At the opening round of the AMA motocross series, there was the usual hype surrounding the usual suspects in the MX2 class. The heavy favorite was last year’s almost-champ Monster Energy Pro Circuit’s Christophe Pourcel but there would be a fierce battle behind the Frenchman for second place and those racers were thought to be Pourcel’s teammate Jake Weimer, GEICO Honda’s Trey Canard and Justin Barcia and maybe the rookie Dean Wilson.
One name that people knew about but not many thought would be right up there was another rookie, Eli Tomac of that GEICO Honda team. Just like Barcia, Tomac skipped the supercross season to get his feet wet with the outdoors first. It was a smart move as the kid from Colorado took advantage of a mistake by Pourcel in the first moto to almost win the first moto he ever entered as a professional. A small crash with a couple of laps to go ended that dream but in the second moto, Tomac went wire to wire for that win and the overall on the day with a 3-1 finish.
The son of one of the legends of mountain biking, Eli was a long time Suzuki amateur rider before being wooed over to the GEICO Honda team with the deal being two years in the amateur series and then two in the pros. The kids a fast learner obviously and at the second round in Texas, he again almost won both motos before the scorching heat got to him.
Still, after two nationals, he sits in second in the points and has once again shown everyone that the very best kids in America are capable of winning in the pros right out of the gate.
I caught up to Eli after the Texas round to get his thoughts on the season so far:
TWMX: Eli, I know a lot about you from your amateur days, but some of the readers may not have followed your career. Let’s start by recapping your amateur career.
Eli Tomac: When I was on 50s, when I first started out, I definitely wasn’t the top guy. My first Loretta’s I think I got 24th place. I really didn’t start doing well until I was on 60s. Then I got picked up by Suzuki and rode for them on 60s and 80s. It was an awesome program, especially for a ten year old. Then I did well enough to get Factory Connection deal and was able to sign a two-year amateur/two-year pro deal.
Then you made your smashing debut at Hangtown, winning it. That had to have been amazing.
Yeah, it was pretty incredible. I was hoping for top five, and then getting the win was a little bit farther out there.
At any time at Hangtown, did you find yourself being a little bit in awe of all the guys and what was going on?
I really got the “awe” factor after Pourcel crashed in the first moto. I was in lead and I was thinking ‘wow, no way,’ and then the next lap or two I could hear the fans when was letting off in the corners. That got me hyped up and a little nervous. Then I made a little mistake and tipped over. I don’t know if I made it because I was nervous, I just kind of got bucked and washed out the front end.
Did it change your mindset, like maybe you could win a title? Did it step anything up?
Yeah, now that we know that I can win, I’m going out there to get top three or win. That’s our goal. If you get top three and have consistent motos through the season, you usually have a good shot at the title.
What is it with the Geico Honda guys? First Josh Grant with the opening round a few years back, then Canard comes out of nowhere to win an SX title, we all know what Barcia did, and now you. Talk about the team and the program, what makes it so successful.
When I was an amateur, I would go out and do some testing with them. I think they’re really good at preparing you early and getting you ready. I think they’re really good at grooming the amateur guys, and they put in the hard work on the bikes and equipment.
How far off was your amateur bike from what you’re racing now?
Well, I didn’t have fancy brake calipers, the triple clamps. Didn’t have the engine. I probably had the best engine out there for an amateur, but it definitely wasn’t a pro bike. They obviously don’t want to do that because it’s not fair in the amateur ranks, and they want to make you earn it.
Talk about the Texas motos this weekend. Second place in the first moto, then you got a little hot in the second moto?
First moto I felt awesome all the way until about a lap after halfway, then I started to get really hot again. I almost thought about peeling my goggles in the first moto too. I just held onto it. Pourcel, man I don’t understand how he kept motoring on. Right after that first moto I almost passed out, it was gnarly. I seriously drank like eight bottles of water right after the race.
Second moto I wasn’t feeling super great when I went off the line, but I got the holeshot again. This time, the heat lap hit me two laps earlier than it did in the first moto. It hit me harder and I had to peel my goggles off. I couldn’t do anything and my body just shut down. I was pretty disappointed because when I pulled off the track, my heart rate wasn’t even that high, it’s just that I was so hot I couldn’t put out any physical energy. It was kind of weird – I wasn’t really physically tired, I was just overheated.
Even though you got 11th place, and had to be happy. You were up front most of the way.
Totally. For the first half the moto I was almost the fastest guy, just me and Pourcel. I’m totally stoked on my performance so far.
What about Pourcel looking over at you in the first moto? Did you notice that?
Yeah, I saw a little. I was just like, whatever dude, go ahead. I was totally done anyway.
I talked to Ivan Tedesco and he said the same thing about getting hot. It’s like you’re melting. You feel ok, your heart rate is fine, but you can’t do anything.
It’s like you can’t cool down. The humidity and that heat. Even going 30 miles an hour on a motorcycle, it still doesn’t cool you down. The wind does do anything.
What’s the biggest difference between an amateur career and a pro career? What’s been the biggest surprise?
Just being around more media and more people. You have to get used to that. Like all the fans leaning over the tent, etc. You have to learn to ignore it a bit. I still try to do it, but its learning how to deal with the people.
I know your dad John is the king of mountain biking. What has he talked to you about and helped you out with?
The main thing he did with me as an amateur is to not really burn me out. He wanted to make me a good pro rider, not the greatest amateur rider. He’s always had that plan in the back of his head, I guess. He never really told me that until a couple of months ago. He wanted to prepare me to be a pro. Since he’s ‘been there done that’, he’s learned from mistakes he’s made and can put that towards my program.
I think I already know the answer to this, but he’s kind of mellow – not a yeller, not a screamer?
No, a lot of people might think he’s a mean-looking guy; he just sits there with his Calloway hat and big glasses on, kind of serious-looking. But he’s definitely a mellow guy, not a crazy mini dad for sure.
Starting in outdoor was something that Barcia did last year. Did you want to race Supercross this year? Or did they kind of see that it worked with Barcia and said ‘hey let’s do that with Eli?’
We definitely wanted the full outdoor season under our belt. We didn’t want to do just the last three and then go straight into the big stadiums of Supercross. That was the plan from the start.
Your idea or their idea to do that?
I would say more my dad’s plan. We pretty much made the decision.