Facts: James Stewart vs. Jett Lawrence.

As a precaution, 18-year-old James Stewart went to the hospital to rehydrate. The flu caused everything he put in his body to come right back out. If he wanted to even have a chance at lining up for round two of the 2004 THQ 125cc Eastern Regional Supercross Series in Minneapolis, he needed rest and fluids. He spent several days tethered to an IV in an Orlando-area hospital.

Then, on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2004, he went to the Metrodome, won by 7.7 seconds, and tied Jeremy McGrath for most all-time 125SX wins (13), a mark he matched in just 20 races to McGrath’s 31. The nearly eight second win margin was his tightest in the championship series.

James Stewart
James Stewart after 1 of his 18 125SX main event wins

The only main event Stewart didn’t win that year was the one he didn’t line up for (Indianapolis) and the only moto he didn’t win that summer was the one he cartwheeled through the first corner of (RedBud M2).

In the 125 class (as it was called back then) from 2002-2004, the only rider to truly beat James Stewart was a 16, 17 and 18-year-old kid named James Stewart. And he did it all on a KX125, one of the few riders… brave? crazy? masochistic? enough to line up a two stroke against a field of 250 four strokes.

16-year-old James Stewart in 2002
16-year-old James Stewart in 2002

That didn’t prevent him from winning Supercross mains by 21, 25, 28 and 35 seconds. He still won Motocross motos by 37, 40, 46 and 69.5 seconds, Twenty-second-plus win margins in stadiums and 30-second-plus margins at nationals were frighteningly normal all three years he was in the class.

His team at Kawasaki often begged him to slow down, even NOT jump things, such as LaRocco’s Leap at RedBud.

The Fastest Teenager

In motorsports, calling any one athlete “the fastest” is a highly subjective folly that leads to emotional public outcry and objection. But it makes for fun debate.

17-year-old Jett Lawrence in Oct. 2020. Photo: Garth Milan
17-year-old Jett Lawrence in Oct. 2020. Photo: Garth Milan

When Racer X (rightfully) named Jett Lawrence its 2023 Rider of the Year but asserted in the sub-headline that it was “now safe to say that Jett Lawrence was the fastest teenager our sport has ever seen”, fans who witnessed Stewart ride a 125 took vociferous umbrage.

“Wasn’t James Stewart a teenager at one point?” asked one reader.

We will never know how Jett would do on the track against James. Emma Lawrence was pregnant with her third son when Chris Tedesco snapped the mind bending image of Stewart scrubbing up Budds Creek’s Henry Hill. Jettson was still in nappies when Stew went 30-1 in gate drops through the 2004 SX/MX seasons.

James Stewart at Budds Creek
James Stewart at Budds Creek, 2003: “The Bubba Scrub was born out of pure necessity and my desire to win.” Photo: Chris Tedesco

In straight win numbers, competing as a teenager in AMA Supercross and Pro Motocross events, Stewart has Lawrence smoked: he won 49 of the 69 races he entered (71%). Jett had more races than Stewart as a teen, his first coming within a week of turning 16, and he won 35 of the 76 (46%).

Stew vs. Jett (as teenagers)
sportCLASSRIDER NAMESTARTSWINSWIN %
sxallJames Stewart312168%
sxallJett Lawrence321341%
mxallJames Stewart382874%
mxallJett Lawrence442250%
combinedallJames Stewart694971%
combinedallJett Lawrence763546%
combined125/250James Stewart564682%
combined125/250Jett Lawrence682740%
combined250/450James Stewart6350%
combined250/450Jett Lawrence88100%
sportCLASS

Segmenting only the 250 (formerly 125) class, it’s not even a comparison. Jett was great but James was Alexander The Great.

Stew vs. Jett (125/250 only)
sportCLASSRIDER NAMESTARTSWINSWIN %
sxallJames Stewart312168%
sxallJett Lawrence321341%
mxallJames Stewart382874%
mxallJett Lawrence442250%
combinedallJames Stewart694971%
combinedallJett Lawrence763546%
combined125/250James Stewart564682%
combined125/250Jett Lawrence682740%
combined250/450James Stewart6350%
combined250/450Jett Lawrence88100%
sportCLASS

In 125/250, Stewart is the all-time wins leader in both Supercross (18) and Pro Motocross (28). He won 82% of the races he entered in his three years in the class. He won his first Supercross three weeks after his 16th birthday.

San Diego 2002, 16-year-old James Stewart wins his first professional race. Photo: Simon Cudby
San Diego 2002, 16-year-old James Stewart wins his first professional race. Photo: Simon Cudby

Breaking out motocross, he won three of the first four motos he lined up for (and both overalls). He won 28 of 31 events. Of those three races he didn’t win, he suffered a mechanical DNF in two of them and crashed out of a moto in the third.

Lawrence raced the Unadilla Pro Motocross three days after his 16th birthday and went 21-8 for 13th overall. His first professional win came two months after his 17th birthday at the closing round of the 2020 Pro Motocross series (the 2020 MX season ran from mid-August to mid-Oct.).

Jett Lawrence winning at Unadilla
Jett Lawrence winning at Unadilla in 2021, 7 days after his 18th birthday. Photo: Garth Milan

Lawrence ended his 250SX career with 13 wins in 32 starts, nearly the same record as McGrath (13/31). In 250MX, he won 14 of 36. His 250 class win percentage stands at 40%; incredible, but less than half Stewart’s mark.

This writer’s favorite comparison between these two riders is the eponymous adjectives derived from mashing their names with their talents: Stewable for Stewart and Jetterational for Jett.

Jett Lawrence, 2021
Jett Lawrence won his first championship in Sept. 2021, a month after turning 18. Photo: Garth Milan

While examining teen winning percentages is fun, it’s what Lawrence continues to do that is beyond impressive. Both riders won four 125/250 championships as teenagers but Lawrence’s stock hit a bull market as a 19-year-old and it’s still climbing. He won a couple of 250 MX overalls and a championship, a half dozen 250SX main events (and a championship) and then an eye-popping 16 consecutive 450MX motos. At 20, he’s still winning and now we’re holding our breath until Jan. 6, 2024.

Jett Lawrence, 2023
Jett Lawrence at Fox Raceway in Pala, CA, May 2023. As a 19-year-old, Lawrence went 16-0 in the 450 class. Photo: Garth Milan.

Stewart at 16-18 was a “diamond hands” tech stock that shot for the moon. At 19, however, his stock went into bear market territory. Two weeks after his birthday, he entered 2005 as a full-time premier class rider but, in the end, only lined up for 13 of the 30 races that year.

He won three Supercross main events against Ricky Carmichael, Chad Reed and Kevin Windham but missed half the season with injury. In motocross, Stewart pulled out a switchblade in a sword fight. Kawasaki still didn’t have a 450 and he couldn’t pull off the same magic on a KX250 that he did on a KX125.

James Stewart and Ricky Carmichael, 2005
James Stewart and Ricky Carmichael at the 2005 Southwick Motocross National. Photo: Simon Cudby

He was in and out of the series, started just 12 of the 24 motos and only scored points in eight of them. The market for James Stewart hit a recession that didn’t fully end until 2007 when he dominated the Supercross championship.

Lawrence’s career path didn’t put him in the premier class until he was 10 weeks away from turning 20. But he made the absolute most of it: after 16 straight 450MX moto wins, Lawrence won the 2023 450 Pro Motocross Championship five days after his 20th birthday. He’s still on a championship streak that could stretch to seven if he pulls off a Supercross title in his first try in 450SX.

BENCH RACING (OPINION)

Who was the all-time fastest teenager in moto?

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Each had legendarily memorable careers as teenagers that will take an exceptional combination of circumstances and skills to match. While domination is always a possibility, it’s impossible to replicate what Stewart did because of the comical win margins and what he did it on; as much as we hate to admit it, two strokes are not returning to the winning level of the sport.

What about Lechien, Bradshaw and Carmichael?

Some fans who bristled at the thought of Jett being called “fastest teen” saw it as diss against riders from even earlier generations. We could flashback to 1983 when 16-year-old Ron Lechien won the Orlando Supercross, or 1990 when 17-year-old Damon Bradshaw won the first two rounds of the seasons.

Ron Lechien at the 1983 Pasadena Supercross.
Ron Lechien at the 1983 Pasadena Supercross. Photo: David Dewhurst.

As impressive as they were, those were anomalies, however, because nobody builds a career in motorsports today by jumping in with the most elite as quickly as possible.

In the case of Lechien, he had no other choice. There was no 125 (now 250) class. As for Bradshaw, he felt like he had done enough after a single season on a 125.

A decade later, Carmichael found himself in a similar position in Supercross; he won 12 125 SX main events in 18 tries and promoted himself in Supercross only. In 1999, he struggled in the 250/450SX class.

So, who was the fastest teenager?

James Stewart, 2004
James Stewart, 2004

Stewart. And it’s not even close.

Stew is long retired and his place in the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame could be based solely on what he did from 2002-2004 alone. Stewart was 18 and had four championships. Lawrence won his first title at age 18.

Lawrence is no longer a teenager and, based on the evolution of a program that continues to build and strengthen, he has obviously learned from the stumbles made by those who came before him.

Jett Lawrence with his #1 plate at the 2023 Denver SX. Photo: Garth Milan
Jett Lawrence with his #1 plate at the 2023 Denver SX. Photo: Garth Milan

It’s far too early to bestow a legacy-defining nickname on a rider that has yet to even begin a 31-race season. Maybe by late Sept. 2024, 2025, or 2026, something will naturally evolve.

But keep in mind: GOAT, King, and The Fastest Man on the Planet are already taken and they’re non-transferrable.

James Stewart at the 2003 Steel City National. Photo: Tony Scavo
James Stewart at the 2003 Steel City National. Photo: Tony Scavo