This column originally appeared on May 23rd, 2001 on the original Rumblestrip.NET I thought it fitting that I repost it given Mat's announced retirement at the end of the season. Enjoy!
Mladin The Destroyer
by The Duke
On the flight back to Detroit from Atlanta Sunday night, reflecting on the weekend, I recalled Mat Mladin's words from the interview I did with him at Laguna during pre season testing - "I think we're going to win it (the championship) easier than we won it the last two years." The first two words that popped into my mind were bull and shit. With the quality and level of talent in the series there was no way that was going to happen.
While we are not quite one quarter of the way through the season, those words may yet be prophetic. With 151 possible points this far into the season, Mladin has 136. He has missed out on only 15 points all season! If he continues as he has, he is on pace to score 474 points this season!
Like Patton and the Third Army marching unstoppable across France and Germany, only forces out side his control (for Patton it was Ike, for Mladin who knows yet) can stop him at this point from victory. Like Patton, Mladin has a supporting cast that is almost unequalled. Sun Tzu said that all battles are won and lost before they ever begin. With Mladin and his band of merry marauders this is most evident. Walk by the Yosh trailer that holds Yates and Hacking's team and there is a buzz of activity, mostly due to how many times they have to repair Hacking's crash damage. Then go by Mladin's rig. While busy, there is calmness, a non-frenzied atmosphere. Mladin's crew have it easy. When was the last time they had to thrash with repairing either crash damage or motor problems? They unload and focus on setup. They are able to maximize their on track time. With Peter Doyle, Reg O'Rourke and Amar Bazzaz at his side, Mladin has assembled perhaps the strongest team since the days of Spencer and Kanamoto or Carruthers and Roberts. The only other team that I would put up against what Mladin has put together would be Eboz with Joey Lombardo and Al Ludington. However, given that Eric must run both the 600 and the Superbike, the Kawasaki effort by design can not be as focused as Mladin's.
If Mladin and crew go on and win this year's championship, then I agree with Larry Lawrence who wrote over at AMA Soup that it is time for Mat to go. What more does he have left to prove here? He should be piloting a World Superbike or be back on a GP machine, not stuck in the US.
It's a shame that he won't be racing in the WSBK round at Laguna, it would be very interesting to see how not only him but his crew stack up to some of the worlds best. It's understandable why it won't happen. Mat has been hired to win the US Championship. Why risk injury in a race that means nothing and throw away the championship here? Sure it would be great to see the Yosh bike running with "The Troys" and Captain America, but it ain't gonna happen. Factor in the expense of building and testing a bike that will need a different combination due to the use of unleaded fuel in the WSBK series, and with the potential of showing up the Alstare team.
While the Alstare team has struggled, the Yosh team has dominated. I would not discount the level of talent or support here in the US either. With the likes of "The Show" and "The Kid" and their full factory backing from Yamaha and Honda, it is certainly very close to what he would face one level up. The sad thing is, if Mat were Spanish, it would be him and not Sete Gibernau as a teammate to KRJR. Instead of the second Suzuki bike battling for 11th spot every race, as it currently is, it would be running with the front runners trying to get on the box. But I guess the Spanish sponsors, Telefonica and Fortuna, would much rather have a mid pack running Spaniard than a front runner of other nationality. Go figure. In this day and age of politics and economics in the GP, and to some extent WSBK ranks, unless you have personal sponsorship or can bring a big time sponsor with you, you can almost forget about landing the big ride unless you are the factory's darling. The days of making it on talent alone are over. For Mat to have a shot at this point he needs to bring along someone like Qantas, Fosters or maybe the Aussie Board of Tourism to help him land something. Well that's more like his agent's job, but you get the idea.
I don't care if you make seven figures or not, if there is no challenge how much fun can it be? Well, maybe enough. I have noticed that Mladin seems to have less of a severe look on his face this year. He seems to be smiling much more and even looks content on the podium. Ducati press officer Wendy Hogg, an Aussie herself, and I came up with a different phrase for his look on the box at Road Atlanta, but I'll refrain from repeating it here since I don't need Mat calling me about it. Then again, I'll probably get a call anyway, "OK mate what did it look like?" Don't get me wrong, Mladin is still a hard bastard who would bite your arm off in a nanosecond if that's what it took to win, but he doesn't look angry like he did last year. Be honest, did you ever see a picture of Mat last year where he didn't look pissed off? He had that scowl perfected to the point that no one would come within 20 feet of him. Maybe it's having a twenty six point lead this early in the season, who knows? You'd have more luck getting the answer out of the Sphinx. I often think you'd have better luck asking the magic 8 ball [Ichecked, it said "Better not tell you now" -disco]. But that's fine.
When you are at the level of people like Mladin, Rossi, Fogarty and Lawson, you are not "normal". You don't think the same way others do. You have to find new ways of keeping yourself motivated and amused. Hell, look at Anthony Gobert. In 1999 his goal was to see how fat and out of shape he could get and still win races. While he never got to the Scott Gray level of physical (un)fitness, he certainly looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy out there. But like I said, at that level you are not "normal". This year Mladin's fun seems to come from seeing how much misinformation he can throw out about tires without someone calling him on it. At Sears he was talking about how he was using the hardest dual compound tire he could, like you'd use at Daytona. In Europe the riders use the press to psych out one another, but the press there knows what's going on. I wonder how many here are bright enough to realize how much Mat is trying to use them for his own ends.
So, who has a shot at Mladin this year? Mladin, and that's it. The way it looks here on the 23rd of May, 2001 is that the only way Mat Mladin will not be a three time AMA Superbike Champion is if he beats himself. Either by mechanical DNF, not likely, or crashing, even less likely. So what will 2002 bring? If things are right in the universe, Mat along with Nicky, Kurtis and Eboz should all be off to Europe to race in the two top series'. Mladin & Chili or Mladin and KRJR? It could happen.