End Of An Era: Mat Mladin Retires From Racing

Some names are almost as big as the sport, and when they leave, part of the sport dies too. That is almost certainly true of Mat Mladin's not-so-shock announcement that he will be retiring from motorcycle racing at the end of the 2009 season. Mladin has dominated roadracing in the United States for over 10 years, winning six AMA Superbike titles (and currently on course for a seventh) and 82 races along the way. It took the raw talent of Ben Spies on equal machinery to take titles away from the Australian, Spies beating Mladin to three championships, but that was no easy feat. Spies won the 2007 AMA Superbike championship by a single point, and the 2008 championship after some controversial scrutineering decisions saw Mladin disqualified for an illegal crankshaft after Virginia International Raceway round, despite Mladin and Spies' bikes being ostensibly identical. After Spies moved to World Superbikes, Mladin once again became the biggest name in the AMA, and his retirement leaves a gaping hole in the series.

The reasons for Mladin's retirement are varied, but there can be no doubt that a large part of his decision is political. Mladin has been at war with the Daytona Motorsports Group, the entity that took over the running of the AMA series early in 2008, over their decisions on the direction of motorcycle racing in the US. Some of Mladin's objections centered around the bikes to be raced, but Mladin has always been one of the strongest advocates of safety in American motorcycle racing, and Mladin was particularly caustic about the safety aspects of the AMA Pro racing program. The decision to add Heartland Park Topeka and New Jersey Motorsports Park to the calendar, added to the statements made by DMG boss Roger Edmondson about the need to race in the rain at some venues Mladin and a number of other riders consider to be treacherous were too much for Mladin to stomach.

But there's more to it than just politics. Mladin is 37, and though still riding as well as he ever has, he knows that he is approaching the end of his career, and is choosing to go out on top and on his own terms than hang on for a couple of seasons, and slowly fade away. Better to go out a champion, than to hang on and get beaten by younger, faster guys, and risk serious injury racing at tracks he is not comfortable at anyway.

The initial press release (shown below) left room for interpretation. Mladin announced his retirement from AMA racing, not motorcycle racing, leading to inevitable speculation that the Australian could follow his former team mate Ben Spies into the World Superbike paddock to race in Europe. Mladin had told the press earlier this year that he had been having a long hard look around the World Superbike paddock, and had had serious talks with a number of top teams. In the end, though, Mladin decided against it, and according to Superbikeplanet.com, Mladin is finished with racing completely.

Mladin's decision not to race in World Superbikes will leave undeserved question marks hanging over the Australian's head, especially in Europe. For years, European insiders dismissed Mladin's performance as irrelevant, a mixture of vastly superior machinery and an inferior talent pool in the US. Since Ben Spies arrived in World Superbikes and proceeded to hand out drubbings to allcomers on a brand new, undeveloped bike at tracks he had never seen, Mladin's status has been reappraised in Europe. After all, if Spies had to work so hard to beat Mladin and Spies is clearly the talent of the World Superbike paddock, then surely Mladin would put up a pretty good fight for a WSBK title, given the opportunity.

It is not to be sadly, and his decision not to come to World Superbikes will always be held against him. He has aired his reasons extensively in the press in the past. He always said that his experience as a young rider at Cagiva racing in Grand Prix made it clear to him that you could only be successful in either Grand Prix or World Superbikes if you signed with a top team. This factor, combined with the fact that in the AMA, Mladin was making probably 5-10 times the salary that he could earn in World Superbikes, meant that Mladin was reluctant to risk his reputation and his bank balance by coming over to Europe and racing on the world stage with teams of uncertain reputation. Mladin knew that this decision left European fans questioning his ability, but being the forthright, rather abrasive Australian that he was, frankly, he didn't care.

That abrasive personality filled many US journalists with dread. Dean Adams of Superbikeplanet.com described his horror at the prospect of having to sit through another year of stilted, painful post-race press conferences in the AMA, a trial that Adams and the rest of the US-based motorcycle racing press will no longer have to endure.

For me, Mat Mladin was best summed up by a visitor to the MotoGPMatters.com forum, and a keen student of racing. "Mat Mladin," she wrote "is made of win."

Mat Mladin's retirement announcement is reproduced below.

After so many great years of racing in the USA, I will retire from AMA racing at the end of the 2009 racing season in New Jersey.

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.

I would like to thank my team for their constant hard work. Without these guys, the 80+ race wins and multiple championships would not have been possible.

I wish to thank my fans. I want you to know that you all have helped me achieve so much. I will miss you.

I want to thank my mum and dad for getting me involved in such a fantastic sport that turned into my profession. I love you both.

My brother and sister for all the miles you done cramped into the back of a little pick up / ute in the early days. These were great times and the ones in racing I will cherish the most. You mean the world to me.

My daughters are growing fast and it is time I put my efforts into their future.

My wife, what can I say? You have unselfishly given your time and efforts to this lifestyle of ours. Racing had its down days, but with you by my side it was easy to get up and smell the fresh air, and realize how lucky I am. You have been a rock for so long, and if I could live another 100 years I still would not have the time to repay you for your commitment. I love you, babe.

Mat Mladin

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Comments

This will be the end to a great run Mladin has had on the Suzuki. It sucks that he's not 5 years younger and that we won't get to see him test himself against some of the world's best in WSBK. This will open up the possibilities for the AMA next year. Who has the best chance of winning the title is anyone's guess but strangely I don't find myself to interested by that possibility yet.

As much as I didn't like watching Mladin spanking the whole field, I am going to miss his (brutal) honesty in the way he dealt with everyone. If a rider beat him, it was always, 'good on em' and he would give credit where it was due.

AMA Superbike is losing an excellent competitor and a vocal proponent of safety for the rest of the riders. I hope that all his accomplishments don't get wiped away by the new AMA management.

I think I hear champain corks popping at DMG head quarters.

Mladin was the last obstical standing in DMG's way. Expect a total NASCARification of US motorcycle racing next year.

I have had the great privilage to watch Mat kick butt here in America for the last decade. I learned to appreciate Mats "unique" personality several years ago when I realized that almost all of the time his comments were reflective of what was really happening - and - he told the truth no matter who didn't like to hear it. He was a champion for rider safety and would not back down from his high principals for safe competition. Not to mention that he was (and still is) the winningest rider in AMA history. I have no doubt that on competitive machinery he would have been second to none in any WSBK or MotoGP series. I will miss watching Mat do what only he and a few others in the world could do best. God bless Mat and thanks for all you have done for racing in America.

The AMA needs serious help so what is Mladin doing? Hanging up his leathers and going home (at least that's the story at this point). Mat Mladin has always led from the front when his helmet is on, and he has always brought up the rear when he takes his helmet off.

Mat has withheld things from the promoters and governing body to influence decisions in the AMA. In order to maintain a healthy reciprocity, I'm withholding any kind words until he gets his sorry ass into the management side of the sport. Mat is probably one of the smartest racers in the paddock, and he is perfectly capable (at the very least) of being a safety adviser or being head of safety in the AMA. Mladin should be deciding which walls need to come down and which corners need to be repaved and which sections of the track layout need to be modified to allow safe racing b/c he has some of the highest standards of anyone on the grid.

Watching Mat mope around has been one of the gayest things I have ever witnessed. I'm not blaming DMG for the sorry spectacle. Mladin is 37 now, and he's perfectly capable of turning the AMA lemons into lemonade. Knowing Mladin, he'll cut one of the lemons in half and suck on it until he's sour enough to start editorializing for superbikeplanet. I'm hoping he will surprise us all.

Interesting comments, what sort of things has he withheld to influence decisions? Certainly not his talent... isn't his job as a racer simply to get out there and go as fast as he can? Just like you did when you were racing at national level, right?

We didn't get to see a lot of his efforts down here in Australia, but we certainly read about his performances. Another great Australian racer hangs up his leathers... best wishes with your family and business Mat, you've earned your success.

Someday I'm going to set fire to the place I work (my own business) b/c I don't like the onerous business laws. Then I'll climb onto the roof of my house with a big pile of my earnings and fiddle my own beautiful swan song while I watch my business burn to the ground.

According to the people on this message board, my customers and my employees should shower me with praise for being so successful.

Alright gentlemen. Lets show the man some respect and acknowledge what he did without the wild assertions and arguments as to what he could have done but didn't. He has earned his retirement and proved everything he needed to. If there is more for him to do, let him decide.

Suzuki would be crazy not to keep him on the payroll,, maybe to help either the GP team or the WSBK team,, both of which could use a speed infusion,, better yet,, think wild card guest ride in either series,,

I agree with every post here regarding Mladin's racecraft. Most of his career he has been simply the fastest guy in his paddock. Some might even credit him for making Ben Spies the racer he is. However, I have to disagree with the notion he respects his competitors. He struck me as highly disrespectful. Gracious is not a word anybody would use to discribe Matt Mladin. Ask Larry Pegram.

I, for one, will chime in with a hearty, "Good riddance and get lost!" Having sat in the stands for years while Mat was the blue whale in the goldfish bowl of AMA Superbike, I never respected the guy.

Why? Because, with his constant domination of the series, Mat should have been kicked up to World Superbike or possibly MotoGP years ago. And risked racing with the big boys, and risked losing.

Which of course, he (and Suzuki America), was loathe to do. Better to win, and win, and win, and win against the same old competition - and only when Spies came on board did anything get interesting. Now you got to guess which Suzuki would win, instead of automatically knowing in advance.

I regard Mat's retirement as the only thing DMG has done right in this completely disastrous 2009 season. Well, it shows that DMG can't get everything wrong.

Yes Maladin is a talented rider, but other than this year, Yoshi/Rockstar Suzuki's have won every AMA superbike race in the last 5 years, usually first, second, and third. If he rode another bike, how many races would he have won? This is why american superbike is in the state it is in.

To say that Mladin was only winning so many races because of the bike is ignoring a number of facts. Not least of those is that his former team mate, who was getting similar results is now very close to dominating in WSBK. Unless your argument is that the WSBK talent pool is equivalent to AMA.

The cheater bike argument is old and dead. Spies put that soundly to rest.

If the US has been unable to produce riders capable of beating Mat Mladin - until Ben Spies came along - then whose fault is that?

And if the pay cheque for racing in AMA is many MANY times what is available in WSB, who can blame him for playing along?

He's one of the top ten talents of the past decade or so, period - it doesn't matter where he raced. Who he raced against does count, so it was great that Spies came along to first push Mladin to his limit and then to go and show the rest of the world just how good they both are as racers.

The US has had riders that were capable to at least give Mldadin a good fight, but have since done what most gifted racers do, they moved up to either World Superbike or went to MotoGP.

The AMA, just as any national series is, is a feeder to the world stage. The more talented ones go on and the lesser ones stay. It's just unfortunate that he decided to limit the stages he played on.