James Stewart


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Of all the milestones James "Bubba" Stewart Jr. has reached, being the first African-American to dominate in motocross seems least notable, to him, anyway. After racking up a record-breaking 11 American Motorcyclist Association Amateur National titles riding for Kawasaki Team Green, James was named 2002 Rookie of the Year in his debut pro season. In 2004, he won both the AMA 125 East Supercross Championship and the AMA 125 Motocross National Championship, and four years later, he became the second rider in history after Ricky Carmichael to complete a perfect motocross season, 24 wins in 24 races, after coming back from knee surgery, no less. He capped off his perfect season with the 2008 AMA Speed Athlete of the Year award.

But the athlete many call "the Tiger Woods of Supercross" has made another indelible impression on the sport by breaking its glass ceiling. And while that has garnered the talented rider an even larger limelight, Teen People named him one of "20 Teens Who Will Change the World" in 2003; he's been written about in Rolling Stone, hung out with Michael Jordan, and appeared on the TV game show Deal or No Deal, for James, it's really no big deal. "I mean, it does feel good to be the first ever, but I honestly don't sit here and think about it a lot," James told the St. Petersburg Times in 2004. "With a helmet on, we all look the same anyway."

In 2009, Chad Reed, last year's Supercross champion, will work to defend his title as his rival James, the 2007 winner, aims to take it back. To spice things up a bit, James will turn in his Kawasaki for a Yamaha YZ 450F and race for Reed's former team, the San Manuel Indian's L&M. With all the makings of great battle between worthy opponents, the 2009 season proved one to watch. James stumbled in the beginning, but came back to win the series in the final race at Las Vegas. "Defending your championship is harder than winning," he says, "because you have guys that are really hungry to take it from you."

Follow James Stewart on Twitter: @js7