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Eli Tomac is Already Top 3 All-Time. Here’s Why. Fight Me.

By Brett Smith

The SuperMotocross World Championship creates an official way to categorize and rank the all-time greats of Supercross and motocross.

Is Eli Tomac 4th on the all-time greats list or is he already 3rd? Is James Stewart 2nd overall or 5th? Is Ken Roczen 9th, 10th or 11th?

It depends on how race wins are categorized. So, with apologies to James Stewart, his 28 250MX overalls won’t be counted when building a list for the all-time greats of The SuperMotocross World Championship (SMX). But neither do Eli Tomac’s 12 wins or Jeremy McGrath’s two overalls from 1993. I know that doesn’t make much sense right this moment, but if we’re to succeed in this collaboration as a league then this is how we need to think about it (more on that below). The current 250MX series is still a national championship (and should remain and be marketed as such) but for overall health, and wider public perception, this sport needs one premier division that demands the most attention from followers and fans.

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Here’s a NASCAR analogy. You’d tell me I can’t do math if I said that Richard Petty is NOT the all-time NASCAR wins leader with 200 checkered flags. That it’s Kyle Busch with 224. Busch has 60 NASCAR Cup, 102 Xfinity, 62 CRAFTSMAN victories. Straight from NASCAR’s ‘101’ webpage: “NASCAR has three national series that it sanctions for racing.” But NASCAR’s championships are tiered. Cup is tier 1. Xfinity, tier 2, etc.

Busch ‘only’ has 60 tier 1 wins. Petty has 200. One could certainly argue that Busch has more NASCAR wins than King Richard. That simple statistical presentation. But there’s one metric in that sport the general public holds with reverence: Cup wins. This is how SMX should operate going forward. In the functional language document prepared by the unified organizing bodies (Feld Ent. and MX Sports) they want the title to be referred to as “The sport’s ultimate championship.” Therefore, within that context, it doesn’t make sense to count race wins from a tier that simply isn’t the ‘ultimate’.

So let’s imagine that the SMX Championship always existed. That’s what this first chart represents. It’s all premier class victories (450SX/MX and the 250/500/MX divisions of earlier generations of the sport). And this explains how Eli Tomac is 3rd overall all-time. He has 76 wins, three more than the recently re-retired Ryan Dungey and 11 fewer than Jeremy McGrath.

All-Time SuperMotocross Rankings (by wins)

This chart ranks riders by their eligible SMX wins, which means PREMIER CLASS ONLY (450SX/MX & former 250/500MX divisions). Current riders appear in all caps. Data compiled by Clinton Fowler of “Fowler’s Facts”.

Looking purely at the all-time SMX ranking by wins, Carmichael is, far and away, still the leader with 124 wins in 203 starts, for an astonishing 61% winning percentage. Jeremy McGrath moves back up to second overall with 87 wins and a 38% win rate. Omitting the 13 “just for fun” races McGrath did between the 2004 Steel City Motocross and the 2006 San Diego Supercross and his win share would climb above 40%

The recently Hall-of-Fame-inducted James Stewart and Ryan Villopoto are the two riders within the top 10 who take a serious beating in the rankings. Stewart drops from 2nd all-time to 5th. Villopoto’s 18 250MX wins catapulted him to 6th overall on traditional lists. Now he is 9th but still has an incredible 45% win rate.

Tomac could end up 2nd overall after the 2023 season. He’d have to win 12 Supercross races this, however, because on December 21, 2022, Tomac told NBC’s Leigh Diffey that he is only planning to race the Monster Energy Supercross Championship and will most likely NOT contest for the new SMX title that starts in September.

It’s unfortunate timing for the launch of SMX to coincide with the defending Supercross and Pro Motocross champion bowing out halfway through the year. While Tomac appreciates the changes (“It’ll be something new and spicy for us, for sure,”) he told Diffey, don’t look for him on the gate in Charlotte, NC on September 9 when the gate drops for SMX World Championship Playoff 1.

“It doesn’t matter for me this year because I’m only signed up for Supercross racing. So people should know that,” Tomac told Diffey on his ‘Chat with the Champions series.

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So, unless Tomac can go on a 1996-McGrath-like run (14 wins in 15 races) or a 2001-Carmichael-like romp (14 wins in 16 races), he will end his hall-of-fame-bound career in 3rd overall on the all-time SMX wins list. And it’s going to be a minute before anyone even enters his orbit.

The next active rider on the list is 28-year-old Ken Roczen at 11th.  He has 41 career SMX wins in 200 starts and could move into 10th all-time with four wins in 2023. Roczen won one 450SX main event and one 450MX overall in 2022 and also competed in the upstart World Supercross Championship (WSX), a title he won. Roczen is competing in the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross but insert a ‘shrugs’ emoji beyond that. Here’s what we do know: if he decides to defend his WSX crown, that series directly conflicts with rounds 22 (Red Bud MX), 25 (Washougal MX) and 31 of the SMX World Championship (yes, there are two series marketing themselves as world championships. That’s a different story).

Round 31 is at the LA Coliseum. That’s the SMX World Championship Final. That’s the round that determines who wins the $1 million playoff prize. On the same day, Oct. 14, the WSX series is conspicuously scheduled to be in Dusseldorf, Germany, less than 5 hours west of the small town where Ken Roczen grew up.

Roczen is just 4 wins behind the great Jeff Ward and 12 victories back of Ryan Villopoto. The names in the charts below still list the riders according to their SMX win ranking but the second column is where they rank in the discipline indicated on the top line (SX or MX).

Top SMX Riders (col. 1) against SX win rankings (col. 2)

Column 1 lists riders in order of the SMX ranking. Column 2 is where they rank specifically in the Supercross discipline. Active riders appear in all caps. Data compiled by Clinton Fowler of “Fowler’s Facts”.

What patterns do you notice in these charts above and below? Here are some noteworthy nuggets to get you started: Four riders in the SMX top ten don’t make the top 10 in MX!

  • McGrath is 17th
  • Stewart is 11th
  • Chad Reed is 22nd
  • Ryan Villopoto is 20th. Villopoto’s MX win % is high but he only had 26 career 450 starts.

In contrast, zero riders in the SMX top ten are outside the top 10 when ranked specifically for Supercross wins.

The main key to being on the top 10 all-time SMX list: win one third of all your races. Chad Reed, who had what now seems like a 4-year-long farewell tour, won just 15% of his races but is 8th all-time in SMX. The still-active Tomac needs to win 9 races in 2023 if he wants to finish his career with a 33% win average on the SMX list.

Top SMX Riders (col. 1) against MX win rankings (col. 2)

Column 1 lists riders in order of the SMX ranking. Column 2 is where they rank specifically in the motocross discipline. Active riders appear in all caps. Data compiled by Clinton Fowler of “Fowler’s Facts”.

By omitting the 250MX wins from the ‘all-time greats’ category, it’s easy to say “that’s not how we’ve always done it.” Or, “this ruins the sport’s legacy.” Change can be tough. I still pine for two strokes, kidney belts and use the world ‘nostalgia’ in my personal mission statement. And if you’re still reading this, I’m sure this sport is as dear to you as it is to me. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little apprehensive about the major disruptions happening in 2023 and beyond. I hate purple and that’s the primary branding color for the SMX World Championship! But I’m choosing to control my perception of this new collaborative. And the fact that I only have to purchase ONE streaming package is enough for me to get over my disdain for purple.

Tell me you’re trying to avoid the colors that the motorcycle manufacturers use without telling me you’re trying to avoid the colors that the motorcycle manufacturers use. Let’s hope the Triumphs are not purple.

The SMX World Championship is positioned to operate as a true league. For that to work, its record keeping needs to align as well. It’s a long term positive if adopted and observed . Gates will still fall on Saturday nights and afternoons. It will still be awesome. But if we want/expect more attention from broadcast and marketing partners, spectators and celebrities, if we want to help dealers convert interest and curiosity into bike and gear sales, then the least we can do is get behind what is meant to be a unified championship. Let’s get over the awkward feeling of what is an inevitable transition period. Supercross and motocross are both 50 years old but we need think – right now – about how we want to see ourselves after the next 50 years.

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This report was written by Brett Smith. Charts and statistics are from Clinton Fowler of “Fowler’s Facts.”