Mat Mladin Exit Interview

September 11, 2009
Steve Atlas
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Now that hes retiring a champion  Mat Mladin will have more time for moments like this.
Australian Mat Mladin leaves America after an incredible career, which includes seven titles and 82 Superbike wins.

If you ask us, Mat Mladin did it right. The winningest rider in AMA Superbike history gave it everything he had and went out on top, seven championships in hand and 82 race wins to his name. Fans either love him or love to hate him, but that’s by choice as well. It’s no secret Mladin has always said what’s on his mind, never sugarcoating the facts to keep sponsors happy – and one can’t help but admire the man for that as well. In a sport so dominated by corporate coaxing, this Australian has always told it how it is – plain and simple. We caught up with the greatest just before he heads back home to Australia to start the next chapter in his life.

First off, what’s the one thing Mat Mladin wants to be remembered by?

For me it’s that I was always true to my word. If I said something, I meant it. Some people have said that now that I am financially stable I have nothing to worry about speaking my mind, but when I first came here in 1996 without a pot to piss in, and the first track I went to was Daytona. They asked me what I thought and I said it was crap! I had nothing and I still said exactly what I thought and that’s what I’m most proud of in racing.

With a career like yours it must be tough, but what would you say your favorite years racing were?

Spies and Mladin meet after Spies Race 1 victory
The best years of his career? Mladin claims it was the titles he lost to Ben Spies, who pushed Mladin every race.

The two years that I raced Ben (Spies) and lost the championship are without a doubt the fondest of my career. We were able to win more races than he did, I think I won 30 or so and he won 20, but he was smart and consistent and took both championships, but having someone of his talent pushing me was what really made racing fun.

Even my first years or where I was on a 750 against 1000s, there still wasn’t any time in my career where anyone pushed me like Ben did. Week after week we always had to be at the top of our game to race him and when I won those races that’s what really meant the most. That’s why for me, even though I didn’t win those championships, those years I will always look back on as my favorite.

This latest championship came, for lack of a better word, easy. Was it hollow feeling at all?

I wouldn’t say it was hollow, there just came a point in the season I lost interest. The first part on the ’08 bike the wins came easily and then on the ’09 bike, yeah maybe Tommy (Hayden) and Blake (Young) were somewhat closer, but that was about the time I decided this was my last year and I was done racing. Some like to say it was the bike, and if that makes them happy, then they can say that, but, really, I just lost interest. But was it hollow – no. We won the championship and loads of races so it was a good season for us and Suzuki and my guys.

A lot of the problem came down to not liking the bikes we were riding as well – I don’t like production bikes with stock wheels and suspension, as well as the people in charge and the safety aspect. I just read a press release somewhere about the safety changes DMG are going to make for next year and it talks about the bikes and the Pace Car, but there’s nothing about moving walls or making tracks safer, and that’s the biggest issue.

Say the old rules were in place and the old AMA in charge, would Mat Mladin be retiring?

Mat Mladin and Ben Spies continued their championship duel at Fontana
Mladin battles with teammate and rival Ben Spies, the two GSX-R1000 riders fighting bitter campaigns from 2006-2008.

I don’t think so. Actually, definitely not. I’d still be racing for sure. There was no plan for me to be leaving this soon with the old set of rules and people in charge. But with the way everything has gone this year it really made me look at things differently and changed everything.

Safety is huge on my list and always has been. You know, a lot of riders talk about how much they are about safety and how they are going to stand up for this and that, but when we visited Topeka for the first time and the track was clearly unsafe, everyone decided to ride anyway. Maybe they were fighting for second place in the championship and there was $50,000 on the line or something, but when it came down to it, I was the only Superbike rider who stood up for what I believed. A paycheck means more than safety to them, apparently. I know I caused some controversy but rider safety is number one for me and there was no way I was going to race there.

Jamie Hacking pulled out as well, correct?

Yeah, I was the only Superbike rider. But Jamie has always been a big advocate as well and he was one of the only other top riders to stand up and do the same thing even though many expressed how dangerous things were. And if only two guys are willing to stand up for safety then nothing is going to change. All of the riders need to be on the same side and until that happens these guys aren’t going to make the proper changes. This is why I knew it was time for me to focus on other things and move on from road racing.

Mat Mladin retires from American Superbike racing with a record 82 race wins and an unprecedented seven championship titles.
Mladin leaves on top of his game and after clashing with DMG and its running of the AMA road racing series.

I guess DMG is getting what they wanted, right? No more Suzuki dominating and no more Mat Mladin? (laughs).

Despite the issues, it still has to feel good to go out on top?

Yeah it was great to win the championship and go out like that, there’s no doubt. But it came pretty easily. And I know easy isn’t a word most would want to use, but by halfway through the season I was telling my guys I wished Ben was back. The first half of the year I was pushing and we were winning by 15 seconds on the ‘08 bike. Some have said with the ’09 bike things were closer, but look at Barber and the races when we first got on it – maybe we weren’t winning by as much, but we were still winning.

And if guys want to say that about the bike, that this was why I didn’t win by as much, go for it, but that’s when I started to lose that drive, to lose interest. And it all goes back to the competition. It just wasn’t there like I had it the previous years with Ben and with all the issues with the rules and the race organization – I knew it was time to retire. I had a good six months to really think about it, and with all the issues it helped finalize the decision for me.

Having children has to change things in regards to safety as well?

My kids are three and six now so I’ve been giving it 100% with children for a few years now, so it’s not like much has changed on that end. But like I said, I’ve always been big on safety, even 14 years ago when I first came to this county. And when you realize you are putting your life on the line on dangerous tracks so someone else can make money, that is when it’s time to really think about things. The racers have talked about safety all year but only a couple have acted on it. With the others too concerned about collecting a paycheck, nothing is going to change.

How have things been going for Mat Mladin the family man?

Now that hes retiring a champion  Mat Mladin will have more time for moments like this.
Less time racing, more time with the family… Mladin considers his family his greatest achievement.

Everything is great. I’m really excited to spend full time with my family in Australia. My children and my family are my biggest achievement and I really enjoy everything about it.

Will you still be involved in racing in any form in Australia?

My business (Bike Gear Warehouse) does a good bit with racing, we sponsor the factory road racing team in Australia and the motocross team, so I will be around in a business sense, but not as a racer. Mat Mladin as a road racer is done. I’ve made my decision and now I look forward to putting 365 days a year into being in Australia and focusing on my business and my family. I will be coming back to the U.S. from time to time as well and may drop by a couple races as a spectator as my business does a lot of work with American companies, so I won’t be gone from here for good, either.

I may also get back into riding some motocross and maybe do a bit of racing with the old man crew on the weekends, but just stuff for fun. It will be nice to get back to MX and have a bit of a go at it, but that will be the extent of me racing anymore, for a laugh.

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