The more things change, the more they stay the same—at least that’s the way it seemed to go for Eli Tomac in 2018. Like he had so many times before, the Kawasaki factory rider came into a brand-new year of Monster Energy AMA Supercross full of promise and as the preseason title favorite. He appeared to be getting even stronger and faster on the KX450F, and his primary rival, Red Bull KTM’s Ryan Dungey—the man who’d edged out Tomac for the 450SX title the year before, despite winning fewer races than Tomac—had retired. With Dungey out of the way, who could possibly prevent Tomac from finally grabbing his first 450SX Championship? The challenges would come from many directions, but, just like in years past, many of Tomac’s main hurdles were set firmly in place by Tomac himself.
The trouble started almost immediately. What was starting to look like a Tomac runaway at the first round in Anaheim changed dramatically when Tomac went down hard all by himself while leading. He remounted, broken pants clasp and all, but wasn’t able to finish due to a severe shoulder contusion. The frustration was obvious: Tomac pounded angrily on his handlebars several times as he realized what was happening. The injury would keep Tomac on the sidelines for round two as well, although Marvin Musquin, who won the first round, ended up hurting his shoulder in his heat race at round two (Houston) and didn’t make the main event either. Rockstar Husqvarna’s Jason Anderson took advantage by streaking to the win and securing the points lead.
Tomac would fight back by winning the next two rounds, but a bad night in Oakland and another DNF in San Diego would all but seal his championship fate. He’d go on to win a total of eight races, more than anyone else, just like the previous season. Again, Tomac’s sins outweighed his wins. Instead, it was Anderson who had a career year, showing more consistency than he’d ever exhibited in his career. Aside from Salt Lake City, where broken spokes from a first-turn crash resulted in a 17th-place finish, Anderson’s worst result was a seventh at Daytona. All told, he only finished off the podium a total of 6 times in 17 rounds en route to his first premier-class championship.
Other highlights included MotoConcepts Racing Honda’s Justin Brayton racing his way to a thrilling first career 450SX win at Daytona and Dean Wilson finishing a career-high second in Indianapolis. The season was dealt several blows, too, including Broc Tickle’s career getting controversially sidelined after he tested positive for an illegal substance (Tickle has maintained he had no knowledge of ingesting the substance), and Team Honda’s Ken Roczen suffering a major hand injury in San Diego that would knock him out of action for the remainder of the series.
In the 250 ranks, defending East Region Champion Zach Osborne picked up where he left off in 2017 by winning the season opener in Arlington. Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Austin Forkner immediately fired back by winning the next two rounds, one of which happened to be Atlanta, where Forkner appeared to jump into the back of Osborne. A rivalry ensued, but unfortunately it didn’t go the distance, as Forkner’s season was cut short due to a broken collarbone in Minneapolis. Heading into the finale, Jordon Smith had an outside shot at the title, but Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Osborne did what he needed to do in Vegas and wrapped up his second 250SX East Championship.
In the West Region, Aaron Plessinger was on point all year, starting the series on the podium in second place and winning four races, including a critical mud race in Seattle that effectively ended Joey Savatgy’s run at the title in his final year in 250SX. Coming into the final race in Las Vegas, Star Racing Yamaha’s Plessinger simply had to finish tenth or better to win the title—and that was only if Adam Cianciarulo won the race, which he actually ended up doing. Fortunately for Plessinger, he finished eighth and clinched the title. Shane McElrath also had a good year, winning two races, and tied Savatgy for third. Savatgy would end up fourth overall on account of winning one race to McElrath’s two. Defending champ Justin Hill simply came out of the gate soft in 2018, finishing the first four races off the podium and not getting a win until round six in San Diego. The JGR Suzuki rider missed Indianapolis, which was an East-West Shootout round, due to injuries sustained while moonlighting in the 450 Class.
When the gate dropped on Lucas Oil Pro Motocross in May, defending champ Eli Tomac came out of the gate hard, determined not be haunted by the ghosts of supercross. Through the first six motos, Tomac was absolutely perfect. His first loss didn’t come until he got second in the first moto at High Point. Even then it wasn’t an overall loss, as he was able to come back and win the second moto over Red Bull KTM’s Marvin Musquin to keep his streak alive. It’d survive until Southwick, where, although he was clearly the fastest rider on the track, Tomac crashed twice, allowing Musquin to snap his win streak. At the next round—RedBud in Michigan—Tomac appeared to be back to his winning ways until a mechanical problem in the first moto resulted in a DNF. A lackluster performance in the second moto handed the points lead to Musquin, who’d quietly been stacking up runner-up finishes and the occasional moto win.
A fired-up Tomac came back the next race at Spring Creek, and despite being significantly behind Musquin with the second moto winding down, somehow found a way to drop an astounding four seconds off his lap times, catch Musquin, and sprint away. It wasn’t the only time that year that Tomac put on displays of speed that had even veteran race goers wondering what on earth he was doing, and his rides over the summer summer should be considered as some of the all-time greatest performances in the sport’s history.
And yet, as fast as he was, and after winning 15 of 24, thanks to his problems at RedBud and an extremely consistent Musquin, Tomac still somehow found himself in a down-to-the-wire situation in the final moto at Ironman Raceway. To make things even more interesting, a deluge of rain had soaked the track, making for an anything-can-happen kind of day. It ended up not mattering, though, as Tomac held on and did what he needed to do to wrap up his second 450 Pro Motocross Championship in the final moto of the season, just like he did in 2017.
Additional highlights included Justin Barcia roaring back to the front of the pack after turning a fill-in ride with Yamaha for the injured Davi Millaps (Millsaps would ultimately retire in 2018) into a full-time gig and capping the season with a 1-1 day at Ironman Raceway. Ken Roczen also had a feel-good story. After not even knowing if he’d even be able to race the opener at Hangtown (which he did) due to a hand injury he’d suffered earlier in the year in San Diego, the Honda Rider was able to get on the podium several times, even winning motos at RedBud and Budds Creek.
In the 250 Class, the first half of the season boiled down to a war of attrition, as one by one the contenders started dropping off. GEICO Honda’s Jeremy Martin sustained a burst fracture in his back, Forkner couldn’t stop crashing, Savatgy had insanely bad luck (including a blown motor at Thunder Valley while leading), and defending 250 Class Champion Osborne suffered a torn labrum at Thunder Valley. Star Racing Yamaha’s Dylan Ferrandis was fast—he won the overall at both Southwick and Unadilla—but thanks to an injury during supercross that caused him to enter the season late, the Frenchman was never in the points battle. Justin Cooper was a revelation, even winning a moto at Thunder Valley, but wasn’t consistent enough to hunt for a title. Before you could say “Lucas Oil,” it was down to Plessinger and KTM-mounted Alex Martin. Martin, who’d been quite strong during the first half of the season, saw his results start to slide in the second half, and it wasn’t long before he effectively fell out of the title chase. Ohio’s Plessinger capped his season, and 250 National Championship, in style by winning the final two motos of the year in a muddy finale, putting an exclamation point on his final race in the 250 Class.