One week removed from a very suspect eighth place finish at the second Anaheim round inside Orange County, California’s Angel Stadium, Monster Energy Kawasaki racer Eli Tomac stormed back resolutely on Saturday night to convincingly win the fourth round of the Monster Energy Supercross Series at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, California. After starting the 2017 season off with five, six and eighth place finishes, respectively, during the first four rounds of campaign, Tomac looked like a totally different man In Phoenix as he aced every single one of his starts, dominated his heat race, and in the main event came flying out of the first turn with the lead, a lead he would push up to eighteen seconds at one point – that’s an eternity is supercross!
“The only thing I can say is I’ve been in a funk lately,” admitted a visibly relieved Tomac after the 21-lap race he won by 11.817 seconds. “It’s been a bummer, and it’s been tough mentally, too. All I can say now is I feel like I’m back. I was able just to ride tonight. The past three weeks it wasn’t me, and it was pretty scary at one point, but we’re here on top of the podium tonight and I’m so happy.
“You know, we came into this weekend feeling really positive,” added Tomac. “We changed a lot in the week leading up to the weekend, both on the bike and myself. I wasn’t impressed with the results I was getting, so we needed a change and it worked. After tonight’s performance, I truly feel like I’m back to my normal self and I can’t wait for next weekend. I don’t know. We were just on it tonight. When you’re in clean air it just makes racing that much easier. There was a lot of stuff going on this week that changed for myself and the team and it turned into a positive, obviously. These past three weekends have been pretty embarrassing for myself and as a racer, so I feel like at least I’m back to some fighting form.”
Second in the main event went to another rider who rode far above and beyond anything he had shown thus far in the new season was Monster Energy Yamaha rider Chad Reed. The two-time supercross champion was impressive all evening long, careening through the whoops and leaping over the tricky triple-quad rhythm consistently. Team Honda’s Cole Seely and Team KTM’s Ryan Dungey crossed swords for second early on in the race with Reed and his YZ450F shadowing them. When the Honda and the KTM tangled in a corner, Reed zapped them both and then simply motored away to a fantastic runner-up score, his first podium finish in the last 12 races and the 131st of his remarkable career.
“I feel better about it this weekend,” offered Reed in the post-race press conference. “It was frustrating the first three. Of course the record would be nice, but I think that if I’m to go for records the win record is what means the most. I check a lot of boxes with a win. Being the oldest guy to win a race I think would be pretty cool. Of course if I keep riding the way I can I think that LaRocco’s record falls. I think that I showed this weekend that I’m in it for the right reasons. I think Yamaha’s better with me there and my input and helping my teammate out and heading him in a better direction. I hope to continue that relationship there, but we’ll see what happens.”
The sprawling Phoenix Stadium race circuit was also conducive to some great racing in the always fierce 250SX West Region classification. Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM’s Shane McElrath, winner of the first two 250SX main events of the season, had a rough beginning to the night when he crashed in his heat race and had to make the main event via the always chancy LCQ. Nonetheless, from a bad gate position to start what would ultimately be a 16 lap feature race, the Californian nailed a good jump out of the hole and snagged the lead from a fast starting Austin Forkner of the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki outfit. Just behind, Forkner’s teammate Justin Hill motored up into second and started eating away at McElrath’s lead just as the KTM pilot found himself in lapped traffic. At that very point in time, Hill cut McElrath’s 3.7 second lead down to nothing as the two riders then went to fighting for position. It was a fight Hill would win as he found his way around McElrath and raced away to win his second consecutive victory in a fortnight’s time. Not too far behind the two veteran racers came the sensational rookie Austin Forkner who held station to the end, thus earning the very first career supercross podium of his very, very young career.
“It was just heart tonight,” said the smiling Justin Hill after the race. “Shane McElrath was riding awesome. He got around Austin [Forkner] and just pulled away from us. When I finally got around Austin I had so much ground to make up. Shane made me earn it, all the way to the end. When I saw the white flag I thought to myself, ‘no way did I just do this.’ I’m just so happy.”
Shortly after the main event had finished up, rookie Forkner also looked back on his performance. “The race was good,” he said. “I rode a lot better than I have been, more consistent and didn’t make mistakes. I was really confident in my starts, back to back weekends I’ve earned both holeshots in the heat and main. With starts like that I knew I was going to be up there and thought if someone gets by I just need to relax, figure out what they’re doing better than me and use it to be better. I knew I needed to not make mistakes like I did in the heat where I cased the triple trying to pass someone back. I tried to ride smooth and fast, I’m really happy with how I opened the race and I held the lead for a few laps which is definitely the best I’ve done so far.” I’ve been pretty upset with my results so far just because I think that I have the speed. After coming off outdoors and winning the last race and doing good in the GPs racing Cooper [Webb] and [Jeffrey] Herlings, I feel like even though it’s supercross I feel like I should still be up here and battling for wins and being on the podium. But it’s definitely different. There have been a lot of things that I’ve had to learn. I’m obviously still learning. It’s a lot of fun though and I like being out front, so hopefully I can just hold on a little bit longer and get a win one of these days.”