A resident of Haines City, Florida, Stewart received AMA Pro Racing’s highest honor at an awards banquet held at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Ala. on Nov. 23.
The AMA SPEED Athlete of the Year Award recognizes Stewart’s 2008 AMA Motocross Championship season including a perfect run of victories in all 24 motos. Making his achievement more remarkable was that Stewart’s success came after undergoing knee surgery in January which forced him out of the 2008 Supercross season.
“This is one of my highest honors,” says Stewart. “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.”
Since his return, Stewart has been unbeatable, becoming the second rider to record a perfect Motocross season. Ricky Carmichael recorded perfect outdoor seasons twice, in 2002 and 2004.
Also at the banquet, Joe and Cheryl Swanson received the AMA Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year Award, recognizing their efforts in supporting the AMA Hillclimb Championship.
Ben Spies’ crew chief Tom Houseworth was given the AMA Award for Mechanical Excellence. With Houseworth’s help, Spies recorded ten wins and finished outside of the top two only once on his way to the 2008 AMA Superbike 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,” says Houseworth. “We all cover each others’ butts. If something goes wrong, someone else is there to catch it. Everybody watches out for everybody else.”
Houseworth will follow Spies and continue to be his crew chief as the three-time AMA Superbike Champion competes in the 2009 World Superbike Championship with Yamaha Motor Italia.