When you have Mat Mladin for a teammate, you get wound up pretty quickly. You think, “Someday, I’m going to have to fill those shoes.” Mladin and Ben Spies always rode so hard—hammer down every lap from the green flag to the checkers. I wanted to go, go, go, to put up the numbers that Mladin and Spies had put up. Most of the time, I found myself on the ground.
It’s really tough jumping from a 600 to a 1000. The 1000 is a different beast, and you have to treat it with a lot more respect. You have to change your riding style dramatically. Now, it’s even tougher, because there isn’t a feeder class, like Superstock.
SuperBikes have changed. With the exception of the Suzuki that I rode last year in the World Superbike races at Donington Park, I’ve never ridden a true Superbike. Am I happy about that? No. Obviously, I would like AMA SuperBikes to be what they were. They used to have a million different settings. Now, we’re really limited. We’ve got to make big changes to get big feel.
Everybody comes to the racetrack to see the latest, greatest technology. What’s the next big thing? What are the manufacturers developing? Why do you think the bike you can buy off the dealership floor today has traction control? Or A, B and C modes? Where do you think that came from? It didn’t come from anything I developed. It came from the “old” Superbikes, stuff Mladin and those guys developed.
When I broke my back in 2010, I had time to reflect on a lot of things. The injury to my hand, losing part of my pinkie, was the first injury that kept me off a motorcycle. That was strange. Then, when I broke my back, I missed multiple races. Sitting on a couch—watching races that you know you should be in, that you could be at the front of—slowed me down.
Kenny Roberts once said that when you race a motorcycle, you feel like you’re Superman, that you’re 10 feet tall. That’s what it takes. You know there’s a big risk, but you don’t think about it.
Motorcycle racing is all I’ve ever known, all I wanted to do. This is my job, my way of living, my whole life.
My crew chief, Pete Doyle, has made me more aware. He’s given me direction. He explained strategy, how things really work.
The biggest thing that I learned from Mladin is how hard you have to work for it. And once you find yourself at the front, don’t stop working. Josh Hayes talks about racing himself, putting in the fast lap, that he’s the one who has to set the bar. That’s how you stay at the front.
You gotta trust your crew. Some of the ideas can get pretty crazy, but you can’t overlook any of them. And you’ve got to try’em twice.
Tommy Hayden is a great guy and a great racer. It saddens me that, with him still fighting at the front, being in contention to win every race, he’s not going to be returning. Somebody should give him a chance.
Motivation? I just want to win. It’s something I can’t describe. I just want to win.
Every time I come off the racetrack, I know I can go quicker. I know what I’ve got to do. Sometimes, I’ve got to go back to the hotel room and really think about it. And it might not even hit me until five minutes before I get on the bike. My fear is that one day I won’t be able to do that—I won’t know how to go quicker.
My goal last year was to finish every race. I knew the wins would come, and they did. Winning the championship would have put the cherry on top of the sundae. But all we got was the sundae.