The news dropped late Wednesday here in the USA. Despite previously saying he would be in, Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac announced that he’s withdrawing from the upcoming Motocross of Nations. It is a big blow to the USA team that was expected to be Tomac, Yamaha’s Cooper Webb (450) and Alex Martin on the 250.
American fans have a right to scratch their head at a seemingly healthy, mega-fast rider like Tomac saying “no thanks" to one of the most prestigious races of the year and also the injured Ryan Dungey presumably saying no thanks to MXoN yet able to race the SMX Cup in Germany one week later. The American racers do twenty-nine races in thirty-three weeks starting in January and if you peruse the entry list for this weekend’s national, you can see that Dungey, Trey Canard, Jason Anderson, Cole Seely, Broc Tickle, Blake Baggett, Justin Bogle, Christophe Pourcel and probably some more I’m missing aren’t lining up this weekend because of injury. This sport chews them up like no other, there’s no doubt about that. Why are we adding more races?
It’s the sign of the times that the energy drink sponsors and OEM’s determine what is important these days and not, say, the history of the sport. In my opinion, Tomac had enough of essentially being forced to race two meaningless USGP's and said enough is enough. Team USA is worse off for the decision, but maybe someone at the green claw company gets the memo that the MXoN is perhaps a tad more important than two races where there’s nothing at stake and the rider doesn’t want to be there?
The riders I’ve spoken to that have been forced to ride the USGP's have made various comments about hoping they have or acquire an injury so they don’t have to go. There’s enough racing in America with the twenty-nine races, the Monster Energy Cup, the Red Bull Straight Rhythm (just so you know that Monster isn’t the only bad guy here) without Youthstream and Monster pushing the GPs onto American fans that, trust me, don’t care.
One top trainer used the word “forced" about going to these races. Another top rider that’s racing the two USGP's told me the energy drink companies are “out of hand". It seems that the only people happy about these extra American races are the people who profit and, here’s a hint, it’s not the ones putting on the shows.
Let’s review here. The energy drink companies give the OEM's money and demand they do “their races" like the Monster Cup or USGP's, the OEM's give the riders money and demand they do “their races" like the SMX Cup and the twenty-nine USA races and then the riders want some money so they do “their" races like Lille, Geneva etc. The race that pays basically nothing and is just a pride thing like the MXoN is the big loser here. Things are changing in this world and I, for one, don’t like it one bit.
Yamaha’s Cooper Webb has been on a roll this outdoor series and with just three races left he has got a whole-race lead in the points. It’s nuts when you think about the fact he almost didn’t race the series when a practice crash before Las Vegas caused a broken wrist. The plan was to back down on practicing during the week, get through the first three races and salvage what he can. Then, with the first week off, come back at round four and try to win this title.
It has worked out perfectly really; better than he or his team could’ve possibly thought. I caught up to Webb earlier this week to get his thoughts on a number of topics including his run in with Pro Circuit’s Joey Savatgy at Washougal.
On doing the Charlotte USGP, his hometown race… “It’s a home race, yeah, so that’ll be awesome. I’ll definitely have a lot of friends and family and a lot of southeast North Carolina rednecks there cheering me on. That will be pretty exciting."
On the announcement of his new Yamaha 450F deal in 2017… “Absolutely. I’m sure a lot of people especially in the industry knew about it a fairly long time ago. I was stoked. I’m stoked with everything and the way it turned out. It was definitely a lot going on at the time, but it was cool because I actually got it done before supercross even started. It was nice to kind of go into the season not having to worry about anything except racing, so that was nice. It was definitely an exciting time.
“I actually enjoyed it, as far as getting to meet some of the people and seeing what other teams and whatnot were about. But I’m stoked with the way it turned out. Having Chad on there will be badass. I think everybody’s motivated."
On having Chad Reed for a teammate… “I would just say his experience and his overall demeanor. He was always my favorite rider growing up, so I’m going to be a little biased, but I think that guy is something special. To still be doing it at this age, I really respect that. I think he looks at it a lot differently than a lot of these guys. I think he has been there and has been in about every situation you could be in. So I think to have a teammate that’s willing to pass on his knowledge and make it a real team effort.
“I think he’s not just looking out for himself. Obviously he wants to go out and do the best he can and all that, but I think he’s kind of gotten to that point where he just wants the team to do well."
On how close he came to signing with another OEM: “At the end of 2015 outdoor season I was riding their bike at ‘Nations and stuff like that and there were no talks of the factory team, even then. I was kind of like, ‘well okay, do I go to JGR or whatnot?’ They had just signed Barcia so it was like, ‘shoot.’ Obviously I like all the guys at Yamaha. I’d like to stay but there wasn’t anything really there. Then basically I was talking to some other teams.
“At that time, Kenny obviously was up too but nobody really thought much of it I guess for some reason. So there was obviously a lot of talk. Once rumors spread and stuff like that and he was a free agent I think it changed a little bit, but there was still a lot going on and stuff like that."
On riding for Team USA at the MXDN again: “I don’t know how official or anything it is, but I have definitely been contacted. I think, as of right now, that’s the plan to do it again on the 450, which I think will be good. At first I wanted to really do it on the 250 because I just feel honestly really good on my 250 right now and I didn’t want to change anything. But I think it would actually be really good, because I’ll be able to get some initial testing out of the way. Just kind of give me a real new motivation. Obviously I’m motivated, but to try to tackle a pretty big challenge. That’ll be good. It’ll be interesting, though. Obviously I don’t know how true it is or whatever, but I heard (Dylan) Ferrandis got hurt today. I saw they announced their team the other day. I was pretty surprised that it wasn’t actually Marvin."
On his “incident" with Joey Savatgy at Washougal: “I can be open about it. Obviously I pulled the holeshot, which was pretty cool for me. That corner he came in very hot and pretty straight. I felt like if I would have done the corner the way the people were doing the corner every lap I would have gotten t-boned. It’s racing. But the first lap when we’re one and two and felt like maybe that’s not the best way to start it off. I just knew he was going to try to do that just to get in my head. I just said, ‘well, if you want to do that then I’m going to hit you right back’. I don’t know why he left the inside open.
“I went to make the pass and then I wanted to give him a little brake check. I think he wasn’t really expecting it and just hit me. Basically once he hit me I got sketchy. We both really just got sketchy and Jeremy Martin happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Obviously I didn’t want to take anybody out. I meant to just kind of show him what he did to me. He gave me a little brake check. I was going to give him a little brake check and go from there, and that escalated pretty quickly."
Words: Steve Matthes | Image: Spencer Owens