Monday, August 10, 2009
Saying goodbye to Mat Mladin in my own dysfunctional way
The man who has dominated AMA Superbike for a decade, Mat Mladin, announced his retirement from racing last week, effective at the conclusion of the 2009 season. The end of an era is upon us.
If you've been reading the Superbike Blog since its inception some five years ago, you might think I'm ecstatically happy about the announcement. I've been manifestly brutal to Mat on occasion, sometimes deservedly, and sometimes -- I honestly admit -- out of my own frustration with the guy. In any case, I've given him both barrels at every opportunity. I've called for him to move on to WSB or MotoGP. I've criticized his past treatment of the press and his fans. I've blown up at the attitude he sometimes took toward his fellow racers. I even accused him of using at least some degree of traction control long before it was made legal, a claim I still believe to be true. In short, I've been perhaps his worst critic in all of moto-journalism, and certainly from within the blogosphere.
Strangely, with the reality of Mladin's permanent absence now confronting me, I'm not nearly as happy to see him go as I thought I would be. In fact, there's a part of me that's actually a bit sad -- and it's not because I'm losing one of my favorite whipping boys. Mladin, despite his sometimes insufferable public nature, provided a force of direction to the series and gave it a large measure of its total purpose. It's a benchmark that will be gone forever in a few more months.
What do I mean by that, you ask? Well, when a new factory rider entered the AMA grid, he had a herculean task before him -- beat Mat Mladin. Not many could. Those that did on a consistent basis showed their worthiness to move onto the world stage. He was, in many ways, the ultimate litmus test. For the poor privateers of the Mladin era, it must've been like bringing a BB gun to a skeet shoot. Most were usually relegated to backmarker status by the end of the first lap.
But perhaps the worst thing about Mladin's eminent exit, though, is the circumstances under which he is leaving. He's fed up with years of bad series management, and who can blame him? The AMA was a terrible sanctioning body, and so far DMG is proving itself to be even worse. Mladin's not quitting because he can't do it anymore, he's quitting because he doesn't want to deal with incompetence anymore. He's tired of having his hard work and dedication to being the best trumped by a bunch of idiots who can't read their own rulebook. As he said in a recent press release, it's not fun any longer. That's not how I wanted it to end for Mladin. I wanted a little redemption for both him and the series before he turned away.
What's done is done, though, and Mladin will soon be gone from the grid. But regardless of my frequent air raids on Mladin and his camp, I want the record to show that I never lacked respect for him as either a racer or a businessman. Mat Mladin is a man of excellence, and will certainly continue to be so in whatever ventures he decides to pursue post-retirement. He has the heart and mind of a champion, and such is to be complimented. If I'd had half the drive and ability of Mladin, I might be doing more right now than hacking it out on some obscure blog in the middle of cyber-nowhere.
So long, Mat, and best wishes. The vacuum created by your absence will undoubtedly take years to fill. Sure, you were wrong a lot, but you were also great a lot. No one can take that away.