After three and a half years, 41-year-old Mat Mladin is going to throw his leg over a Superbike again. With seven AMA Superbike titles and the most victories in the class – some 49 more than the current active leader in Superbike wins, Josh Hayes – Mladin is far and above the most decorated AMA Superbike rider in series history.
After winning his seventh title in 2009, Mladin retired and moved back home to Australia and pretty much disappeared from the world of racing. Spending his energies on other his other passions - his farm and flying - he pretty much put motorcycles aside completely. Until recently.
It wasn’t that long ago that Mladin was just a few Vegemite sandwiches under 200 pounds, but he’s since returned to a training regimen that made him one of the fittest men in road racing. He’s also been spending some time on a motocross bike. But the clincher and the thing that might just bring him out of retirement…now he’s going to test for the the Next Gen Motorsports BMW team, joining Australian Superbike regular Glenn Allerton on June 20 for a ride on the team’s S1000 RR at Eastern Creek. We had a chance to talk with Mladin about the opportunity, how it came about, and get some insight as to what ignited the spark to get back on track.
How did the opportunity to test with Glenn Allerton and the Next Gen Motorsports team come about?
“Glenn Allerton I’ve known for quite sometime. I actually used to sponsor him over here [Australian Superbikes] with accessories and some gear and he used to work at my motorbike shop for a little while. I’ve seen Glenn around quite a bit. My kids do a little athletics and do running and his step-daughter also does a little bit of that so I used to see him sort of every Friday evening down at the running track. So we’ve always stayed in touch and we text every now and then. There’s a race in December over here at Eastern Creek, an endurance race, and he [Allerton] asked if would I consider doing it with him. I said, “Well, its funny you ask because I’ve been back in training and back on the motocross bike and actually would love to get out there and have another ride on something.” He [Allerton] said, “Well, why don’t you come out and test with us in June, see how you can go and see if you do want to get back on and have a race and all the rest of it.” So that’s how it all came about.
How long have you been back training and back riding motocross?
Probably six weeks now, maybe two months. Something like that…
And that just kind of sparked wanting to back into it?
I guess so, in a way. I mean I don’t know what’s the best way to put it… The last couple of years I’ve sort of thought about it, but this year some things have changed in my life in the last 12 months and a couple of months ago things have just sort of set up and lined up for me to possibly have a ride and I decided that I was going to.
Whereas in the last couple of years I’ve been offered to have some rides on different things and I just wasn’t interested. So I guess a few years off has allowed the mind to set a little bit and to maybe give myself another chance of riding a motorbike again.
Do you think when you are a professional racer and with the intensity of that level for years you kind of get burned out?
Oh for sure. I mean I guess it’s one thing I’ve said quite a bit in the last year or so to the people that have asked me and to my close friends. They said, ‘Why did you retire when you were still riding pretty quick etc. etc.’
I was just tired of being in the game at that point in my life. I guess when you look at it I won my first Australian Championship as a kid on the dirt in 1981 and I won my last U.S. Superbike Championship in 2009. In that whole time I was somewhat competitive every year on a motorcycle racing bike and was a sponsored rider and all the rest of it and obviously there’s expectations for you to do well when you’re sponsored. Especially in the professional ranks when you are getting paid. So for the best part of three decades I was racing at a reasonably high level and, yeah, I guess it just catches up with you. And you think, I’ve just had enough and even the thought of winning more motorcycle races at the time or championships or whatever else wasn’t enough to keep me going.
After you retired you weren’t riding bikes that much at all…
No. I haven’t been on a racetrack since New Jersey in 2009. I haven’t done anything at all. I haven’t been on a race bike. I’ve hardly even ridden on the street. I’ve been out on my Harley a little bit, but on a sportbike or anything… I own a Kawasaki z1000 that I got 12 months ago and I may have been out on that half a dozen times at best. So I really haven’t ridden a motorbike in that time.
So now with this break you can find the fun in it again?
Well possibly, you know. I mean it’s not like I’m getting any younger either. So there’s a whole other challenge if I did decide that I really wanted to have a real go at it.
One of them is getting my fitness back in shape, getting the motivation to want to do the training and get up every day thinking about racing, which I haven’t done for three and a half years. And that in itself… as a professional racer or a professional athlete, anybody that is doing it now or has done it at a high level before knows that it’s a grind. So there’s some hurdles to overcome if I do decide I want to have another go at racing. But in saying that, I’ve started to overcome some of those hurdles by getting my fitness sort of on the go again. Started to get some weight back off again.
All I’ve done for the last few years is run cattle, which I really love to do. I love to spend time on the farm. That’s sort of my hobby and something I really enjoy doing, but it doesn’t pertain to being 160 or 165 pounds to do so. I mean I was 200 pounds at one point. Right now I’m down to 180. When I finished racing in 2009 I was probably about 168-170 pounds. I wasn’t in my best condition in 2009, but in 2008 I was about 164-165 pounds.
So I’ve got a good 15-20 pounds to get back to that sort of area. And, realistically, because of age and the fact that the older you get the body doesn’t recuperate as well and things like that…. Realistically, I need to be lighter than I’ve ever been so just for my body to be able to cope. So there’s hurdles to overcome.
But I’ve been back on the motocross bike a lot in the last two months and I’m riding well. The other day I did a full moto - 30 minutes. I have a track that’s two minutes and 10 seconds around approximately, depending on conditions. Other than the first lap where I was warming up, every other lap in the 30-minute moto, so that means it was about 13 or 14, were in the 2:10.0 to 2:10.7 second range. So the concentration’s there and has come back pretty quickly. Being able to run consistent laps on a motocross bike on the dirt, you know 13 or 14 laps within .7 of a second every lap shows that I still have the ability to concentrate hard and to grind away in that environment. I feel good on the bike as well. So who knows?
Have you been following racing at all? Are you getting back into it? Because I think you had said before that you didn’t pay that close attention to it when you retired.
No I really didn’t for a few years. I didn’t have much of a look. I mean, obviously, I’m still in touch with Pete [his former crew chief, Doyle] and a couple of the boys [from Yoshimura Suzuki] and they text me after the races or I text them and say ‘how’d yous go’ or ‘what happened?’ So I know what’s going on. It’s just that I haven’t made a point out of watching the races and things like that. I’ve been starting to read up a little bit more stuff on seeing what’s going on over there and see who the players are and things like that.