Swizcorner "Viva la Evil Eli"

It was the dream scenario for a couple of series finale’s and they delivered.

Lead Photo by: James Lissimore
Every year the promotors and announcers do all they can to try to keep that dangled carrot in front of our faces from the first round to the last, in anticipation of drama and a climactic finish (settle down, Moser). Often there is very little truly at stake when we reach Las Vegas but they do their damnedest to inflate any little tidbit of drama in hopes that it could play out in a compelling conclusion.
We had only one of three titles wrapped up coming into the final round and the two left to be decided weren’t even kind of locked up, they were outright cliffhanger’s where honestly anything really could happen. Four guys with a shot at the ultimate prize in the 250 East series and the two top dogs in the 450 class separated by only 9 points. Vegas was absolutely going to pay off huge for the fans in terms of excitement, drama, intensity and raw emotion.
The drama got ramped up at the pre-race finale press conference on Friday when Eli Tomac was asked about the KTM team tactics. His answer was essentially that it was lame and he hoped that Ryan could sleep easy at night knowing his buddy pulled over and handed him a win. For the most part fans were impressed with Eli’s honesty but from the second I saw him make these comments, they rang as contrived and hypocritical. Gamesmanship? Sure. Maybe Eli really did feel that way on a personal level but there is absolutely ZERO percent chance that Kawasaki would hesitate to do the exact same thing if the roles were reversed. They would be recklessly ignorant to not do that. I see why Eli said it but anyone who thought he was speaking from a “pure racing” or altruistic perspective is fooling themselves completely. Eli wanted to irritate Dungey and plant a seed of doubt in his head in an attempt to rattle him.

When the gate dropped on the 450 Main and Dungey grabbed the hoeshot with Eli close behind, we just knew some early contact was inevitable. Eli, the rip-roaring fastest of the 450 class for the majority of the 2017 season had painted himself into a corner last week in East Rutherford. It was a flashback performance to the introduction of the series where he seemingly could just not get out of his own way. There is STILL discussion of just what it was that stifled Eli’s run of untouchable-ness in the northeast. Perhaps Eli himself hasn’t even been able to put his finger on it. The weird part to me is that even having seen the week prior’s subpar performance from Eli, I never had a second thought as to whether Eli would still be off the pace and floundering or seamlessly return to his dominant form. Dungey was out front, Eli in tow and the only question was how quickly would Eli make his move and how aggressively would it be?

Watching the seconds-deficit between Tomac and Dungey after Dungey got by Anderson, it was clear that Eli had diabolically formulated a plan which would increase his chances of stealing the final points lead back from Ryan Dungey. Dungey had knocked off a 3.3 second lead by Eli in a matter of corners. It was instantly clear after Eli’s initial contact pass on Ryan that East Rutherford was the fluke. Eli was indeed back to form and clearly the dominant force in the 450 class. Eli had decided to slow the pace just enough to make it appear that Ryan had clicked it up to another gear and near Eli’s pace Very quickly though, we could see that there were other riders also latching onto their lead pace and it was clear, Eli was attempting to draw the pack in to their battle in hopes to introduce a more chaotic battle wherein Ryan Dungey would be more likely to falter in a pack of riders than a solo show where he could completely focus on the track. This plan of Eli’s was so much more exciting to watch as a fan than the typical plan of attack in a final title battle. The reason this plan was even possible was because Eli knew he was absolutely the fastest guy in the class and having faltered the week before, he had put himself in a position to need to use his speed advantage as the kryptonite to Dungey’s consistency.
So often we always only see the guy needing the points just going balls to the wall to try to finish as best he can and hoping his closest title threat falters or suffers a mechanical failure. When Ryan Dungey, the most consistent racer in the sports history is the guy you’re hoping for a falter from, you have to force the issue a bit and therein lies Eli’s admirable proactive plan.
When we as fans noticed what Eli was doing on the track, we were instantly mesmerized by the idea and the prospect of how it could play out. It was so much more intriguing and dynamic than just “pin it”. The biggest fault I saw in Eli’s recipe was making multiple contact attempts on Ryan during the race. He needed to just drop the pace a bit more and keep Ryan confused until the last lap when they were really bunched together and then just blow him out on the last lap, ala Zach Osborne. This is for the title and ONE aggressive move is far more likely to stand than 3 or 4 which would certainly be protested and penalized.
Eli’s pace was just a hair too fast for his plan to be a success. It was so convincing, by the way, that the commentating trio really had no idea what was so clearly going on out there. They just thought Reed and Grant (who hasn’t podium’d in years) suddenly caught fire and were able to keep pace with the two guys who have obliterated the field for the 2017 season. I have to think that they were coached up to not ruminate on the fact that the fastest guy in the series was slowing the pace to reel in a battle-pack. Despite the fact that THAT concept is infinitely more dynamic and interesting that simply go fast and score points.
I often ask myself when will we see a Supercross broadcast that is catered to the fans who purposefully tune in to watch these races? Why do we continue to see watered down commentating that is clearly aimed at dumbing down the action for the casual channel surfer? Supercross is never going to NOT be a niche sport so why continue to pretend it will be? Anyway, I know expecting more is a pipe dream…
In the end Evil Eli’s diabolical plan was so much fun and intense to watch but it didn’t succeed. Ryan Dungey is just too “automatic”. The guy just doesn’t falter enough to give anyone less consistent than him, a chance. And there you have it, a new 4-time three-peating 450 champion in the record books… and likely sailing on into retirement now.
 I’ve often felt like a Ryan Dungey defender because his non flashy personality and race craft gets him a lot of detractors and lack of respect for his achievements which I find ridiculous. His resume is incredible. At the same time, I’ve been plenty honest about his failings in aggression and ability to respond when challenged. The bottomline though, is his approach has rarely failed and when wins, championships and financial success are what really matters, who gives a rats ass if fans aren’t showing appropriate respect for your achievements in the heat of the moment?
It was a great season and one of the best 450 finale’s in history due in great part to Eli Tomac but without Ryan Dungey, it would have been one of the most boring ever. Ironic eh?