2006 Ben Spies, AMA Superbike Champion - Checkers

It's been a long time since anyone challenged six-time champion Mat Mladin for the AMA Superbike crown, and the last guy you would have expected was one of his teammates. Yet in 2006, that's exactly what happened, 22-year-old second-year-Superbike sensation Ben Spies earning the title after scoring wins in 10 of 19 series rounds.

The season started predictably with Mladin drafting past the young Texan to win at Daytona. But it then took a dramatic turn as Spies won the next six races, tying Miguel Duhamel's record of consecutive Superbike victories set in 1995. It wasn't until the series arrived at Road America in June that Mladin returned to the top step of the rostrum, and when Spies fell and broke his hand during qualifying in Virginia two months later, fortune looked like it might swing back in favor of his Australian teammate. Mladin in fact won the last five races of the series, but the kid toughed it out, finishing on the podium in all but two series rounds to claim the title by a scant 8 points.

Spies will keep his familiar number 11 next season for merchandising reasons, but gave attendees at Motorcyclist's inaugural Fantasy Camp a treat as he took the number 1 plate for a test ride the next day.

"Man, I was so nervous, I just wanted the race to end," Spies said the morning after finishing a conservative seventh in the season finale. "But Mat told me he finished 19th the first time he won the championship, so I don't feel too bad."

So dominant were Spies and Mladin in '06 that only one other rider-Honda's Jake Zemke-won a race. The pair will be back with the Yoshimura Suzuki squad for the '07 season, so expect the rivalry to continue.

2006 AMA Superbike Championship

1. Ben Spies 649
2. Mat Mladin 641
3. Miguel Duhamel 511
4. Aaron Yates 484
5. Neil Hodgson 469
6. Tommy Hayden 455
7. Jake Zemke 447
8. Jason Pridmore 400
9. Ben Bostrom 391
10. Larry Pegram 351