Ten years ago today Eli Tomac made his professional debut at the opening AMA National at Hangtown, and he won. To this day he’s the only man to have ever won his first pro national, writes MotoHead editor Adam Duckworth.
Riding the Geico Honda and sporting the number 243 like Tim Gajser, he fought off tough challenges from Chris Pourcel and Tommy Searle to take the win in sunny northern California. And his dad, legendary mountain bike racer, John Tomac, was there to witness the historic moment.
As editor of Moto magazine, I was also on hand that day. And I actually walked from the car park to the paddock with Eli and John who were relaxed and seemingly had no pressure. Neither expected a victory, although deep down I reckon both thought it was an outside possibility.
I talked with John about photographing him on a mountain bike for Mountain Bike Action magazine back in 1987 when I lived in So.Cal and worked for Motocross Action magazine, and also did some shoots for its sister publication Mountain Bike Action. And chatted to Eli about the pressure to win having come from a great amateur career. He seemed impervious to any unreasonable expectations put on him.
He didn’t have it all his own way, and Pourcel won the first moto after being off a challenge from Searle while Tomac pulled through the pack with efficiency. Second time out, any first moto nerves had gone and Tomac took the win, and the overall victory to lead the series. While many amateur talents struggle at the pro debuts, it was obvious Eli Tomac was going to be one of the greats of the sport, with the determination to win and the fitness and skills to match.
From that start as a history maker, he’s also now in history as the most successful supercross racer to never win a championship. He’s seventh in the all-time list of premier class supercross main event wins, with 34. Yet the title has always evaded him. He’s currently in the points lead with seven more races to go, which start next weekend. Perhaps the oddball 2020 season will see him finally take the SX crown he deserves.