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May 20, 2013

Seven-Time Champion Mladin Looking To Make Comeback To AMA Pro Superbike (Updated)

GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro National Guard Superbike Championship: Mat Mladin (7) on his Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000, circa 2009. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.
Seven-time AMA Pro Superbike Champion Mat Mladin is looking to come out of retirement and make a comeback to professional racing in the GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro National Guard Superbike Championship.

“A couple of months ago that bug sort of started coming back again,” said 41-year-old Mladin, who retired to his home country of Australia after winning his seventh AMA Pro Superbike title in 2009. “I’ve had a few years off, and I’m feeling like I wouldn’t mind getting back on and having a go.”

Mladin told Monday that since he has been bitten by this “bug” he has been enlisted to do test riding for an Australian magazine and to test Next Gen Motorsports’ BMW HP4 in June. Next Gen Motorsports is the team of former Australian Superbike Champion Glenn Allerton, who was once sponsored by Mladin.

The first order of business for Mladin, however, is to back away from his daily routine as a cattle rancher and get back to his previous racing weight and fitness level.

“When I saw you last year I was about 205 pounds, the heaviest I’ve ever been,” said Mladin, referring to a visit he made to an AMA Pro event at Infineon Raceway in 2012. “I was working out in the gym a lot and working on the farm, sitting in the cattle yards for lunch and having a steak sandwich here and there. That’s definitely not the way you need to go about racing.

“When I left America in 2009, I wasn’t in the best shape, 170, maybe 172 pounds. In 2008 I was in my best condition. I was 165 at most, sometimes less than that. So I wasn’t in my best shape in 2009 because halfway through the year I decided I had had enough and let things go a little bit. I wasn’t that excited about racing or training. So just to get back to the condition of 2009 is losing 35 pounds, and my absolutely best condition is 40 pounds away from where I was when I saw you last year. So right now I’m halfway there and obviously a long way to go.”

Mladin said he is dieting and riding motocross regularly in preparation for a possible ride as teammate to Allerton in an endurance race in Australia late this year.

“The bottom line to it is I don’t want to race again just to make up the numbers. That’s something that I’ve never wanted to do,” said Mladin. “So I’ve got a good three or four months hard work ahead just to see if I can get myself to that point. Then come August or September I’ll make up my mind if I’m going to do any racing at the end of this year. As I’ve told Glenn and his team, if I’m in the right condition and I feel I can do the lap times they’ll be the first ones to know.”

But racing professionally in Australia is not Mladin’s ultimate comeback goal.

“I’d like to come back and race in America again, for sure,” said Mladin.

In Mladin’s final few years of racing it was rumored that his base salary exceeded $1 million per season and possibly reached $2 million in a single season. That’s not counting bonuses and personal endorsement deals. But rider salaries do not even come close to that anymore since the global recession led to the U.S. motorcycle industry shrinking by 60% in recent years.

When asked if he thought it was financially feasible that a team could make it worth his time to come back to AMA Pro Superbike racing, Mladin said, “I’m spoken to a couple of people. The biggest challenge is going to be finding a motorbike to get on. In the end, my old team [Yoshimura Suzuki] now has a paid rider who pays quite a bit of money to ride one of their bikes. So obviously things are very different over there. So as I’ve said to a couple of people, I’m under no illusions that the hardest thing is actually going to be getting on a factory motorbike that is capable of doing the job that needs to be done.

“My knowledge of what’s going on over there is enough to know that it doesn’t matter how much hard work I put in that it may be something that doesn’t happen, and I’m fine with that. That doesn’t make any difference to me.”

Update: After reading this story, Mladin wrote an e-mail to correcting his salary during his last years of racing, saying he was making $4 million per season in base salary.