When Mat came to our team he brought with him an incredible work ethic and the heart of a true champion. From the beginning, Mat’s intensity raised the level of all around him and he has been a key “spark plug” in the development of everyone he has come in contact with here at Yoshimura.
Mat Mladin has enjoyed success throughout his career and retires this year to focus more on family and activities closer to home.
At Yoshimura, it’s been a great ride. Trying to build equipment to the standards of a rider like Mat is what makes a team improve. Mat hand picked his crew from the best of the best and then pushed all of them to even higher levels. As a company, being associated with Mat has helped drive not only the team forward, but also has helped Yoshimura as a company focus on what Pop’s original intent was… to be the best.
It has always been inspirational to observe Mat in action. Not only has he been one of the absolutely fastest riders of all time, but he has also been one of the toughest. Not only physically tough – but mentally tough. Ask any Superbike racer from the last dozen years here in America what their worst nightmare was and they’d answer to a man: “Having Mladin behind you!” Of course it was a rare day when Mat was behind anyone. His speed has always been amazing, his race crafting skills unparalleled, and his braking skills simply mind numbing to ponder.
In essence, Mat is the complete racer. He has no weakness.
Yoshimura President Don Sakakura reflects on the relationship: “Over the course of the past (13) years, Mat Mladin has demonstrated brilliant motorcycle racing skills. His clever aggressiveness and competitive tenacity will never be duplicated. Mental and physical preparation has always been paramount, as is very apparent with Mat’s consistent level of performance throughout his racing career. Equally valuable is his endless passion for success, on race tracks, in business and daily life. It’s been a fantastic ride! Thanks, Mat, so much for all the wonderful memories…”
“Mat has been simply incredible,” Yoshimura’s Vice President of Marketing Brant Russell explains. “His passion to win and incredible work ethic has been nothing short of inspirational. We at Yoshimura wish Mat and his family all the best in the future.”
Mat was philosophical on reflecting on his career racing in America, “I’ve raced since the day I got here in 1996 and came to this team, and my link has been with Yoshimura guys and the race team guys. It is the one thing in retirement that I’m going to miss – the people I’ve had to chance to work with and deal with. I’m not going to miss the racing, but I’m going to miss a number of people here greatly. It’s definitely going to be one of the things that’s going to be different, that’s for sure.”
Mat continues on: “In the end, I’ve always worked hard and always looked at my racing as someone who has been trying to win. As most people know, I take my job very seriously. But on the flip side there are a lot of people who make it happen away from the race track and all those people who have made it happen are all very close and very good friends.”
“It’s pretty easy to work hard for a guy like Mat who leaves absolutely nothing on the table,” Russell concludes. “No excuses, just performance. This struggle, the ‘war’ that is racing, makes companies and individuals rise to the occasion… or not. With Mat, not winning was never an option. With Yoshimura it’s the same.”
Recap of 2009 AMA Superbike Season
There were a lot of questions headed into the 2009 AMA Superbike season. With new competition, new tracks, and a new sanctioning body, would the Rockstar/Makita/Suzuki/Yoshimura team be able to repeat the success of the 2008 season? By the final race of the season, the answer was: yes. Mat Mladin (#7), in the final season of his career, took ten victories en route to an unparalleled eighth AMA Superbike title. His teammates also helped make it a successful season, with Tommy Hayden returning to (#22) finish third overall and rookie Blake Young (#79) ending the year in sixth.
The season started on March 4th in Daytona Beach, Florida at the famous Daytona International Speedway. Mladin had little practice time on the bike, as well as a sore back, but managed to put everything behind him and qualified on the pole. The race saw Mladin and Tommy Hayden at the front in a race long battle for the lead. Mladin would ultimately take the victory, with Hayden finishing in third, and in his first-ever AMA Superbike race, Blake Young finished an impressive sixth-place.
After a short break, the series turned to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Mladin again started from the pole with Tommy Hayden close behind him. The first race was an exciting, back and forth battle between the two that went down to the very last lap. Mladin pushed his way into the lead and was able to hold on to the finish line to claim victory number two of the season. The third race looked to be a repeat of the first, but Hayden made a small mistake and wasn’t able to reel in Mladin, who had made a break at the front. It would be another 1-2 finish for Mladin and Hayden. Blake Young finished a consistent fourth and ninth in the two races.
The next stop on the schedule was Braselton, Georgia at the Road Atlanta racetrack. Starting from the pole yet again, Mladin dominated the field, claiming victories on both days, as well as the 50th consecutive AMA Superbike win for the Rockstar/Makita/Suzuki/Yoshimura team. Tommy Hayden took second in the first race, but was unable to match that performance in race two. Blake Young, in only his third AMA Superbike race, finished fourth and second in the two races; an amazing result for the rookie.
After another break, the series went to the scenic Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. Riding the new 2009 GXS-R1000‘s, Mat Mladin led the Rockstar/Makita/Suzuki/Yoshimura team to another victorious weekend. Per usual, Mladin started both races from the pole and swept each one, making it seven straight wins for the series leader. Tommy Hayden finished the first race in fourth place, but struggled on a damp track during the second, coming across the line in eighth. After another impressive second place finish, Blake Young’s season took a hit when he came together with another rider and crashed out of the race, injuring his hand.
Mat Mladin’s career is chocked full of impressive stats. Seven AMA Superbike Championship titles (no other rider has won more than three), 11 wins and 10 pole position starts in a single season and won the pole position 50 times.
May 15th saw the series head into Sonoma, California, home to Infineon Raceway. While Mladin qualified in the top spot, he wasn’t able to overcome a set-up issue and finished Saturday’s race in fifth place. Tommy Hayden took second place, while Blake Young sat the weekend out due to injury. Almost immediately, people began to wonder how Mladin would react to finishing off the podium. In the second race, he silenced any doubts with a dominating victory – the 80th of his career Hayden managed to repeat his podium finish from the previous day with third place.
The next stop was in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, at picturesque Road America. In a rain-soaked race one, Mladin added another victory to his career total while Blake Young, in his first race back from injury, took fifth place. Tommy Hayden struggled in the rain and could only manage ninth. Race two was completely different, though. With clear skies and a dry track, Mladin was part of a great battle for the lead, but couldn’t make a pass stick. He would finish second place, with Young crashing on the last lap. Tommy Hayden finished in seventh, and Young was able to remount and finish eighth.
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California was the next race on the schedule. Held in conjunction with the MotoGP series, the Rockstar/Makita/Suzuki/Yoshimura team avoided any distractions and took the top three spots in qualifying. After an array of incidents, race direction red-flagged the race. On the restart, it was Blake Young leading the way with Mladin fighting his way up from sixth. By lap 11, Mladin had caught his teammate and pushed into the lead. Young couldn’t hang on and Mladin took the victory. Tommy Hayden had a much tougher race. After a ride through penalty, he could only manage eighth.
The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio was the next stop on the circuit. Mladin had difficulty with set-up and couldn’t repeat his performance from Laguna Seca. He was, however, able to secure two consistent third and seventh place finishes. His teammates also put in top-ten rides, with Tommy Hayden finishing sixth and third and Blake Young finishing seventh and fourth.
On July 31st, the series went to Heartland Park in Topeka, Kansas for the first AMA Superbike race on the new track. Mat Mladin, however, had elected not to race due to concerns about track safety. As he withdrew from the event, he announced that he would retire after the season. The news reverberated through the paddock. With a lack of track time, Young and Hayden were left to fly the team Rockstar/Makita/Suzuki/Yoshimura flag from seventh and eighth on the grid. In the first race, both riders pushed to the front and claimed third and fourth, respectively. The second race saw Hayden challenging for the lead, only to come up just short and finish in second. Young looked to have the speed to run at the front, but a mistake dropped the rookie back to tenth. He managed to recover and finish in eighth.
Mladin was back in action on August 16th at Virginia International Raceway in Alton, Virginia. All he had to do was ride two conservative races and the veteran rider would secure his record eighth AMA Superbike title. In the first race, Mladin finished in second while Hayden finished fifth, just able to keep the series alive. But Mladin rode safely in Sunday’s race and clinched the championship with a ninth place finish. Hayden finished in second while Blake Young finished the weekend with sixth and seventh place results.
On September 4th, the series landed in Millville, New Jersey for the final race of the year. With the championship already in hand, Mladin started his final two races from the pole. In Saturday’s race, he pushed hard at the front, but unfortunately crashed out of the race unhurt. Tommy Hayden took second and Blake Young finished seventh. On Sunday, it was Hayden who was fighting for the lead with Mladin close behind. However, it was Hayden who crashed out this time. Mladin would take over second place, where he would cross the line for the last time. Young would go on to end his rookie season with a ninth place finish.
So, from here it’s a fond goodbye to Mat Mladin – 7 time AMA Superbike Champion.
Thanks again, Mat.