Round 16 of the 2021 Supercross season was a race of firsts as Malcolm Stewart, the only Black rider in the series, and Jo Shimoda, the first Japanese rider to win a 250 SX race, reached career milestones.
Malcolm’s brother, James, cast a long shadow after winning the 450 Supercross championship in 2007 and 2009.
A decade later, Malcolm did not burst onto the scene quite as brightly. He scored only a handful of top-10s and no top-fives in his first two 450 seasons of 2017 and 2018. The 2019 season was worse. After getting off to a solid start with a seventh in Anaheim 1 that year, he broke his leg the following week and was forced to miss the remainder of the season.
Stewart showed promise in 2020. His first 10 races before the COVID-19 outbreak provided a sweep of the top 10. He earned top-fives in three of the final seven races at Salt Lake City – so it was fitting that was the venue of his first career podium and a highlight of his first season with Star Yahama Racing.
“For some reason I like Utah,” Stewart told the media after finishing third in Round 16 last Saturday night. “I’ve always had a good result here, and I’ve always rode good here.”
Stewart opened the 2021 season with a finish of fifth in Houston 1. He improved by one position in Indianapolis 3 and that fourth-place finish was tantalizingly close to the podium. Only one more top-five followed on the tough infield layout at Daytona International Speedway.
“It’s cool to finally get that podium,” Stewart said. “It’s one of those goals I felt like I should have achieved a long time ago, but it took a while for me. But just being in the race. I’ve had a lot of struggles in my past, but I felt like when we had a two-week break I definitely got my bike a little better. Even fitness a little bit.
“The 450 class is tough. If you ain’t in the mix, you ain’t going to get a podium from the back. It’s all about making a couple of passes in the beginning and finding yourself in the race.”
Riding with the leaders is a much different experience than riding in the middle of the pack. Stewart learned lessons he didn’t know he needed to learn.
“I was in that little pack with just me, (Jason) Anderson and (Cooper Webb),” Stewart said. “It’s fun to have that little battle. Just to be in the mix with those guys because half the time I’ve been in the back, just riding by myself.
“I’m beyond stoked. It’s a dream come true for me to finally have that and now I finally have that taste for it and I’m ready to have some more.”
The same emotions echoed with Jo Shimoda.
In the closing laps of the 250 East race at Salt Lake City, Shimoda grabbed an early lead and held off a determined charge by Jett Lawrence in the closing laps. Shimoda became the first Japanese rider to win a Supercross event.
“Today was a most memorable day,” Shimoda said in an Instagram post. “Imagine coming in US with part of family … and now to win a Supercross?”
Jett Lawrence needed the position to close in on third in the points with only one race remaining. He was not going to allow Shimoda to take the win without a fight.
Lawrence was on Shimoda’s back tire as the two crossed under the checkers. When Lawrence caught up with Shimoda after the race, he was at least as happy as his friend as the winner was himself.
“I knew something was coming,” Shimoda said after the race. “I had a few podiums this year. Today I just kept my pace. I knew I wasn’t the fastest today, but finally I got a holeshot and led the whole race. It was not easy, but I knew it was coming.”
It was Shimoda’s first holeshot of the season as well.
The 2021 season has been remarkable.
With one race still on the books, six riders have won their first 250 race. Jett Lawrence set the tone in Houston 2 with a victory in his eighth start. Shimoda finished fifth in that race. Notably, that was Shimoda’s worst result all season.
At the beginning of the season, Shimoda was happy with the consistency shown by his run of top-fives. He finished fourth, fifth and fourth in the three-race residency at Houston. But things changed when he scored two podiums in three Indianapolis races.
“If you’re in fourth or fifth in all the races, you will never be the champion,” Shimoda said. “My goal was to be consistent in the one, two, three spot. It’s getting better and better, so we’re going to keep going this way.”
Shimoda knew something great was on the horizon. During practice for the penultimate round of Supercross action, he practiced his celebration.
“Every time I crossed the finish line I was tapping (the front fender),” Shimoda said. “That was the best time to do it.”