Eli Tomac was not sure if he would function normally, much less effectively race a motorcycle again, after a scary crash in 2015.
Riding at his home state track in Lakewood, Colorado, he caught a rut and had his bike turn violently to the side. Tomac continued to fly forward and slammed face first into the hard dirt.
The impact left Tomac with a dislocated right shoulder and a fully torn rotator cuff in the left. Both required surgery and arduous rehabilitation, leaving the rider from Cortez worried about his future.
Tomac not only made his way back, he climbed to the top of the sport, clinching his first 450 Class title last weekend at the Ironman National in Crawfordsville, Indiana.
“It was a sense of accomplishment and almost of a sigh of relief at the same time,” he said. “You work so long, you’ve been through so much, it’s a combination of everything that’s good.”
Motocross was left searching for its next star after seven-time champion Ryan Dungey followed the footsteps of Ryan Villopoto two years earlier by retiring after the 2017 Supercross season.
Tomac could be the rider to fill that void.
The son of world-class mountain bike racer John Tomac, Eli was considered one of the top up-and-coming riders and solidified his place by winning in his professional debut as a 250 Class rider in 2010.
Tomac won the 250 Supercross title in 2012, followed by an outdoor title the next year, earning him a chance to move up to 450s.
Tomac got his 450 career off to a stellar start, finishing second to Dungey in Supercross, then winning two races in outdoors before the wreck in Colorado.
The severity of the injuries from that crash forced Tomac to gear back on the throttle, something motocross riders aren’t used to.
“You have to be patient with it and that’s tough,” he said. “Most motocross riders are go, go, go and that’s not the case. You have to go, go, go to physical therapy, but it’s tough not to go out there and hop on a motorcycle or a bicycle and do something active.”
Tomac went through what he called “a rebuilding year” in 2016, finishing fourth in Supercross, then second to Ken Roczen in the outdoor season. Dungey edged Tomac by five points to win this year’s Supercross title before parking his bike for good.
Tomac won the outdoor opener at Hangtown in Northern California and suffered through a string of so-so finishes before reeling off three straight wins. Following a podium finish at Budds Creek in Maryland, Tomac had a comfortable but not overwhelming lead headed into the season finale.
Tomac finished fifth in the first moto and was unable to clinch the title, but a sixth in the second was good enough for him to beat Marvin Musquin by 17 points to become the 11th rider to capture 250 and 450 classes.
“The most stressful part of the day is that I had to take it to a second moto,” he said. “My goal at the beginning of the day was to wrap it up in the first moto, but had to take it to the second moto and was pretty frustrated taking it to that second moto. But it turned out.”
The victory has Tomac poised to become motocross’ next star. He’s 24, confident after winning his first title and recently signed a multiyear contract extension with Kawasaki, providing stability.