Stewart and Reed don’t much care for each other, one reason why their rivalry is the best going in motorsport – at least in our editorial opinion.
In the world of sport, rivalry brings out the best and worst in competitors. Which is, of course, why fans love them – the bitterer the better. Right now, there’s no better rivalry in motorsport than James Stewart and Chad Reed.
Examining great rivalries, the best require two important components:
1. A genuine personal dislike between the competitors (or at least the appearance of one).
2. Competition at the highest caliber.
Stewart and Reed have plenty of both. In the first regard, Stewart and Reed’s on-track relationship has blossomed in recent years from cool indifference to icy confrontation. Last round at Phoenix, it progressed to physical blows when Reed smacked Stewart (or was it a forceful swipe), after the two went down hard in a corner. Post race Stewart went over to Reed’s pit and pushed over his Kawasaki racebike. The latest incident continues the feud that started getting really nasty at the end of last year’s SX season. Bottom line – the two don’t get along. (Get the inside story in the Motorcycle USA Phoenix Supercross Insider.)
And the personality clashes in a rivalry are what make it compelling. A rival gets under your skin, makes you want it that much more. It’s doubtful James Stewart savors passing perpetual nice guy Andrew Short like he does sticking it to Reed in the corner. A rival pushes your buttons too, as it’s difficult to imagine Stewart attacking Short’s Honda in the pits either!
Getting down and dirty at Phoenix – the latest Stewart/Reed dustup led to heated altercations on the track and off.
While gentlemanly competition of the may-the-better-man-win variety is laudable, it can get stale too. Spirited rivalries satiate the fan’s need to not just root for someone, but dislike someone else. It gets the bile churning. If you need examples, read the comments from Reed and Stewart supporters at the bottom of almost every Supercross article on our site (we assume this one too…). Saturday nights in a household with a Reed fan and Stewart fan must bristle with tension akin to a Hatfield/McCoy wedding… one verbal misstep and its go time!
As for competing at the highest caliber, Stewart and Reed have been the top tier riders of Supercross since Ricky Carmichael’s exit. Stewart may be acknowledged as the more talented of the two, faster on the track and winning more races, but Reed has been the only consistent threat to Stewart dominance (though Ryan Dungey is off to an impressive start for 2010). Reed does have a pair of AMA Supercross titles and a fresh AMA Motocross championship – they don’t hand those out to just anyone.
A third component of a great rivalry, more a byproduct really, is the role of the villain. Mat Mladin comes to mind, and his great AMA Superbike rivalry with teammate Ben Spies. Mladin spoke his mind with curt language and made it plain that he was at races to win them, not make friends with his teammate – or anyone else for that matter. Fans love him or hate him, there isn’t much in between. How about Max Biaggi, the ultimate villain to the mega-popular Valentino Rossi in MotoGP? Biaggi whined and pouted all the time, and even sported the mustachioed goatee of a melodramatic villain – sans cape and top hat.
Don’t most fans relish the antagonistic villains? Appreciate their flinty demeanor, their willingness to stir things up. Who didn’t snicker a little back in 2006 when Mladin said in reference to the upstart Spies that “he still has his mom hanging around wiping his bum.” Head games. Great stuff. What about Biaggi? The man that goaded Rossi into pre-podium fisticuffs back in 2001, probably just by being Max Biaggi. Imagine how boring the paddock would be if everyone were the aw shucks clean cut kid, who says all the right things, all the time. “The bike was really good. My team was really good. My competition’s really good. I’d like to thank my sponsors, they’re really good…”
Last year at Vegas, Reed needed six points to catch Stewart for the title. When Stewart tried to let Reed around him, the Aussie made sure the pass was a hard one.
Reed seems to be the villain in this rivalry, though his supporters can argue it’s other way around. He says the right, wrong things. Take his preseason quote regarding Stewart in a USA Today interview: “I think our dislike for each other runs pretty thick. I’m excited to get on the racetrack and take it to him.”
Not the quote given by someone who plays the game of polite civility that assumes everyone gets along and hold hands all the time. It’s refreshingly honest: I don’t like him, he don’t like me – let’s race. Reed’s performance at the 2009 Supercross Las Vegas finale was great villain material too: When Stewart slowed to let Reed by, knowing he could finish with enough points to win the title, the Aussie executed a rough pass, nearly running his rival off the track. Toss some whirling blades on the spokes and you have the chariot race from Ben-Hur! Not a race the fans or riders will soon forget.
That’s not to say every race should be a blood sport or feature cheap takedowns or punches, but over the course of a season a few heated moments aren’t a bad thing. The really bad news is that Reed is out six weeks now with a broken hand and will return with the title well out of reach.
Returning with nothing to lose, let’s hope Reed gets immediately up to speed and challenge Stewart for wins. With any luck, the rivalry can continue to fester into some epic racing for 2010.