The Word On... this week is dedicated to Nicky Hayden, who passed away at the age of 35 earlier this week.
RIP Nicky Hayden
As most of you know by now, the motorcycling world lost one of our greatest ambassadors earlier this week, when Nicky Hayden passed away due to injuries sustained in a cycling accident in Italy. He was 35. If you need an indication of what the 2006 MotoGP Champion meant to the racing world, just look at social media this week. From road racers (MotoGP and Superbike) to flat track riders to MX and SX athletes to those across the entire motorcycling industry, all had glowing things to say about Nicky and the impact he had on their lives. Nicky’s brother, Roger, who currently competes in MotoAmerica, wrote a touching tribute on his Instagram page earlier this week that I felt was worth sharing.
Nicky my brother, our story wasn't suppose to end like this. You were world champ for a reason. I've never met someone with the desire for racing bikes like you. I remember growing up we shared a room and you studying notes you took from the previous race and we were 12-13 years old, I'll never forget the Monday morning after you won the world championship, you woke me up to go running. That's what separated you from the rest and made you a legend. I could go on.
You made everyone here better, cause when you wasn't here, we were riding or cycling to close the gap for when we road with you again. You pushed me to my best, but more importantly I'll remember what kind of brother you were. You were legend of a racer and a brother. You were there for me no matter what was going on in life. You wanted to help, I'm glad you were able to see me at my best these past couple years, not just on the bike, but mainly off it. I can sit here and ask why all day, but instead I want to be thankful for having a brother like you for 33 years.
Don't worry I got the nieces handled. No boyfriends till they're in college and I'll teach the nephews what it takes to be a champion in whatever they decide. This picture is special to me, because after some bad luck and it looked like your world title was over, I grabbed you like this and told you it was still your year, and that was the first thing you said to me when I saw you at the podium. Tell me it back. Even during this incredibly difficult time I still have my faith, I believe if god will bring you to it, he will bring you through it.
Honda Remembers Hayden
Hayden spent the majority of his racing career with Honda. In the early 1990s, he rode Honda RS125s on the road racing club scene. One year after turning pro, Nicky signed with American Honda in 1999. By 2002, Nicky took the Daytona 200 victory on his way to becoming the youngest-ever AMA Superbike champion. Hayden signed with the Repsol Honda MotoGP squad for 2003, and won a world championship in 2006. He rode for Ducati for five years before returning to Honda in 2014, with the Aspar satellite squad. In 2016, he transferred to the World Superbike series with the Ten Kate-run Red Bull Honda team.
Honda also put together a list of memories from those that worked with Nicky over the years. Here are a few. You can read the rest here.
From the very beginning, we knew Nicky was special. He was just so energetic, so likeable, a genuine kind of guy. He loved motorcycles and he loved racing. I'll never forget a story that his mom told me. She said Nicky couldn't wait to get home after school and get on his motorcycle and ride on their backyard track. She found out that sometimes he was skipping school to do that, so she had a heart-to-heart talk with him: 'I never want to see you skip school again unless it's something really bad, like you're sick.' He said, 'Okay Mom.' A few days later, she got a call from his teacher: 'Ms. Hayden, I just want to let you know Nicky went home because he had a headache.' Sure enough, Nicky's out back on his minibike, doing laps. I think that shows how committed Nicky was and how much he loved it, from the very beginning. That translated into what we came to see not only as a U.S. Superbike Champion, but a World Champion. Quite a few years ago, I had one of many great talks that I've enjoyed with Earl Hayden over the years, and he told me that as the boys were coming up racing, he told them it was important for them to apply themselves as hard as they could to be the best racers possible, but that wasn't the most important thing in life. The most important thing was to be good people with good hearts and good spirits. And I don't think I've ever seen anyone live that out better than Nicky has. That's just him: a good heart and a good spirit. Everybody loved him. He had a great charm about him and he was the kind of kid that was so special in his talent, but he never let it go to his head."
--Gary Christopher was Senior Manager, Motorcycle Press and Motorcycle Sports when Nicky rode for American Honda. He retired in 2006.
“With Nicky, I think of a man that has the burn to go motorcycle racing. One thing that stands out was probably in 2000, when we had a test at Willow Springs. He'd stay at my house, and at 4:30 a.m. we'd jump in my wife's car and drive up there. He'd test all day and we'd jump in the car and drive back. Anybody that knows Nick knows that he's a better passenger than a driver. He'd just sit there, and I'd rabbit on to him for hours, burning his eardrums out talking about the sky, motorcycles, whatever. I never took the highway—always all these back roads through fields and stuff. As usual, he had the seat reclined all the way back, and I was kind of beating around the bush about something he should be doing different or something. All of a sudden the seat comes up, and he says, 'You need to understand something right now: I have everything I've got into this, and I've only got one shot. If you see me making one mistake, you've got to tell me right away.' I said, 'All right, I'll do it.' And he laid the seat back down and that was it. That's what kind of guy he is. Every fiber of his being is dedicated to what he wants to achieve."
--Dan Fahie was a mechanic at Team Honda beginning in 1998, by which point he had already been helping the Haydens for a year. He is currently the Senior Racing Manager of Motocross at Kawasaki.
“The back story behind the American flag that Hayden carried on his 2006 MotoGP championship victory lap”
You don’t want to miss this excellent story by Marcelo Carbone about the American flag Hayden rode around with following his 2006 MotoGP Championship and how it all started.
I must admit that in those years I did not follow or pay much attention to the AMA Championship, but I knew of Hayden’s existence for several months, especially since after the summer of that year HRC announced that he would be an official rider and teammate to Valentino Rossi on the Repsol Honda team. But my knowledge about Hayden and my interest in him was not because of HRC's announcement, but because my daughter Sara, who was just 14 years old at the time, started hounding me about a charming, handsome, and very nice American rider who was entering the World Championship. This was Nicky Hayden.
Sara came with me to a few GP races, the very first of which was final race of the 2002 World Championship. It was Friday, November 1st, around noon as we were walking through the paddock that my daughter went crazy. Crazy the way children do when they see something they want (and sometimes not only children). Very excitedly she said: "Patito, patito...there’s Nicky Hayden." Patito was a word that Sara used with me when she wanted my attention, when something was urgent, immediate. Honestly, I would not have recognized Hayden among the thousands of people who are usually in a paddock, and there are even more in the Valenica paddock. He was dressed in civilian clothes, wearing nothing that would indicate he was a future official HRC rider and, truthfully, even if he had stepped right in front of me, I wouldn’t have known who he was.
Read the full story here.
Bein Sports Remembers Nicky
Asphalt and Rubber Remembers Hayden
Steve English, who covered Nicky in both MotoGP and World Superbike, wrote a touching piece for Asphalt and Rubber.
Over the last five years, I have been lucky to be able to turn a passion into a career and work within the MotoGP and WorldSBK paddocks. They say you should never meet your heroes, but in the most cases the riders are humble and friendly. Nicky was no exception.
From the first time of meeting him, I’ve always found Nicky to be friendly, helpful, and always willing to give a good quote!
I have been lucky to call Nicky a friend over the last couple of years, and he has always been exactly what everyone says: one of life’s true gentlemen.
Family and friendship were always key tenets of Nicky’s life, and it was very rare that a weekend didn’t pass without some sort of an update on how his family was faring in Kentucky.
Read more here.
Motor Sport Magazine Remembers Nicky
Freddie Spencer, writing for Motor Sport Magazine, talks about the first time he met Nicky.
I want to tell you just a little bit about how I met Nicky. I met Nicky in the early ‘90s at a little racetrack near my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana in a little town – not even really a little town, but a small little place – called Henderson in East Texas. There was a track called Oak Hill Raceway that actually opened in 1974 and I raced there a lot when I was a kid.
I was over there one day just visiting and I had some time off and a man walked up to me and put out his hand, I’ll never forget it, in that Kentucky accent and said to me “My name is Earl Hayden. I have my family over here and they’re young racers and I’d really like for you to come over and meet them.” I said “sure”, so I went over and the first thing I noticed was just the sincerity of this family, beginning with Earl. I met Nicky and his brother Tommy and one of his sisters and they were there racing. I never forget the look in their eyes – these were really young racers and you could tell that they were passionate and definitely had that competitive look. I never forgot that.
Read the entire thing here.
DC Remembers Hayden
Our own Davey Coombs wrote a short post about Nicky on his Instagram page.
My favorite Nicky Hayden stories always involved our shared love for his 'Cats from the University of Kentucky.,. He always had time for me and my kids, and pretty much any and everyone else. He was the epitome of grace, because he had it in spades.... Godspeed, you were the best among us.... Damn.
Ducati Riders Remember Nicky
As mentioned above, Hayden rode for Ducati for five years in the MotoGP Championship. Current Ducati riders Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso, as well as two-time MotoGP Champion Casey Stoner, who works with Ducati, talked about Nicky.
Andrea Dovizioso, who was team-mate to Nicky in the Italian squad in 2013, declared: “I got to know Nicky when he arrived in the world championship in 2003 from the USA. He was an open-minded, likeable and laid-back guy, always friendly with everyone and a real fan of bikes who managed to get some great results. In the many years he was with Ducati, he established a good rapport with everyone and, even though I only raced in the same team as him in 2013, he was a great team-mate for me and I have some nice memories of him. The fact is that we all really liked Nicky and we will miss him a lot.”
Jorge Lorenzo, who had numerous battles with Nicky for eight seasons in MotoGP until 2015 when the American switched to World Superbike, commented: "It's very sad news. We knew that the situation was very complicated but when things happen like that, it leaves you in shock all the same. I wish to convey my deepest condolences to his family and friends. He was loved by everyone in the paddock, very cheerful, with a lot of energy and good vibrations.”
Casey Stoner, who formed part of the Ducati Team’s line-up with Nicky for two seasons in 2009 and 2010, added: “I knew Nicky even before he was my team-mate and he always gave me a lot of time even when I was in 125s and 250s. He was always happy to have a chat and as a team-mate he was fantastic. He never really stopped smiling even when things were tough for him so he’s someone we are really going to miss. Nobody has anything bad to say about him, he always put a lot into his racing and he was very close with his family, so this shows a lot of the character he was.”
Mees’ Remember Hayden
Earlier this week, Jared Mees and his wife Nichole welcomed their first child into the world. Mees, a three-time American Flat Track Champion and defending X Games gold medalist in Harley-Davidson Flat Track Racing, and Nichole, who also raced flat track professionally, named their girl after Hayden. Very touching.
I'm sure I missed a few. If you have any others, please add to the comments below. RIP Nicky.