Mladin Vs. Polen

Larry Lawrence
by Larry Lawrence
A short history of the best qualifiers in AMA Superbike history
By Larry Lawrence

So far this year Mat Mladin has been perfect in AMA Chevy Trucks U.S. Superbike qualifying. Three venues, three poles, three track records. At Road Atlanta Mladin tied Doug Polen as the rider with the most career AMA Superbike poles with 18. This weekend at Road America Mladin has an opportunity to become the all-time leading AMA Superbike pole winner. But while Mladin and Polen are tied we thought it would be a great time to compare the AMA Superbike qualifying records of these great riders...

Doug Polen:
It's a bit hard to compare Polen's early Superbike career against that of Mladin's. Polen raced AMA Superbike races as a low-budget privateer sporadically in 1980, '81 and '82. He did show early promise by finishing fourth in the October of 1981 Pro/Am AMA Superbike race at Daytona, but he never came close to a Superbike pole position in his privateer days.

In 1986 Polen returned to racing after coming out of retirement and took contingency racing to its zenith by earning an estimated $90,000 by racing almost every weekend from March to October at various club races across the country. That year, Polen got back into AMA Superbike racing in a big way, still as a privateer. Polen's Superbike pole-winning days were still a few years away.

By 1988 Polen was riding for Yoshimura Suzuki and started his remarkable run at winning Superbike poles and setting track records. Polen's first AMA Superbike pole came at Road Atlanta in May of 1988. Polen's record Road Atlanta lap speed that year was 102.813 mph. As a comparison Mladin ran a lap average of 110.522 mph in winning the pole at Road Atlanta last month. Polen went on to win five more Superbike poles that year, but was edged out by Honda's Bubba Shobert for the championship.

By 1989 Polen had signed to race the Japanese championships, but before he left he won the pole for the Daytona 200, bringing his tally to seven poles. It would be two more years before Polen would again win an AMA Superbike pole.

From 1989 to 1992 Polen raced mainly abroad winning a Japanese and two World Superbike titles in the process. Harking back to his club-racing days, Polen kept a very busy schedule and managed to return to race in the States on occasion. In 1991, when Polen left Suzuki for Ducati, he again won the pole for the Daytona 200, but was forced to drop out of the race after only one lap with a stretched chain.

By 1992 Polen, now already a World Superbike champion and en route to winning his second, found time to come back and race in the U.S., and win four poles. In what remains one of the most remarkable years in Superbike racing history, Polen won the 1992 FIM World Superbike championship and finished third in the AMA series - racing here on a part-time basis.

In 1993 Polen came back to America to tidy up some unfinished business. He dominated that season easily winning his first AMA Superbike title, winning six of the 10 races. He also won six pole positions that year. At Mid-Ohio that year Polen broke Freddie Spencer's record of 16 pole positions (Spencer later came back and scored his 17th pole at Loudon in 1995).

Polen's final and 18th-career Superbike pole came in August of 1993 at Sears Point Raceway in that year's AMA Superbike season finale.

Mat Mladin
The Aussie sensation came to the AMA championships in 1996 already an Australian Superbike champ and former 500cc Grand Prix factory rider with Cagiva. Riding for Yoshimura Suzuki, Mladin won no poles or races in his first season in the States even though he was a solid championship contender, finishing fourth in the final standings.

In 1997 Mladin signed with Ferracci Ducati and began winning races, but he still didn't have a reputation as a pole winner. In fact, in those days Mladin shrugged off the importance of winning pole positions, often stating the obvious that winning races was what was important. Nevertheless, Mladin did manage to win his first AMA Superbike pole in February of 1997 at Phoenix Intl. Raceway.

The 1998 season saw Mladin back with Yoshimura Suzuki. That year his bike could run very fast for short distances, but didn't work well when the tires went off. As a result Mladin led a ton of races, but managed to win only one race - the series finale in Las Vegas. What he did win though was a slew of poles. That year Mladin took an amazing six pole positions at the 12 venues.

In 1999 Mladin won his first AMA Superbike championship and on the way won three poles bringing his tally to 11 (which placed him eighth on the all-time list).

Last year Mladin moved up into a tie for third with Wayne Rainey on the all-time pole wins list by taking the top starting spot four times bringing his career total to 15.

That brings us to this year and Mladin's perfect three for three pole positions, putting him in a tie with Polen and on the verge of owning outright the AMA Superbike pole record. In addition, Mladin now owns the track records at six of the 10 AMA racing venues (not counting Virginia Intl., which the AMA Superbikes will debut on this September).

Since 1998 Mladin has won the AMA Superbike pole 50 percent of the time.

Mladin vs. Polen comparisonsMladin - 18 poles in 52 races (34.6 percent).Polen - 18 poles in 57 races (31.5 percent).Poles by yearPolen1988 - 6 poles1989 - 11991 - 11992 - 41993 - 6Mladin1997 - 1 pole(s)1998 - 71999 - 32000 - 42001 - 3 (Note: Mike Baldwin owns the record for the most AMA Superbike poles in a season, winning nine poles in 1983.)
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