In addition to class champions and previously announced awards for rookies of the year, special awards were presented to those who stood out among even this crowd of world-class competitors.
The night’s highest honor, the AMA SPEED Athlete of the Year Award, was presented to 2008 AMA Motocross Champion James Stewart. Stewart had an incredible year in the AMA Toyota Motocross Championship Series, winning 24 of 24 motos to claim his first outdoor title in the premier class.
“This is one of my highest honors,” Stewart said. “After seven years, I finally did something good enough to win this. The (motocross) season didn’t start for me in May. It started when I got hurt two weeks into (the Supercross season). It had been three years in a row that I haven’t finished the outdoor season, and I was sitting in the hospital thinking, again, that my year was done before it even started.”
Instead, Stewart’s season was one of the greatest in history, with Stewart becoming only the second rider ever to complete a perfect outdoor record. The first was Ricky Carmichael, who accomplished the feat twice.
Also at the banquet, Joe and Cheryl Swanson were honored with the AMA Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year Award. For years, the AMA Hillclimb Championship has happened because the Swansons have tirelessly worked to make it a possibility. Their constant extra effort helps make the series a better experience for everyone involved.
Winning the AMA Award for Mechanical Excellence was Tom Houseworth, crew chief for Ben Spies’ championship-winning AMA Superbike effort. In 2008, Spies had 10 wins and finished outside the top two only once. Houseworth also won the 2006 and 2007 AMA Supercross titles with Spies, along with the 2007 AMA Superstock championship.
“The key to doing well is all my guys doing well, and the key to that is keeping them happy. If they’re happy, they do good work,” Houseworth said. “We all cover each others’ butts. If something goes wrong, someone else is there to catch it. Everybody watches out for everybody else.”