next round, so we may not get a full week of riding in. It varies from week to week but we just do the best we can with resting and trying to get a little bit more fit each week.
Brooke, my wife, does a good job with making sure my meals are good, because refueling your body and recovering is probably the most important thing of all. We do pretty good with that.
How old are you and how many more years do you have left in you?
I’m 28 years old and that’s a tough question to answer. Before, we were on a mission with building a team and we really had a cool niche that we were going for. I’m very passionate about racing, I absolutely love it. I feel like I can go out there and do very well, but it needs to make sense for my family and I to be able to be out there. I have life and bills to cover, so right now we’re trying to be in the moment and, like Brooke said, re-establish ourselves and acquire more funding so we can continue. Right now, we’re just focusing on this Supercross season.
What would you do in the future when you do decide to quit Pro racing?
I’ve always had a passion for teaching the next generation. That’s what I’ve actually done for 6 or 7 years to supplement my income along the way. That’s going to be the bridge. I don’t feel like that’s something that I want to do, long-term. If you don’t see me on the Outdoor circuit this summer, I will be holding riding school in the north east, having fun with that, and using that to decide whatever I do next.
So, would you ever consider taking a ride up in Canada, like a lot of guys do?
I absolutely would. If an opportunity presented itself, it would be great to see a different country and race with some different riders.
Well, thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us this afternoon. Good luck this weekend and who would you like to thank?
Thank you very much. It was great to catch up with you. I have a whole host of people I would like to thank, I wouldn’t be able to do it without them.
Liberty Elevator Corp.
50 YardlIne Sports Bar
ISC Racers Tape
Ocean County Powersports
Hinson Clutch Components