This article was originally printed in our August 2018 issue of TransWorld Motocross.
Ups And Downs
Real Talk With Eli Tomac
By Eric Johnson | Photos by Octopi Media
At the season-ending round of the Monster Energy Supercross Series in Las Vegas, Nevada, among the celebrations there were also many who wondered what could have been. Eli Tomac pondered that very question himself. For the second year in a row, he won the most 450 Supercross Main Events of any rider in the field. This time around he claimed eight victories--just shy of the nine he won the year before. Despite this, Tomac also once again found himself down on points and unable to secure the championship.
"It's disappointing to say, but it's pretty familiar to last year when we had a bunch of wins and, once again, we don't have a shot at the championship again this year going into the last round here in Vegas," Tomac said, visibly peeved at himself. "It's a big bummer and that all started at Anaheim I with the slide out and crash and smashing my shoulder there. It was really tough and then I had to sit out the Houston round and I was 50 points out right from the beginning. We came back and won the overall at Anaheim II with that Triple Crown, but even so, I just put myself in a bad position too early. It sucks to say it, but we were out of it at the last race of the championship. The only thing is that we know we can win races and we have won races, so it's good that way."
With nothing more than the goal of winning races on his mind, Tomac was able to observe the championship from a different perspective and reflect on how things played out. "Myself and Marvin, we both had our crashes and gave away too many points to Anderson," Tomac said. "With Anderson, right away you could see he was riding differently than he has ridden in the past, which was pretty controlled for his style especially. He's kind of known as a wild guy, but this year he changed and look at the position it put him in.
"There weren't a whole lot of surprises other than the Marvin incident in Boston," Tomac said, irritated as he thought back to that moment. "That left a sour taste in my mouth."
Of course, there were an alarming number of injuries in 2018, which, truth be told, ravaged the competitive landscape. "It seems the injuries are just part of the game," Tomac said. "There have been years where they have tried to change the tracks or the format. As far as injuries, it's Supercross. You can only do so much to protect yourself and still be able to ride the motorcycle correctly. It's tough to say what can be done about it. When you've got 20 guys going into one turn and every dude in that position wants to win, things can get hairy. Yeah, if we're talking injuries and racing, it's part of the game. Every situation is unique."
Amazingly, and in the span of a mere four Supercross seasons, Tomac has already won 21 races. Only eight racers in the history of the sport have more. It's an amazing statistic considering he has yet to bring home a Supercross title. That said, Tomac is a 450 champion in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, which he won last summer. Though proud of the accomplishment, Tomac does not consider himself an outdoor specialist.
"I kind of used to think that way, but now I really just try to think I'm well-rounded. I have more overall wins in Supercross than I do outdoors, but we have a championship in outdoors. For me, this is a good transition part of the year. When we're at round 17 of Supercross, you look forward to the outdoors and vice versa. That's what's cool about our sport is that we get to look forward to our different disciplines. I'm totally looking forward to Hangtown and the rest of the summer. I'm just going to try and dominate. We want to keep doing what we're doing and try to get some wins. There's not much else."
Of course, with the speed that Tomac has shown indoors and out, another big question mark surrounding his career is his participation in the Motocross of Nations. Last year, Tomac bowed out of the event due to a busy schedule and other obligations. The 2018 Monster Energy Motocross of Nations are set to take place on American soil this year, however. More specifically, the famous grounds of Redbud will play host to the prestigious event. With that said, if invited to be a member of Team USA, will Tomac answer the call this time around? "Oh yeah. That's a really tough subject from last year, but the way everything falls this year, yeah, I'll be gunning for that race, for sure."
At age 25, Tomac is arguably the fastest overall Supercross and motocross racer currently. As a millionaire with one of the best rides in all of international racing, life is good for the man from Cortez, Colorado. Still, with the money, fame, and adulation comes pressure and expectations, not to mention radical ups and downs in a form of racing where a rider is only as good as their last race.
"I'm good with everything, and yes, the ups and downs are always there. It is tough to have a bad race and there are different ways to take it. Sometimes it's good to have that motivation if you had a bad weekend. You have to learn to control those emotions because otherwise it'll roller coaster and you'll be fried by the end of that series.”
"I actually enjoy it more now than I think I did in the past," Tomac said. "You appreciate what you have and the position that you're in and being able to do what you love and that sort of thing. I think that when you're a kid you can kind of get sidetracked on things and not appreciate that stuff. Now, and as you get older, you appreciate it more."
Following his Las Vegas win, Tomac was understandably jubilant afterward. However, he was already looking ahead to beating back the competition to defend his 450 title outdoors.
"I think I'm going to enjoy defending that thing and doing what I can to keep it," Tomac said. "It'll be good motivation to keep that number-one plate on the bike. I'm looking forward to the summer and defending that number-one. That means everything to me."
Three Champs Weigh In
Although strikingly different personalities and athletes, Ricky Carmichael, Ryan Villopoto, and Ryan Dungey all have one common denominator: they are multi-time Supercross champions. In fact, the three men utterly dominated the sport the past 18 years, winning 13 titles in all. They're also a tough crowd. We sat down with each of the three retired racers to get their take on Eli Tomac and the recently concluded Monster Energy Supercross Series. Calling it as they see it, the three were tough at times in their assessments, but with championships comes the right to speak your piece…
Ricky Carmichael | 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006 Supercross Champion | Retired: 2007
"Being honest with himself, I think that's the important thing for Eli. He needs to learn from what he did wrong last year in the title hunt to what he did wrong this year from the beginning. He's getting paid to win and win championships. I mean, he clearly has the speed to win, so it has got to be frustrating from his end as well as everyone else around, including his team. There is nothing worse than having the speed and being very dominant. I mean, Eli has over 20 Supercross main event wins and not a title to show for it at the premier level. I have a lot of respect for Eli and I have a lot of respect for all these guys. If we're hard on Eli, I just feel like we're being honest and saying what we feel and what we see. It's not that we don't want to see him win--we want him to win, especially with as fast he is and how many races he's won--but it still seems like he's missing that little bit of something, especially in a pressure situation.”
"If I was coaching him, and obviously I'm not, and I'm also very aware that my way doesn't work for everybody, but he needs to have that concentration throughout the whole race no matter what the situation is. If he has a 20-second lead or if he is coming from behind, he's got to eliminate those mental mistakes, if you will. Like those crashes where you look back and think, 'What the hell happened?' He's got to be able to eliminate those. Only he knows what's going wrong or what's happening in that point in time or at that moment. You know, when we go back to Anaheim I where he had that race in the bag and it was a simple mistake like that which took him down. He has got to recognize what is going wrong in that situation because you can't make those kinds of mistakes at this level.”
"As far as Eli taking a while to get going after something goes wrong, you can watch videos from back in the mid-1990s, late 1990s, early 2000s, and even up to Villopoto and Ryan Dungey. When those guys crashed they hustled to get back on the bike. I don't see that from a lot of riders anymore. They're never panicking to hurry up and get back on their bike. I don't why that is. It's not like it was. It's crazy. When I'm saying this stuff and when you're asking me about Eli, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and his family. I think they're great people with a great work ethic, but still, those are small mistakes he makes that end up having serious implications on the championship."
Ryan Villopoto | 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 Supercross Champion | Retired: 2015
"This is the second year that he's raced and clearly been the fastest guy, but he can't put it together. As a guy on the outside looking in, you have to wonder if it's his program. Is it him being weak, mentally? Where is it coming from? Obviously, he's quick and fast and talented, but there is a question mark. Does he have it upstairs for 17 rounds?”
"Outdoors is a little bit different for Eli because you have two motos, two gate drops, the room for error is much bigger. You also 30-minute-plus-two-lap motos that are much longer races where you can come back from a mistake that you made.”
"You can't make mistakes at this level, but to say you can't make mistakes, that's not going to happen. Things are going to happen. Everybody says the same thing: a true champion shines on his worst days. When you're able to have a mistake or an issue and you come back and salvage it with a third or a fourth, that's a major battle that was won that day. You can make a mistake once or twice in a 17-round series, not four times. You can't put yourself in a deficit of 60 points and expect to come back. I've been in a situation where I was 16 points down or 18 points down after Anaheim I, but that's the start of a 17-race series at round one. But after that, I won 11 races and my worst finish would have been a fourth.”
"I think the whole sport has changed on that consistency for whatever reason. The consistency that I had, that Ricky had, that Dungey had, that to me seems like it's gone. I mean, Jason Anderson has done a pretty damn good job of being consistent, but he's the only guy and that's why he's where he is. We've all had hard days and hard issues, but you figure out how to deal with it and you race no matter what the situation, no matter if you crash or whatever, you come back from it. I don't want to say it's the younger generation because I'm not much older than some of the guys racing now, but I don't know if it's Instagram or blogs or whatever it is making them inconsistent. It's not like it was when me and Dungey raced head to head. I mean, you know what was going to happen every weekend you showed up. Just like it was with Ricky and Chad or Ricky, Chad, and James. James was inconsistent, but there were a few years there he wasn't. He was really good."
Ryan Dungey | 2010, 2015, 2016, 2017 Supercross Champion | Retired: 2017
"I watched the majority of the races this season, and the guys are definitely not making it easy as far as who to pick on the wins and championships. Overall, Anderson has been really consistent. We've seen that. It was all a surprise to me. I think I expected the season to go a little bit different than it did. Not as far as who is going to win the championship, but just in the week-to-week and in the racing and everything.”
"The inconsistency is obvious, and I think it was something that was a surprise, but at the same time, the racing is only getting more intense and the guys are going faster, so of course mistakes are probably more prone to happen.”
"I think Eli came out of the gate real strong this season with leading the opener at Anaheim. Obviously, I think it was just one of those things where you're out front and something catches you in the right way and off guard, and that's what happened to Eli and he went down. As we know, last year Eli had a deficit to make up in the points. I know that it's hard to be leading the points, but it also goes to that mentality to keep staying strong and have the faith to believe in yourself that you can do this. I mean, Eli crawled himself out of a hole he was in last year, and to have what happened to him at Anaheim I was probably a discouraging factor right from the get-go again in 2018. The hard part about all of this is that you really can't make a mistake. It's tough, but Eli did a good job of trying to rebound and recover. To Eli's credit, his speed is just unreal. I think when Eli gets it together as far as the consistency factor, he's going to be a tough guy to beat, for sure."