Eli Tomac is hitting rarefied air in AMA Supercross history this season as he is romping towards a position as the rider with the second-highest number of wins in the history of the series.
Words: Ben Rumbold | Images: Aligned Media
He has now reached a tally of 48 – equal to the third legend on the list, the one they call the G.O.A.T, Ricky Carmichael. While Eli is shooting for his third title in his tenth season in the premier class, Ricky managed to get five #1 plates in his 9 years of indoor competition. So it has taken Eli longer to get there, and we’ll show you exactly how they both got to this amazing total.
Just in case you were unsure, the “King of Supercross” Jeremy McGrath lies on 72 wins and 7 Championships, two numbers that RC was instrumental in limiting as he clashed with Jeremy in 2001 and took his title from him. Bear in mind that the record before McGrath started was 28, held by Rick Johnson, so the man they called “Showtime” seriously raised the standard. Just ahead of Eli is the magic number 50, held by James Stewart. We’re talking nicknames a bit here so we’ll just say that “Bubba” Stewart is also known as “The Fastest Man on the Planet” and although he took just two titles, again a number curbed by the efforts of Carmichael, there is no doubt that like MC, Bubba changed the game and his speed is shown by that tally of 50.
So just because the comparisons are bound to be made, whether they mean anything or not, MX Vice thought it would add some numbers into the debate, so you can have some ammo for those little online and trackside debates. Here is a direct comparison between the two greats currently tied on 48 AMA Supercross wins.
The Path to the Top
Of course, very few riders hit the premier class without first achieving success on the smaller bikes. In Ricky’s case, that meant a 125cc Pro Circuit Kawasaki, whereas Eli was a super-strong 250F rider for Geico Honda. Here’s what they did before they graduated to the big-time.
So their “Lites” careers delivered exactly the same results! A title each and a dozen race wins, although the key difference between the pair is instantly seen in the fact that RC had one less year on the smaller bike, and completely white-washed his second season with a perfect 9-wins-out-of-9 record. He was also two years younger when he moved up to the big-time. McGrath was the 250 Champ whilst Ricky was on a 125, and Tomac had Ryan Villopoto as the dominant figure on a 450 during his time on the smaller bike.
In Eli’s time, there was an additional non-championship race where the West met the East at the Las Vegas finale. These races are included in that tally of 30, although Eli never won that head-to-head encounter. They were won by Ryan Sipes, Justin Barcia, and Ken Roczen. Tomac’s best was a 2nd to Barcia in 2012, as “1E” beat “1W” in a Geico Honda 1-2.
Interesting to note the riders who took championships from them. Tim Ferry & Stephane Roncada each won a 125 title but would not win a premier class Supercross race. Broc Tickle, who beat Tomac in 2011, shared a similar fate. That Roczen feller did a little better in the bigger class…
Considering his younger age and smaller size, it’s probably no surprise that Ricky did not race a 250 Supercross before he moved up full-time in 1999. Eli entered four 450 races in 2013, also helped by the schedule that saw a big break in competition (with no outdoor races inbetween either) for his West Coast division. He did impress on the big bike that season, with a best of 4th at Daytona, a venue he would come to make his own, behind Villopoto, Ryan Dungey, and Barcia.
Neither rider would win in their first full season. RC’s first year was fraught with crashes and injuries, missing 4 rounds from niggling problems and ending the season 16th in the table, equal on points with former champ and predecessor in the commentary booth, Jeff Emig. ET also had issues, not able to start full-time until round 5 of his 2014 debut year, and just as he was getting the message with a fine 2nd to Dungey at round 9 in Indianapolis, he got hurt before he could tackle Daytona again. He ended the year 13th in the standings, just ahead of Chad Reed who crashed out at round 7 after taking two wins.
Carmichael would became the ruler of Daytona, with his equal best result as a rookie (4th) there in 1999 after he won the 125 race in ’98. He also took his first career 250 victory there in 2000, the first of a record, at the time, 5 wins from 7 starts at the Speedway.
The one to beat his record was, of course, Eli! It was the site of his first win on Kawasaki after his horrendous 2015 injuries, and since then he’s been unstoppable at the tour’s toughest race. Breaking RC’s record there with his 6th win last season, he has also only been beaten at Daytona twice, narrowly deprived of a 7-year streak by Justin Brayton’s famous 2018 success.
Eli had more wins after his second season than RC did in his, 3 to 1, but the Floridian went out and destroyed the opposition in his third year, taking 14 of the 16 races in a real changing-of-the-guard moment as he halted McGrath when it looked like no-one could in 2001.
From there, it’s clear that Carmichael displayed the ability to steamroller his competitors. He was too much for David Vuillemin in 2002, but then came the more serious opposition. Chad Reed would win more races in 2003, including the last six in a row, but RC was 2nd in each of those last six to hold the crown by just 7 points at the close! He missed the entire 2004 indoor season with injury, but returned to complete a perfect outdoor season and then out-last Reed again in 2005. He made the transition to four-strokes, with Suzuki, almost seamlessly, but another major threat came along in 2006 – James “Bubba” Stewart, who had swept all before him in the 125 class but struggled on a two-stroke 250 in 2005.
In contrast, Eli Tomac had to wait six agonising years before he could tie up a title. After signing with Kawasaki for 2016 onwards, and really only reaching full strength in 2017, he would win more than the eventual Champion in both 2017 (9 to Dungey’s 3) and 2018 (8 to Jason Anderson’s 4). Frustratingly losing the title with weird “off-nights” and mistakes at crucial times, it almost started to look like it would never happen, especially when he was denied for the fifth time by the KTM empire in 2019. Cooper Webb had shifted from being nowhere on a factory Yamaha to being a major force for the orange bikes and with 7 wins to Eli’s 6, it wasn’t just through consistency either. ET must have had at least had an eye on one of those seats.
Carmichael’s challenge from Stewart was monumental in 2006, and the GOAT has said as such recently in discussion with his once-rival, knowing that indoors the #7 was just too fast to play games with. And he wasn’t the only contender, as 2004 Champ Chad Reed was still there on his Yamaha, arguably the better bike, and both Americans knew that the Australian would quite simply ALWAYS be there. This bears out when you see the results from the year. Only twice was RC off the podium, as was Chad. Crucially, Stewart missed it three times. Both Florida men fell in St. Louis, credited with just 1 & 4 points each while Chad won to take the series lead! Carmichael’s only other off-night was Arlington, where slipped to 6th. Reed’s only non-podium finishes were two 5th places at San Francisco and Orlando, but Stewart crucially dropped back to 8th at A3 and 6th at Daytona, and going into the final round at Vegas he was 5 points back of Carmichael and Reed, who were amazingly tied! Stewart won that final round and with it the consolation prize of the “World” Supercross series that run alongside the AMA crown, but Reed finished 3rd behind RC to lose out by just two points, actually finishing 3rd in the table, level with James! It was a classic year.
Eli finally nailed the title down in the COVID-interrupted year of 2020. Ken Roczen looked as strong as ever but Tomac crucially reeled in the German to win once more at Daytona, right before the break. Then the last 7 races were held in Salt Lake City over the course of three weeks, and only once did Ken finish ahead of Eli. Webb pulled through to finish 2nd but at long last, Tomac had done the job for Kawasaki.
After looking out of contention for most of 2021 behind a monumental Webb Vs Roczen war, Tomac made a rejuvenating move to Star Yamaha, and at long last the Colorado man could reliably make the gate, cutting out many mistakes and staying consistent when the win wasn’t on. He powered to a five-win streak in the middle of the season that pretty much sealed it, able to hold off a late charge from his replacement in green, Jason Anderson, to take his second crown.
Carmichael’s final season was a planned farewell tour that wouldn’t see him race every round. He still took the last two wins of his career and finished 2nd to Stewart in the five other rounds he contested, but at the age of 27 RC would sign off. Tomac apparently was looking close to doing the same, but a test of the new blue bike gave him the incentive to go for one more indoor crown, and so far he has won 4 from the first 6 rounds and looks to be in good shape, although Webb is back on the case and new Honda hotshot Chase Sexton could be a threat if he can eliminate the mistakes.
Their two careers are massively different, but right now in this moment in time they are tied on the all-time list with 48 wins apiece. However, I very much doubt that Eli will stop there. He has Stewart in his sights, even if he’s not too fussed on the records themselves, and a third crown would seal a career that has been a complete thrill ride for all privileged to witness it.
The Numbers (Premier Class)
|Seasons||8 (2004 injured)||10 (2013 raced 4 rounds)|
|Year 1||12 Races, 0 Wins (16th) McGrath Champ, Emig 15th on equal points to RC!)||9 Races, 0 Wins (13th) Villopoto Champ, Reed just behind Tomac after injury|
|Year 2||16 Races, 1 Win (5th) McGrath Champ||17 Races, 3 Wins (2nd) Dungey Champ with 8 Wins, ET 85 Pts back|
|Year 3||16 Races, 14 Wins (1st) McGrath 2nd, 64 Pts Back||17 Races, 1 Win (4th) Dungey Champ with 9 wins, Roczen & Anderson ahead of ET|
|Year 4||16 Races 11 Wins (1st) Vuillemin 2nd, 35 Pts Back||17 Races, 9 Wins (2nd) Dungey Champ with 3 Wins, ET 5 Pts Back|
|Year 5||16 Races, 7 Wins (1st) Reed 2nd with 8 Wins, 7 Pts Back||16 Races, 8 Wins (3rd) Anderson Champ with 4 Wins, Musquin 2nd|
|Year 6||0 Races, Injured. Reed Champ with 10 Wins||17 Races, 6 Wins (2nd) Webb Champ with 7 Wins, ET 18 Pts Back)|
|Year 7||16 Races, 7 Wins (1st) Reed 2nd with 5 Wins, 25 Pts Back||17 Races, 7 Wins (1st) Webb 2nd with 4 Wins, 25 Pts Back|
|Year 8||16 Races, 6 Wins (1st) Stewart 2nd with 8 Wins, 2 Pts Back||17 Races, 3 Wins (3rd) Webb Champ with 8 Wins, Roczen 2nd|
|Year 9||7 Races, 2 Wins (8th) Part-time, Win #48 came after 5 races. Stewart Champ with 13 Wins||17 Races, 7 Wins (1st) Anderson 2nd with 7 Wins, 9 Pts Back|
|Year 10||N/A||6 Races, 4 Wins (1st) Win #48 at Rd 6, leading series at time of writing|
Winning for Three Manufacturers
|Kawasaki 44 Races, 15 Wins (34%)||Honda 30 Races, 3 Wins (10%)|
|Honda 32 Races, 18 Wins (56%)||Kawasaki 101 Races, 36 Wins (36%)|
|Suzuki 39 Races, 15 Wins (38%)||Yamaha 23 Races, 11 Wins (42%)|