The following is the 15th of our “21 In ’21 series that highlights one of the 21 AMA Superbike Champions as we move through the 2021 MotoAmerica season – the 45th year of the premier class championship.
Plain and simple: Australian Mat Mladin is the most dominant rider in the history of the AMA Superbike Championship. With seven AMA Superbike titles and 82 victories – all in the Superbike class – no one comes close.
Mladin’s first title came in the 1992 Australian Superbike Championship, a title he won on his first attempt. The next year he inked a deal with the Giacomo Agostini-run factory Cagiva team in the Grand Prix Series, but it was a bit too much too soon and Mladin floundered, ending the season 13th in the 1993 500cc World Championship and out of a ride. He returned home and finished second in the Australian Superbike Championship, despite almost losing his foot in an ultralight plane crash.
In 1996, Mladin ventured to America and it’s there that he made a name for himself. He started his AMA career on the team he would finish it with – Yoshimura Suzuki – but in his second season he switched to Eraldo Ferracci’s Ducati team, winning four AMA Superbike races in 1997 but failing to win the title.
The 1998 season saw Mladin reunited with the Yoshimura Suzuki team, and he won the season finale in Las Vegas. In 1999, he again won only one race at Sonoma Raceway, but earned his first title by 10 points over Ben Bostrom.
Mladin simply owned the 2000s, going on a tear that would see him win seven championships and 76 more AMA Superbike races for a total of 82.
In 2000, he won four races and his second title; in 2001, he matched that win total and earned title number three; in 2002, he struggled and slipped to seventh in the title chase with no victories; the following year, 2003, he had his first truly dominant season with 10 wins and title number four; 2004 saw him win eight times en route to his fifth title; 2005 was the first of the titanic Mladin vs. Spies years with Mladin taking title number six with 11 victories; the title went to Spies in 2006 with Mladin winning eight races; in 2007 it was again Spies taking the championship by just a single point despite Mladin winning a career-high 12 races; Spies won again in 2008 with Mladin taking nine wins to Spies’ 10; in 2009, it was Mladin over Josh Hayes with the Australian winning nine times and his seventh title.
Mladin was an advocate of rider safety and he butted heads with those from the Daytona Motorsports Group when they took over the series in 2009. The situation came to a head at Heartland Park Topeka in Kansas with Mladin leaving the facility and declaring he wasn’t going to race due to unsafe track conditions. At the time he held a 126-point lead in the championship. A day later, the 37-year-old Mladin announced that he would retire at the end of the ’09 season and he would go on to win his seventh AMA Superbike Championship.
“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,” Mladin said in a press release at the time. “My career has been long and above and beyond my wildest expectations. I won my first national championship on dirt bikes back in 1981 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.”
Mladin thanked his team, most of which have been with him for years and some of whom date back to his days racing in Australia. “Without these guys, the 80+ race wins and multiple championships would not have been possible.”
After retiring, Mladin returned to his homeland of Australia but admitted to missing racing motorcycles in an interview in Cycle News.
“I really do miss racing a motorcycle, I miss it a lot,” Mladin said. “I didn’t retire because I wasn’t quick enough, I retired because I’d had enough. I miss riding the motorcycle – fast. I miss that a lot. I miss the competition… I miss getting up everyone’s nose. I miss that side of racing, the mental side of it. I also miss the camaraderie, being away with the boys in the team on the weekend.”