I had a working relationship with Mat Mladin for fifteen years or more. That relationship began when he was riding for the Cagiva GP team and raced at Laguna Seca. I was shooting photos in the pit lane during practice that race and watched how the Cagiva team reacted when one of their riders would come in and need a tire or some adjustment. Cagiva had three riders that season: John Kocinski, Doug Chandler and Mladin.
When Kocinski came into the pit lane the entire Cagiva team, previously hanging over the armco fence by the track, responded like someone had yelled “fire” in Italian. The entirety of the team would run to their pit, most of them arriving before Kocinski even came to a stop. They did not look for other incoming bikes, at all, they ran flat out, traffic be damned. Team Manager Giacomo Agostini would, of course, not run, but he would elegantly walk over and speak directly to Kocinski and then relay whatever JK said he needed to the mechanics. “New tire! John needs a new tire! A rear tire!” Mechanics almost raced each other to get the tire and the tools. For Chandler, there was a respectable amount of activity when he entered the pit lane. Ago did not remove himself from watching Kocinski from the armco, but the Cagiva mechanics would get Chandler what he needed, quickly and efficiently.
For Mladin, it was humbling to watch. He’d come in and slowly come to a halt. He’d then pop his helmet shield up and wait. Maybe kill the engine. After 20-30 seconds of sitting there, and no mechanics appearing in his field of view, he’d begin looking around, first behind him, the side to side. Only then, finally, he’d see the entire Cagiva GP team on the wall waiting for Kocinski to come past, or better yet come in. Several times when Mat came in no Cagiva mechanics appeared to assist him, none; and Mat was forced to bump start his own bike and go back out, no changes. One time, a Cagiva mechanic on the wall did notice that Mat had come in and was waiting. He walked over, slowly, checking traffic, to Mat and spoke with him. Mat said something to the mechanic and the mechanic immediately shook his head no, and then turned and walked back to wait for Kocinski to come past again. Mat bumped the bike and rode off.
I’d tell Mat that story later, after he was winning championships here in America. He never really laughed about it and at the same time it was clear he’d never forgotten how they treated him. I think the way they treated him was something he kept a burning ember of in his soul, and it helped to later motivate him.
Like most of the people who had a working relationship with Mat Mladin, I was blindsided with today’s news report that Mladin had been arrested and charged with child molestation in his native Australia. I could not have been more surprised. In fifteen years of working with him I never saw any indication that Mat was capable of that behavior and frankly it will be hard for me to ever believe it is true. I’d need to hear Mat admit it, on the record.
I can’t believe it. I don’t believe it.