Observation Check Column

Kit Palmer | July 15, 2020

Observation Check


It’s not often when someone wins their first championship of any kind that the first words he or she uses to describe their feeling of accomplishment is “relief.” Usually, you hear how excited they are, or how thrilled they are, or how they can’t believe it actually happened, that it’s something they’ve been dreaming about ever since they saw their first race as child.

I suppose there is always a slight sense of relief after realizing your goal has been achieved, but you usually don’t say it. That would almost make it sound like you didn’t have confidence in yourself. But I’m sure everyone who wins a championship is relieved to some point; after all, most championships are the end result of months, years or even a lifetime commitment to something they want really, really badly. But when Eli Tomac described winning his first Supercross Championship as a relief, he absolutely meant it. He was, indeed, relieved, more so than being just excited or thrilled.

SX Champion Eli Tomac number-one plate.
A more relaxed and confident Eli Tomac could mean trouble for his competitors for the rest of Tomac’s racing career. Photo: Monster Media

Maybe it’s because he’s been excited and thrilled many times before throughout his racing career and he’s used to those emotions. Prior to the 2020 Supercross season, Tomac had already accumulated five major AMA Championships: one 250SX West Championship, one 250MX Championship and three 450MX Championships, but the one he wanted most, the 450SX Championship, kept eluding him. No one ever doubted he had the talent to win one, but he just could never put it all together for an entire Supercross season. And when he turned 27 last November, he admitted he began to doubt himself and that’s never a good thing, because he knew that no one in the sport’s history had ever won their first 450SX title at his age. I believe the oldest first-time Supercross Championship winner before Tomac was Jeff Emig, who was 26 when he won his first Supercross title in 1997.

Tomac had other things on his mind besides just winning his first SX title, because he knew there were many others out there who wanted it just as much as he did. When you look at the talent pool in Supercross these days, it’s pretty deep. If Tomac was going to win the title in 2020, he knew he’d have to first ride through defending champ Cooper Webb, and guys like his own teammate Adam Cianciarulo, and veteran racers Ken Roczen, Jason Anderson and Justin Barcia. And if he didn’t get it done this year, he knew winning the championship wouldn’t be getting any easier. He’d have to take on a batch of new, young and hungry riders coming up in 2021, guys like Chase Sexton and Dylan Ferrandis. Plus, 450SX rookies in 2020 Cianciarulo and Osborne would be another year wiser and no doubt faster. For 2020, it really was beginning to look like it was going to be now or never thing.

So, when Tomac hardly threw a whip over the finishing line jump at the final round when he officially wrapped up his first Supercross title and casually lifted his bike onto the stand afterward, you could easily sense his relief even through the lens of the TV camera, since that’s the only way most of us got to see it, since just a few people were actually allowed inside the stadium to witness Tomac’s championship because of the pandemic-induced empty stands. Yes, you could still feel his relief, and I’m sure we all felt a little relieved, too.

After all, Tomac’s racing legend would’ve been somewhat tarnished if he had to retire without ever winning a 450SX title, and I don’t think any true supercross fan, or even, say, a Roczen fan, would really want to see that happen either, not after all the amazing things Tomac has given us in both Supercross and motocross over the years, all those jaw-dropping come-from-behind wins and all of those 250 and 450MX titles. And, of course, Tomac is just a good guy and a person you want to see good things happen to.

Many racers will say that winning your first championship is hard but the second is even harder. I’m sure it is (I’ll take their word for it because I certainly wouldn’t know), but I think when it comes to Tomac next year, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he goes out and wins it again. Yes, he’ll still have the normal pressures of having to win the title for a second time, but that always comes with wearing the number-one plate. However, not having the added pressure to win your first Supercross title so late in your career anymore should bode well Tomac. Plus, he’s already locked in with his current Monster Energy Kawasaki Team through the 2022 season, so a much relaxed and confident Tomac is going to be bad news for his competition going into the 2021 Supercross season. And he’s already shown that he can handle wearing that boat anchor of a number on his motorcycle’s plates quite well, at least with motocross. He’ll be going for his fourth straight 450MX outdoor title when the season gets started, I hope, next month. So, if there is anyone who can wear the number-one plate with confidence and a clear head, it’s Tomac.

I certainly don’t think we’ve heard the last of ET. CN


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Kit Palmer | Editor Kit Palmer started his career at Cycle News in 1984 and he’s been testing dirt and streetbikes ever since – plus covering any event that uses some form of a knobby tire. He’s also our resident motorcycle mileage man with a commute of 120 miles a day.