GNCC Racing

Tuesday Toolbox: Steward Baylor Jr.

Tuesday Toolbox: Steward Baylor Jr.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021 | 6:30 PM
Tuesday, March 23, 2021 | 6:30 PM

The picture-perfect script: The sun is shining; birds are chirping, the sky is a perfect Yamaha ‘blu’ and Stu Baylor has won all three rounds to start the 2021 season and easily sits atop the points chase. Life is good for Stu Baylor…

Except, that’s not how things are going at all. Somewhere along the way, that picture-perfect script was thrown out the window. A wrench was thrown into the gears, or in Stu’s case, a tree branch to the gut. Just when we all thought things were going to start going Stu’s way, chaos ensues. There’s no doubt AmPro Yamaha’s Steward Baylor Jr would prefer things to be going picture-perfect. However, they’re not and have not for a nearly a year. But he’s okay with that. In fact, he’s comfortable with it. And that, well that should scare a lot of people.

Steward Baylor sits eighth in the points championship, but is ready to battle his way to the front of the standings. Photo: Mack Faint 
Steward Baylor sits eighth in the points championship, but is ready to battle his way to the front of the standings. Photo: Mack Faint Stu, thanks for joining me! First off, how are you and what have you been up to?

Steward Baylor Jr: Trying to keep moving forward. Obviously, I’ve had some rough patches throughout the last few months. Some things that have kept me off the bike more than I’d like. But the last couple weeks I’ve been doing a lot of testing and focusing on my fitness, trying to make up for some things I missed in the offseason.

Tell us, from your perspective, how you’re dealing with the start of this season. A lot of people, including myself, had you picked to come out and pick up right where you left off in 2020.

It started with the injury to gut. I’ve never had a wound that big. It was a little scary. I’ve had injuries, I’ve had stiches, but never anything like this. I didn’t expect it to take this long to heal. Here I am, six weeks later and I still have a scab. Four weeks in I still had stiches, in fact I raced Florida with the stiches still in. It was frustrating, I didn’t expect to have to miss any GNCCs. That was actually the last thing on my mind. I knew I’d have to take a couple weeks off, but I planned on riding in round one at Big Buck. I had an ER Doctor look at it, and I told Randy Hawkins I was going to be completely honest with him about what the Doctor reported. The Doctor told me it was a 50/50 shot at the wound reopening and if it did it would be another three weeks or more of being off the bike and allowing it to heal. On top of that, if I reinjured it bad enough, I’d need a wound vacuum. I’ve had a wound vacuum before, on my knee. I did not want to go through that again. Still, even after all that, in my mind I thought I could race. I wanted to race. I knew the Doctor said it’s a 50/50 chance. But honestly, I’d have to almost duplicate perfectly what happened the first time. I knew that likely wouldn’t happen, but there are still risks. Yamaha made the decision for me and told they didn’t want me to race.

You came to RacerTV as we were recording our show-openers Friday night at Big Buck. We could tell it was the news we were all wondering and speculating about. Even when RacerTV recorded you telling the GNCC Racin’ Nation you weren’t racing on Sunday, I couldn’t help but think, “Stu still wants to run. And if AmPro Yamaha gives him an inch he’s going to take it. He’ll be lined up Sunday.”

Yeah, Saturday night I told my mechanic, if that bike is under the tent tomorrow, I’m racing. Sunday morning I get up and the bike is still under the tent. I thought, alright, I’m racing! Then they confirmed, I wasn’t. I said, look, if this bike is sitting here it’s getting ridden. I have everything I need to race, if it’s here, I’m racing. Obviously, Randy (Hawkins) and the guys needed to be in the woods for the girls in the AM race. But once they got back, they loaded it in someone’s van and off it went. It was devastating as I had to go into spectator-mode for round one. But Florida, that one was more devastating. Obviously, I had some bike issues in lap two. That felt like a nail in the coffin for me. I thought in that moment, and still do, Ben Kelley is going to be my toughest competition for the championship. He’s very consistent, he will take some risks during the race at times, but he’s very smart otherwise. I believe he’s going to the toughest competition for me. And in Florida, for me, the worst case scenario played out. Ben got out front while I was fighting mid-pack just trying to gain as many points as possible. After Big Buck I wasn’t too worried, I knew if I could win Wild Boar in Florida, I’d be sitting somewhere around 15 points out from first place. Instead, I ended Florida back 41 points. That was difficult to wrap my mind around.

Photo: Ken Hill
Photo: Ken Hill

In hindsight, any regrets not racing round one at Big Buck?

Umm, possibly yes. I mean, ask me this question again at the end of the season. If I lose the championship by a few points, then yeah major regret. I mean, honestly, I have some regrets now for not racing it, but if I have to go into the offseason with that over my head, yeah regrets for sure.

As you go into round three in Georgia. You now know you have to start clicking off wins if you want a shot at the championship. How much did those first two rounds motivate you. Because much of that race you looked unstoppable.

Yeah, I lined up that knowing there was nothing else that was going to get me back up front in points without winning. I knew I had to win. Ben (Kelley) is in a good position right now. He knows he doesn’t have to win to stay ahead of me. He just needs to ride smart. Obviously, he needs to think about Grant (Baylor) and Josh (Strang). But both of those guys know the same thing, they don’t need to beat me right now, they just have to stay with me and ride smart. Whereas I am now in a must-win position. Which is a difficult position to be in. It’s where you start risking a little more on the track. That’s when you’re more likely to get injured from pushing yourself to hard or have a mechanically failure because you’re pushing the bike too hard.

Let’s back up a bit. Round one, Big Buck. You went from irritated XC1 Pro who isn’t lining up to race, to RacerTV Analyst to spectator cheering on your younger brother, Grant Baylor. What was that like, getting to watch Grant snag grab that win in your home state?

That was about as cool as it gets. I want to be racing, for sure, but if I can’t I want to watch Grant succeed. That was a high of both of our careers. To me, at this point, I don’t think there’s ever been two brothers to share as many great moments in racing as we have. Sharing the world championship podium in Argentina in 2014, we’ve both led days in the ISDE Jr Division for the personal overall. We’ve both pulled top five fastest guys in the world at ISDE, we’ve both won National Enduro Championships, we’ve stood on the podium together at GNCC and National Enduros and we’ve both won Sprint Enduros. I was thrilled to see him win his first overall GNCC. Not only see him win, but to see him do it in the same place I got my first win at the exact same age as me when I got that win. And it’s our home state, there’s nothing quite like it.

Baylor continues to work through some
Baylor continues to work through some "normal Baylor hiccups" as the season progresses. Photo: Ken Hill

You mentioned during the broadcast on RacerTV at Big Buck, for the first time in a long time everyone in the XC1 seems to be getting along well. No one really holds any animosity or grudges going into the season. We’re three rounds in, is that still the case?

I think so, I don’t think anyone really has any issues with anyone else. I know there is some drama going on in the XC2 but overall I think things are pretty chill. I mean, I like to trash talk, but I don’t think it bothers any of the other riders, at least I don’t think it does, maybe it does. Thad (Duvall) and I will go back and forth on social media, but we’re buddies and it’s all for fun. If we can do that and it’s no harm no foul in our opinion. It might get a little rough at times, but I think it’s good for the sport. I mean, look at boxing or UFC, going into a fight everyone thinks these two guys hate each other, when in reality they’re buddies. It builds hype and attention to our sport, and that’s a good thing. We want to fire up the fans.

Elephant in the room, Kailub Russell finally retires, it’s your time now, then BOOM here comes another guy on a KTM, Ben Kelley leading the points. Is it déjà vu?

Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me who it is, or what team it is. I want to win; I think I’m due and I know I have the experience. I feel like I have a little more speed than the rest of the guys. At every track? No, but generally speaking I feel like I have a shot to win every single time I line up. I have the bike I need to be on, the team I need behind me and the speed on race day. Sure there are a lot of variables. Everyone has a bad day, mechanicals happen, but overall I feel like I have what it takes to win every Sunday. To me there are five guys who can land on the podium every race and three guys who can win. Four, possibly, now that Grant has that first win. That’s a huge confidence booster for him.

Other elephant in the room. It’s finally public, you and your wife, Jade, are going to have a baby! How’s that going and has it changed your outlook on things, knowing you’re going to be a dad?

It’s not necessarily affecting how I race; however it does throw a curveball. It certainly affects your mindset. Right now we’re focused on making sure the baby room is ready and I’ve got a half-sick full crazy woman all the time. But we planned this, and I think we know what to expect. I know I’ve got to provide for my family and the best way for me to do that is win races. It certainly doesn’t change my career path. I have a game plan; I don’t plan on racing much longer anyway. Sooner or later, I’ll be out there watching my kid race.

Photo Mack Faint
Photo Mack Faint

Are you 100% healthy right now as we head into round four at Camp Coker?

There are still a few things I’m dealing with. I’ve got Epstein-Barr. That’s still showing up in my blood work. It’s not ideal but it’s manageable. This time though, was not the time for it to happen. I think I over-worked my system and got a little sick. Got that cold they call the Corona Virus which gave me a sneeze and a cough. That was a hiccup early in the year for me when I was supposed to cutting my deer season weight. I’m not really in a position right now where I can do an aggressive weight cut because I’d sacrifice too much of my energy. Even with the extra 20 pounds I’m carrying around. I also had some had issues that came up. Might have been a little fishing accident that’s been lingering. But that hasn’t affected the way I’m riding. Just your normal Baylor hiccups.

Do you feel like your thrive when the chips are down? You seem to really shine when the pressure is on?

I don’t really want all the bad things to happen to me. There seems to be this dark cloud that follows me around at times. Over my career I’ve had a lot of adversity and it’s taught me to deal with things like I’ve gone through in the past couple years. I’m able to block it out and thrive with the pressure is on. I think that’s really good when it comes down to championships. I’ve had a couple National Enduro Championships that came down to the last race. I’ve always been able to pull it out when I need too. I feel like it’s more a mindset than anything. I don’t want these things to happen to me, but sometimes it helps me ride better. There are moments where I’m so focused on proving the nay-sayers wrong that I’m not worried about where I’m at on the track, I just want to silence anyone who says I can’t do it. I’m there to ride my own race, I don’t care about anything else, I’m there to prove a point. That’s when I seem to perform the best, when I block out everything else and just ride my own race.

Two more very serious questions. First one, is there anyone, Pro or Amateur rider that can shotgun a beer faster than you?

Absolutely not. For sure no one in the Pro Bike Class. Maybe Adam McGill on the Pro ATV side, but I think he’s all for show. Only one guy I know of that could hang with me for a night or two… but he wanted to retire. So…

Baylor earned the overall win at Round 3, The Specialized General GNCC. Photo: Mack Faint
Baylor earned the overall win at Round 3, The Specialized General GNCC. Photo: Mack Faint

Last one before we let you thank some sponsors. Which Yamaha rider is more country, Steward Baylor Jr or Aaron Plessinger?

Oh, me! Me for sure! AP is a Yankee that wants to be Southern.

This was a ton of fun! Thanks for taking some time to chat with us. Who would you like to thank?

AmPro Yamaha, Moose, Shoei, 100% goggles, Dunlop and FMF.