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Eli Tomac RV shots in Corona, CA
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THE GREAT WIDE OPEN

May 192016

On May 22, 2010 Eli Tomac lined up behind the starting gate for the season-opening Hangtown Motocross Classic. His very first AMA National, Tomac, aboard a GEICO Honda CRF250R, went out and won it, becoming the first rider in AMA Pro Racing history to win in his professional debut. Six years later (and virtually to the day), Tomac has now competed in precisely 58 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship events (47 on a 250 and 11 on a 450) and won 15 of them (12 on a 250 and three on a 450) for a winning percent of 25 percent. Not bad. Not bad at all. This Saturday in the abandon gold fields surrounding Prairie City SVRA (also known as California Historical Landmark #464), Tomac will launch out of the starting gate aboard his Monster Energy/Kawasaki 450 to start the 59th National of his career, and in doing so, make a run at something he wants very badly – the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross 450cc class National Championship. As you’re about to read, the 23 year-old from Cortez, Colorado is confident heading into race day, and he should be as swept both motos at last year’s Hangtown Classic to the tune of an aggregate lead of 113 seconds (Eli won the first moto with a 22-second lead over Ryan Dungey, and the second by 91 seconds over the reigning Monster Energy Supercross Series champion). Immediately thereafter – and as we all now know – Eli stormed ahead to win convincingly a week later at Glen Helen in Southern California. Round three at Thunder Valley looked to be another sure thing for the Colorado homeboy, but a nasty crash while running way out front in the second moto drove him into the ground (and an ambulance driver drove him to the hospital, Tomac’s season over). Nonetheless, now older and wiser, the 2013 250cc National Champion charges into Hangtown with a nice push of centrifugal force after three straight podium scores in the recently concluded stadium motocross series. Can he do it? Can he win Hangtown? Can he win the 450 title he so desperately wants to serve as an exclamation mark on his big bike career? Enquiring minds want answers thus we went looking for No. 3 and, sure enough, found him. Read on!

THE GREAT WIDE OPEN

Hey Eli. Thanks for taking the time to do this. Where are you at this evening?

I’m in Colorado. We take off tomorrow afternoon for Sacramento because we have press on Thursday, so we have an early week.

There has been talk of rain on race day. Have you seen the weather forecast?

No, really? For race day?

Yeah, they’re calling for scattered showers on Saturday. I don’t think it’ll be a washout, but it looks like some rain.

Really? Crazy.

Rain doesn’t bother a guy like you, huh?

No, no it won’t bother me. No.

I’m going to be presumptuous and go ahead and say you’re ready to get going with Hangtown and the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. Do I have that right?

I am. I’m excited to get a fresh start to a series. For the way things were going last year in motocross, I’m excited to get back into it, you know? I really feel like that’s something I can really excel at. And the pre-season riding and testing has been pretty good here, so I would say I’m ready to go.

For the fans out there who might be curious, as far as the motorcycle and yourself as a racer, are there big changes involved with coming off supercross and going straight into motocross?

There are. There are big changes. If you take a supercross chassis onto a motocross track, you’ll beat yourself to all heck because we run such stiff suspension and some guys run a little bit different chassis parts, here and there. It just kind of depends on what you like from supercross to motocross and other than that, the biggest thing you change is suspension. We go quite a bit softer to have that good feel for all the bumps and chatter.

Do the motor characteristics change at all for the outdoor races?

Most of the time you don’t do a whole lot with the engine stuff. I mean, you can have a different pipe or exhaust to maybe get a little more pop, but for the most part the engine stuff stays the same, at least for me.

How about the physicality part of it? I mean as far as exertion goes, the difference between a National motocross and supercross has to be profound…

Yeah, the difference between supercross and motocross is that supercross is the sprint. It’s the high heart race stuff and you have to be able to attack right away and right at the get-go. In motocross you have to be able to grind it out and have the grit to go that 35 minutes, especially when those temperatures start getting up into the 90s or 100 degrees. It’s just different. It’s more of an endurance race.

Do you like the endurance aspect of the outdoor races? Is it an advantage for you?

I do at a certain point because you just have a little bit more time to get up front if you have to. Or if you can get out front, you can demoralize guys more. I like the long motos, for sure.

To that end, during those first five motos of last year’s outdoor series you were so dominant that you were, well, basically demoralizing your competition.

Yeah… When you feeling that connected on the bike and feeling that good, you want to go out there and just beat the guys as much as you can. You don’t want to make any dumbs moves or throw the whole thing away… You know with the accident last year I didn’t really feel like that, it was just something out of nowhere. If you can do it, it is great to beat the guys by however many seconds.

I did a little bit of mathematical work before I tracked you down. You raced 58 Nationals in total during your career. You’ve raced 47 250c Nationals and 11 450 Nationals. You’ve won 15 Nationals in total. That’s a 25 percent winning percentage. That’s pretty solid, man! That’s got to be encouraging.

(Laughter) You know I guess it is! It’s something that I get along with and I enjoy it so, man, I’m excited to get this season going and, yeah, let’s get it on.

As far as 2016 goes, going back to the your win on that rough track at Daytona a few months ago, the fans, the media, the industry has seemingly been collectively saying, “Eli Tomac is the man to beat in the outdoor series. Any thoughts on that?

You know what? The Daytona win was nice and yeah there was the chatter and I was going to be the guy in motocross, but at the same time, I did try and put my best effort into supercross too, but it didn’t really come around until the end. At least it did some around. Shoot, if Daytona is a sign at all, we’ll be bringing it for Hangtown.

As you just spoke to, you really came on strong at the very end of the supercross series. What do you attribute that to? Getting used to the team? The motorcycle? A little bit of everything?

It was a little bit of everything. There was some stuff going on at the beginning of the season where I wasn’t comfortable on the motorcycle and things weren’t really jelling. We found that at the end of the season, plus I was getting stronger too. Physically, I felt okay at the beginning of the season, but I think race pace-wise I think I still had some building to do and maybe it did take me a couple of months to get back up to strength and race pace. It was just a big building process and I’m glad we were able to get a few podiums at the end.

The sport is so much more technical now than in year’s past and there was talk in the pits that it was taking you more time than maybe you expected to learn the Kawasaki. Any truth to that?

The sport is more technical now and the Kawasaki does have a much different character than the Honda and, yeah, it was a learning process in that way too. You have to learn what the bike does good and maybe doesn’t do so well here and there. You have to try and find what it does best and make the most of it. There are a lot of good characteristics to the bike and you kind of have to kind adapt and learn how to ride that style of bike again.

You won the 250cc title in 2013 so you know how to string one of these championship seasons together, don’t you?

I do. It takes consistency and being there every week and, man, you just have to grind it out. Outdoors is tough. You have to be able to push through all those motos.

It’s no great shakes of an observation to see that this 450cc outdoor season that will start in a few days has all the makings to be a highly competitive, fiercely fought championship. You know who you’re up against, so who do you foresee being in the mix for the title?

Yeah, every season you go into you never really know who. You never really know who’s going to be the guy. I think your obvious candidates are Dungey and Roczen. Those are probably the two biggest heavy hitters I have on my list right now. Then you have the Anderson and the Musquin and the Canard and there are a few other wildcards in there. You never really know who is going to be there, but I would say the heaviest hitters are, for sure, Dungey and Roczen. Those are the guys who I have on my list to go out and beat.

As far as the Hangtown circuit, do you like the track and how would you describe it?

I’ve had a lot of success there so I’m a fan of it. It seems like I have a good feel for that place and go where I want to and am comfortable around that thing. It’s one of the nastiest tracks of the year. I would say it probably has the most chop-out of any track. Some of those big hills and the acceleration bumps and the ruts are some of the gnarliest on the whole circuit. I’m a fan of it so I’m excited.

Yes, having won both motos in the fashion that you did there last year, it’s clear to see you have the place pretty wired.

Last year… I don’t know… When you have motos like that, it’s almost easy at that point. That’s what I’m looking for again.

Straight-up question: Are you going there to win on Saturday?

Man… I mean I’m the type of guy who wants to go out there and win. You don’t ever want to throw it away, but I’m there to win so I’m going to be twisting that throttle as much as I can.

Okay Eli, one last question: Would winning the 450 title be as important to you as winning the supercross title?

Yeah, it would be huge. Winning any 450 championship is a huge achievement, so I’m going to be gunning for that thing for sure.

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