I know this site is dedicated to Ducati, but sometimes it is worth resetting the lens to look at something significant in our sport. Today Mat Mladin announced his retirement from motorcycle road racing at the end of 2009 and I wanted to acknowledge his amazing career. Beside he raced a Fast by Ferraci Ducati and a Cagiva 500GP bike so that qualifies him as a Ducatista!
Mladin won his first national championship in Australia in 1981 on the dirt (flat track). He followed that up with 3 motocross championships in a single year. His switch to road-racing marked him as a phenom since he began winning almost immediately taking the Australian 250 Production championship in 1991 and followed that up with the Australian Superbike championship the very next year on a Team Kawasaki Australia ZXR750. The following year he was a factory 500GP racer. Just pause for a second to absorb all that. Imagine you started road-racing this year and in 2011 you had a MotoGP ride racing with Valentino Rossi and company? I know, it’s almost inconceivable. For young, inexperienced Mladin the pressure of trying to race at the pinnacle of 2 wheeled sport on the global stage on the less than ideal Cagiva proved difficult.
“It was tough,” Mladin says of 1993. “Especially when Kocinski came in. Most of the early problems were because I was inexperienced. Same thing as with my dad — they put a lot of pressure on me to win and I didn’t know how to handle it. There I was in Europe with a 45 foot motorhome and big paycheck. One year or so before I had one pair of shoes, and was racing 250 production out of my own pocket. All of a sudden I’m in Europe racing with Wayne Gardner, Mick Doohan and Wayne Rainey. I swear to God that back in my bedroom in Australia I had their posters on my wall. And Cagiva was putting pressure on me to beat them.”
link: Superbike Planet
Mladin returned to Australia and raced Superbikes once again but most Americans only know him as the cool customer who has dominated AMA Superbike racing this decade. Mladin joined the AMA Superbike series in 1996, riding for Yoshimura Suzuki, and finished fourth overall. He switched to Fast By Ferracci Ducati the following year and finished third in the championship before returning to Suzuki for 1998 where he again finished third.
He finally broke through to win the 1999 championship and the rest is for motorcycle racing fans to marvel at. Mat won every year from 2000 through 2005 only being stopped in his absolute mastery of the American championship by young Ben Spies who he finished second to in the last 3 seasons. He current has a commanding lead in the 2009 series, what will be his last, and could in fact have wrapped the series up by Sunday if not for his withdrawal from this weekend’s Topeka round on track safety concerns.
Mladin was always his own self, free of any manufactured public persona. He called it how he saw it and didn’t mind who he might offend in the process. Coupled with his on track dominance he was hard for fans to warm to. But Mladin was someone that took a while to unpack. He always had the talent and it was hard not to admire the stands he took on behalf of other racers with respect to track safety and the DMG debacle that has resulted in the USA’s premiere motorcycle racing series becoming glorified Superstock racing with a byzantine series of unpredictable and self serving rulings by the DMG group.
I place the recent increase in fandom for Mat, in part, because of his own realization of his impending retirement decision that may have led him to embrace the fans via tools such as social media that allowed him to share his thoughts and feelings more directly (you can follow Mat on Twitter). His tweets and various columns in magazines revealed a very bright man, becoming more philosophical as he aged. Instead of being morose when the young upstart Spies stole his crown, Mladin dug deeper, trained harder and raced even faster losing the 2007 series by only a single point.
Mat Mladin’s announcement today is best summed up in his own words.
My career has been long and above and beyond my wildest expectations. I won my first national championship on dirt bikes back in 1981 (28 years ago) and have had an amazing career ever since. If I had my time again, I would not change a single decision I have made, in life or in racing.
link: Superbike Planet
He appears to be at peace with his choices and himself. Best wishes for your future endeavors Mat and thanks for the incredible demonstration of skill, bravery, determination, focus and success. It is simply not something we come across very often in any realm of life.