For Eli Tomac, the 2018 season was a mixed bag of high and lows. But the highs were pretty damn good!
The morning of the all-conclusive round of the 2018 Monster Energy Supercross Series in Las Vegas, Nevada, Eli Tomac sat atop a large cooler and looked down at the grass, which served as a sort of carpet in the Monster Energy Kawasaki pit area.
“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,” lamented Tomac, being far harder on himself than I anticipated. “It’s a big bummer that way, and that all started with 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. I never really had a shot at it.”
After winning handily that night in Las Vegas, Tomac would use the momentum both he and the team had spooled up from a strong close in the stadiums of America to out-and-out dominate the 450MX classification in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, winning nine of the first 12 motos of the season, ultimately winning his second consecutive outdoor title.
By Eric Johnson
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIT PALMER AND MONSTER ENERGY MEDIA
The 2018 racing season was, well, the best of times and the worst of times for America’s fastest motocross racer. While he won another title as well as $1 million and the curtain-closing Monster Energy Cup (again in Las Vegas), Tomac, as well as the people around him, were still bitter about losing the AMA Supercross title, and the performance Tomac put in as team captain of Team USA at the Monster Energy Motocross of Nations, still keeps him up at night. Nonetheless, Eli Tomac is a brilliant motocross and supercross competitor and if anything, creates storylines wherever he races.
Cycle News spoke with the 450MX Champion just as he was about to dive head first into relentless testing and training in preparation for the opening round of the 2019 season set for Saturday, January 5, at Angel Stadium.
What’s been going on in Colorado since the Monster Energy Cup?
We’re cranking-up our off-season routine, which is basically just putting in the heavy days of laps and training and trying to build up a good base again. We’re here in Colorado on the supercross track and there is a little bit of fine-tuning with the bike that we’re trying to complete. It’s kind of a mix of everything right now, but that’s where we are at right now.
Long days of bashing out countless laps, the unglamorous part of being a high-profile supercross racer, I suppose?
[Laughs] That’s right. I mean some of the days are long, but putting in the work and putting in the time makes the racing easier. When you go to the race, you know what you’ve got underneath your belt. There’s no questions left in your head. If you’re putting in the work it just makes every race weekend that much easier.
Supercross is done, motocross is done, the Motocross of Nations is done and the Monster Energy Cup is done. All things considered, what did you think of your 2018 race season?
Well, it’s kind of a replay of the year before for me. When I look back to supercross, there were a lot of wins. I felt like we were the most dominant rider, but we didn’t get the championship, so that was a letdown for us and the team that way. We had a lot of domination in our motocross series with winning the title again. Des Nations? Well, that was not a great showing from us. That is something I obviously want back. We’ll just try again next year and see if we can do better. And at Monster Cup, we know how that went; that was pretty unbelievable. There was a lot of good taken out of the year, for sure.
Spikes with big highs and some big lows, as well, huh?
Yeah, I mean the big low was Anaheim I. You know, crashing while leading the main event. That was a setback. That was it, you know? I bumped my shoulder and missed the next race in Houston and then had to kind of work my way back into it. That was a bump in the road. I know we were better than what we showed at des Nations, as well. Those are the two lows that come to mind.
It’s evident that the Monster Energy Kawasaki race team is built around you. Having said that, people close to the sport know what a well-oiled machine both you and the team are together. Your thoughts?
Yeah, it gets better every year. A lot of times things can get stale if you’re somewhere too long, but for us, it’s just been getting better. We’ve been winning more races and I’m more comfortable on the bike. The new bike seems really good—especially on the supercross track. The bike has been great and it’s nice and everything has just been working very well.
Reflecting back, what’s your overall takeaway on your triumphant run in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship?
We were way more dominant than even the year before when we won the title. We doubled our race wins. RedBud was the only race that threw a wrench in the spokes, but maybe that was a good thing because there was no backing off. We had to keep winning no matter what. We had some serious pressure on us.
Jason Anderson stepped up and strung together an excellent season to win the Monster Energy Supercross Series. Did you see that coming? What did you think of his year?
Jason, he was just there all of the time and that’s the way it has to be to win that supercross title. He did win his races, but he was always just there. He was always a podium contender and he never gave up a big chunk of points and he ended up being that guy. Consistency paid off once again for Jason in supercross.
Do you two guys know one another at all?
I do. We grew up racing amateurs together and basically we were in the same age group the whole time. We were around each other a lot. It’s kind of funny where we are at now and where we came from. We were not the normal kids. He was from New Mexico, kind of in the middle of nowhere, and I was from kind of from the middle of nowhere in Colorado and to see where we are at now is pretty cool.
You’ve never seemed interested in basing yourself in California. Too many distractions there?
That’s true. There are more distractions there with a bigger city lifestyle, right? It can go both ways. California gives the opportunity to ride a lot of tracks, and for the most part, you can ride all year ’round. And there is the racing, too. You get more racing and more gate time in California. It could go either way, but for us, we did have to go chase those races in amateur racing, but at the same time, maybe we didn’t burn ourselves out too early because we were from a small-town area.
Marvin Musquin slotted-in at runner-up in the supercross title fight. There was some drama between you two guys this season. What’s your take on his year?
Marv, once again, he is a guy that is always there. Gosh, this is tough—Marv was there again, too. We had our run in at the Boston race, so that was tough. That definitely didn’t help the way we race each other, but that’s just part of supercross. Yeah, Marv’s there all of the time too.
Yes, the move Musquin put on you at Foxborough was, well, suspect.
Yeah, it was pretty blatant. There’s one thing with block-passing and making it stick and taking the guy’s line, but what he did was over-the-top dirty. I mean, he was cutting way across the middle apex. I don’t know—yeah, there are a lot of situations where you could just totally blast a guy and T-bone him, but you don’t do it because it’s not right, you know? Yeah, you’re going to take the line and make the block pass on a guy, but not that way.
Anything come at you totally out of nowhere in 2018?
I’ll jump back to supercross again. Anaheim I, that was totally just—man, it still beats me up to this day. I was leading the race and was totally comfortable and was actually telling myself to relax, like telling myself to relax before I crashed. I wasn’t even pushing the edge and that’s when I made the mistake. That’s what really bummed me out. That was one of the moments that really stuck with me throughout this year. At round one when you hurt yourself… man, it’s tough. Everyone puts in that work in the off-season, but if you just kind of throw it away in that first round, it kind of beats you up.
Then you end up chasing it the rest of the season.
Yeah, you’re chasing the rest of the series and it’s hard to get yourself out of that hole.
At the Las Vegas Supercross, you said you enjoy racing and doing what you do now even more than you did in the past. Is that true?
It is. I think maybe it just comes with age, right? You know that this is what you’re doing and I do still enjoy it. I just realize that more now than maybe a couple years ago. I still have fun at riding and racing and I realize how lucky I am to be in this position. That’s kind of my thought process with it all.
Pressure? Do you like it? Do you thrive off it?
Yeah, I feel that way. Going to the races, that’s what I feed off of. I feed off the racing. Winning is the best thing in my mind. If the situation calls for you to go out there and you’ve got to make it happen, yeah, I like it. It’s good.
Okay, and with factoring in all the fallout from the Motocross of Nations, there is a lot of talk right now about who is the best overall motocross racer in the world. Jeffrey Herlings is brought up quite often. However, to be the best rider on planet earth, one has to be great at both motocross and supercross, correct?
I’m right there with you. In this day and age, they’re kind of turning into two different disciplines. To call yourself the best rider in the world? Yeah, you’ve got to be good at both. If we spent the entire year dedicated to motocross here in the U.S., I know that we would be at another level above where we are at now. It’s tough to make that claim, especially when Jeffrey didn’t even win all the motos at the des Nations.
Well, to that point, Dutch rider Glenn Coldenhoff handily won both motos at the ’18 Motocross of Nations and a hell of a lot of people were singing his praises. Truth be told, though, Coldenhoff failed to win a single MXGP moto in 2018. Sorry, but nobody can say that Glenn Coldenhoff is one of the best overall racers in the sport. The Motocross of Nations has sort of turned into an odd deal, hasn’t it?
It is an odd deal and it’s tough to judge off one event, right? I think to really claim that you’d have to have everyone together racing an entire season. The best guy wins and he’s the best guy in the world, but we just don’t have that situation right now.
What went wrong at the Motocross of Nations?
I can try and make an excuse, but it’s hard to even make an excuse. We just got beat, you know? The track was a lot different than our normal RedBud, but I guess that’s part of it. I know I wasn’t feeling 100-percent by any means with me riding and being out on the track and with my bike. For the rest of the guys, Aaron [Plessinger] had a big crash in qualifying and that definitely set us back. We all fought hard, we just didn’t get it done. That’s all there is to it.
Word is that you want to go back in 2019 and race it again. True?
Oh yeah. I want to go back and redeem our showing because that wasn’t right. Yeah, I don’t think it’s going to happen that way again. We’ll see.
The race is set to run—and run in deep sand—at the Assen TT circuit in Holland next year. Could you see the American team training in sand beforehand?
It would be wise to. Bike setup is huge and even with the wet and sandy conditions at RedBud, I think that even suited the Europeans more. They excel on that, right? If there were jumps, and it was more like the normal RedBud that we race on, we would have exceled more. But yeah, going back to Assen, it would be very wise to get on those conditions right now because bike setup can be the difference between being fifth or first or whatever it is.
Any overseas races planned this early winter? Jason Anderson has been doing some globetrotting and hitting a few of the bigger events in November and December.
We haven’t done an overseas off-season race going back to around 2014. My normal schedule has been supercross, our AMA series and then the des Nations and Monster Cup. I’m not going to add any races as of now because I just know how long that next year will be. You can look at it either way, right? You can kind of break up the year and go race some of these races, but for us, we’re thinking January at this point.
No matter the situation, you always seem cool and relaxed, even one win away from $1 million at the Monster Energy Cup!
[Laughs] I was just pumped to be in that position. I wasn’t a total nervous wreck. Something changed that night. It might have been my mindset. I don’t now. We just went out there and we did it. I was more pumped to be in that position rather than being like, “Holy crap. I’m super nervous right now and I’m going to go out there and blow it.” It was all mindset. The mental part was huge at that race.
Nice to slam that check in the bank account, huh?
[Laughter.] Yeah, like I said, to have that opportunity was so cool.
Joey Savatgy waving you by there on the white flag lap of the third and final moto to win $1 million dollars. What happened there? We have to ask.
[Laughs] Yeah, there was no pre-race plan at all, so [I] just went out there and just raced the race. That’s all I can say. But good on him, too. For his first 450 race, Joey killed it there, so that was cool to see. We’ll be side by side in 2019.
For 2019, what’s your master plan?
Well, the master plan and the master goal is to win [AMA] Supercross. I’ve had two years of winning the most races and being the most dominant guy and not getting the title. That’s number one. Yeah, the number one goal is to win the Supercross championship.CN
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