CORONA, Calif. - The GEICO Honda race team has a enviable reputation for developing young motocross riders into world champions, while also providing legends like Mike LaRocco and Kevin Windham a place to cement their legacies.
The 2014 season will a mark a significant transition in this established philosophy as GEICO Honda owners Rick Zielfelder, Jeff Majkrzak and Mike Grondahl expand their stable to include two 450cc riders, both of whom are being promoted from within the ranks.
Starting with the 2014 Monster Energy AMA Supercross season-opener in Anaheim, Calif., champion 250cc riders Eli Tomac and Wil Hahn will move up to ride for GEICO Honda in the elite 450cc class.
Following in Trey Canard and Justin Barcia's footsteps, Tomac will be the third GEICO Honda rider to reach the pinnacle of the sport after joining the team as a fresh-faced amateur. The Cortez, Colorado, native was in his early teens when he first caught the eye of Zielfelder. It's been a partnership that's produced dozens of race wins and the 2012 Supercross 250SX West title.
"As an amateur, GEICO Honda was a team you looked up to," Tomac said. "They always had a great 250 team and legendary guys like Mike LaRocco and Kevin Windham on their 450. What we're doing now is a step in a new direction. It's going to be like a whole new program. To be one of the first guys to make it happen is really cool."
After a breakout season in 2009, Hahn joined the team for the 2010 season. Unfortunately, in his first race with the team, he broke his back during practice and spent the bulk of the next two seasons recovering from various injuries. Despite the setbacks, Hahn's presence became a valued one on the team and the group's patience was rewarded this season when Hahn won two races on the way to the 250SX East title.
"I didn't start with them as an amateur, but I feel like I have," Hahn said. "I was around the team a lot when I was younger hanging out with my brother Tommy. I've always felt love from this team and I'm honored they asked me to ride the 450 for them.
"They stuck behind me during times when a lot of teams would have let me go. They saw something in me, they kept me on, and it paid off for both sides."
Majkrzak said that expanding to two 450 riders is a big step but one the team has been working toward for a long time.
"We only wanted to expand to two 450 riders if we could do it the right way," Majkrzak said. "We wanted to make sure our major partners -- GEICO, Honda and AMSOIL -- were ready and willing to go on this ride with us. The timing was perfect and we're excited for the team's future with Eli and Wil leading the way for our 250cc and amateur teams."
Tomac and Hahn both said they're excited to make the transition to the top class in familiar surroundings.
"Moving to a 450 is a big enough step as it is," Tomac said. "I would imagine that the transition would be a lot harder if you've got to learn a new motorcycle and a new team. I won't have to do that. I already know this inside and out. I'm excited to get started."
Hahn echoed those thoughts, adding that success as a professional is as much about attitude as it is about parts and pieces.
"Riding for a factory 450 team is something you dream about as a kid," Hahn said. "Everyone on the team has a constant drive and determination to want to win. Everyone works together for that goal.
"The great part of it is, everything is staying the same: familiar surroundings, same Factory Connection suspension, same engine guy, a Honda motorcycle and the family atmosphere. There's a lot to be said for that."
The Supercross world will get a preview of GEICO Honda's new 450 duo when they take to the track at the Oct. 19 Monster Energy Cup at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas.