|Sometimes Even Winning Isn't Enough
long before he was a four-time ama superbike champion, mat mladin was driven to win
by dean adams
Thursday, October 09, 2003
Where does Mat Mladin come from? Australia would be the easy answer to that question, but it really doesn't give the entire story, if you know the entire story, anyway. Sure, he hails from a country on the other side of the world from the United States, but who Mat Mladin is today has very little to do with geography.
Ex-racer Australian Dale Schmidtchen is a renowned 250-tuner in Australia, and has had a number of men you've certainly heard of ride his equipment early in their careers. Fellows like Troy Corser, Andrew Pitt and Karl Muggeridge, among others. Schmidchen himself raced against Michael Doohan and Daryl Beattie in the early parts of their careers.
Four-time Superbike champion Mat Mladin rode for Schmidtchen briefly in 1991 after he'd wrapped up the 250 title in Australia. This was right before Mladin was approached by his current crewchief Peter Doyle to ride Superbike for Kawasaki Australia. Now Schmidchen comments on the Mladin he knew, briefly, 12 years ago. What was Mat Mladin like more than a decade ago? A lot like he is today, it seems.
"He was completely focused on winning," Schmidtchen remembers. "The first time he rode my TZ was at Lakeside Raceway and the first time out he was 0.2 seconds off the lap record. He finished second to Ricky Rice, the lap record holder, and later my mum went up and congratulated him on a good ride. He gave my mum a look that was priceless. Second was nowhere and not to be congratulated."
Schmidtchen recalls that even winning for Mladin wasn't enough sometimes if the margin over second place wasn't large enough. "Then there was the time he won at Mallala in South Australia. Mat won by ten seconds over a huge pack squabbling for second place. It was awesome. I went to him after the race and said, 'Hey, well, done.' All Mat could say was 'I should have won by 20 seconds.'
This was Australian 250 racing in the 1990s, a melting pot of fast Australians of the era. It seems Mladin took winning more seriously than anyone in the class. "He used to be hard on himself like that," Schmidtchen recalls, "and those that don't understand the winning attitude that Mat has, they thought he was a wanker. But, in fact, Mat basically has the right attitude for someone looking to write record books and make history."
It's hard to explain the competitive obsession that begins with poverty and obscurity to people who didn't go to bed hungry as kids and didn't have to wear pre-owned clothes until they were 15 years old. There is normal competitive motivation to win and then there is motivation to do well based in the presumption that if you don't win, you will return to an unhappy time and an unhappy place, a place and time you never want to see first-hand again. Racing, and winning, becomes deeply personal to these people. Running away from your past? Damn straight. As fast as we possibly can.
"He was determined to win, at everything," Schmidtchen continued. "But, it's important to remember that Mat, as a young kid, his family was pretty poor, money-wise. I heard stories that early on, Mat used other kids' cast-off tires and equipment when he raced motocross. Worn-out chains and the like, he'd grab them from the trash and use them on his bike. And he'd go out and beat the riders who threw the stuff away. I suppose it was bred into Mat early on to dig deep and try hard to improve his situation and maybe his family's situation."
Mladin would go on to win the Australian Superbike title, ride a Cagiva in GP and then come to America and really make his mark. Today, he is undisputedly the best rider in the series, a Daytona 200 winner and the only four-time winner of the championship.
"Mat only rode for me for a short while," Schmidchen added. "But, nevertheless, he remains the best rider I was ever involved with, in my opinion. And that includes Corser and Muggeridge."
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