‘I have blown it a few times’: Eli Tomac finally scales title mountaintop

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With the elusive Supercross 450 championship finally in his grasp, Eli Tomac could admit how far away it once had seemed.

As he celebrated with his newborn daughter and family on Father’s Day at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, the usually stoic Tomac had some joyful moments, but there was one overriding emotion.

“It was really just relief,” he said Sunday night on a Zoom media conference call. “I’m up to 34 (career) wins. I’m like I better get one of these (championships) before I’m done.

FINAL POINTS: 450 standings | 250 East standings | 250 West standings

“Just relief. Just really relief. It just drove me crazy. It’s been driving me up the wall — seriously.”

The wait lasted more than three years since 2017 when Tomac had a series-nine victories but finished runner-up in points to Ryan Dungey, who had only three victories but no finishes lower than fourth.

Eli Tomac crosses the finish line in the finale (Feld Entertainment, Inc.).

The following season might have been even tougher, as Tomac won a series-high seven times but also scored only two points in the first two rounds and finished outside the top 10 in three other events. He finished third in points.

Last year marked his third second-place finish in the points and a nagging sense that the window already might have closed in a racing series with a very limited shelf life. Examples such as Chad Reed (who retired Sunday from full-time competition at 38) are extremely rare. Most riders leave the starting gate before their 30s.

Though Tomac was in his typically low-key demeanor Sunday night, he predicted “I’ll really wake up tomorrow and feel it.

“I really thought I was getting to maybe be running out of time (to win a championship) when you look at the past,” he said. “I’m 27 and there’s some people that doubt you, and I have blown it a few times. Being able to fix that inconsistency was a huge relief that way.”

Tomac’s title proved one for the ages: The oldest first-time champion in Supercross also is the first father to wear the crown (daughter Lev was born April 26).

Eli Tomac holds aloft his newborn daughter, Lev, while celebrating with his family after his first 450 championship (Feld Entertainment, Inc.).

He won the title by 25 points but still rode wisely to a fifth-place finish Sunday.

It was his second-worst finish of 17 races in a season in which he finally blended consistency with his penchant for winning.

With a series-high seven victories, Tomac moved into a tie with four-time champion Ryan Dungey for sixth on the all-time win list. “That’s really what kept me in it was I can still win races,” Tomac said about how he overcame doubts he could win the title.

A newfound mental toughness also helped.

“I almost feel like I’ve had to put ice in my veins,” he said. “Not care about what other people say or think and try to improve on those weaknesses. Emotionally, just have ice in your veins. You have to block everyone out, all the negative comments or thoughts, and that’s it. You got to be just cold but steady.”

That might be easier for Tomac, who concedes he’s “not the most outgoing for my everyday lifestyle. But my emotions have changed for racing. I feel I’ve matured more in my racing mindset and when on the starting gate and on the track. That’s changed from 2017-18.”

Some things haven’t changed, namely his love for riding dirt bikes. Though his father, John, was a world-class mountain biking champion, but a Supercross 450 championship was always Eli’s dream.

“That’s what you chase,” he said. “That’s why you get up in the morning and get up out of bed with motivation. I still love riding my dirt bike. I love racing. I just love being competitive.”

Supercross 2020 champions (from left to right): Chase Sexton in 250 East, Eli Tomac in 450 and Dylan Ferrandis in 250 West. Sexton and Ferrandis will move to 450 in 2021 (Feld Entertainment, Inc).

He virtually was lights out in Salt Lake City, where he stared with a victory in the May 31 opener. Even when he started poorly, Tomac always was a factor.

His victory over title runner-up Cooper Webb on a mud-splattered track in the June 7 race might have been the turning point for Tomac, who entered Salt Lake City with only a three-point leader on Ken Roczen.

“The first three races were the time to get ahead,” Tomac said about finishing first, second and first. “It was big to (win) the first race. And then the mud race with Cooper. I rode my frickin’ heart out on that one.”

Tomac was thankful just to have the opportunity after Supercross’ season was in doubt during an 85-day layoff for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It became the first major pro sports entity to conclude a complete season and crown a champion, albeit several weeks late.

“You’re so pumped that we can just finish the series,” Tomac said. “It would have been just terrible to end at Daytona like that with just really no one be crowned. Having them give us the opportunity to get these seven in … we did have multiple surfaces and conditions. It seemed a little repetitive, but at the same time it wasn’t. We got all these different tacks in. For being stuck in one spot, it seemed it worked out OK.”

Eli Tomac, 27, became the oldest first-time winner in Supercross 450 histoy and also the first dad to be a champion (Feld Entertainment, Inc).

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)