On May 17, Nicky Hayden—the former MotoGP World Champion from Owensboro, Kentucky—collided with a car while cycling on the Rimini Coast of Italy. Five days later, the supremely talented and immensely popular Hayden died as a result of his injuries. Despite only being on this earth for 35 years, Hayden left an indelible mark on motorcycling. The news of his death shook all forms of racing—a testament to Hayden’s diversity and ability to ride just about anything, and well. In the days following his passing, we spoke to some of his friends and fellow racers about their favorite memories of the Kentucky Kid.
“Nicky was somebody who I knew well…. I was there at his first win at Laguna Seca in 2005. I was in his pit box and got to see this kid beaming with confidence and just so excited to go out there. At a motorcycle racing level, I’ve never met somebody so patriotic and so proud to represent his flag and his country.
“He was World Champion in 2006, but when he tried to defend his title the next season, they had a massive rule change, going to an 800cc bike, and that bike didn’t really fit him. That happened to me in 2004 when Yamaha had maybe the best 250cc two-stoke ever made, but then went to an aluminum chassis in ’05. It was really hard to find my comfort and my speed. So I knew what Nicky was going through, and we talked about it a lot. It wasn’t public, and we weren’t bagging on anybody; it was more like sometimes you just need to vent, and there’s no better person to vent to than somebody who has totally lived in your shoes.
“No results matter to anyone with Nicky. It was just the fact that he was that good of a human that he touched that many people and lives, with that Kentucky twang and his little gangster talk that he would have with you. He was just a really good person.”
Senior VP American Honda (Retired)
“It was easy with Nicky. We had the all-American kid, we had the great family, we had racing, and we had intensity and focus. You just couldn’t ask for a better hero. Nicky had it all. He was well-liked by everybody from the paddock to the fans to the press to the management of racing. I don’t know if we’ll have anybody like him again. And it was a joy to be able to work with him and the family—his parents, Earl and Rose, and the brothers and everybody, and to have it taken away from us like this, in such a tragic, nonsensical way, is really difficult.
“What sticks in my mind the most was when I was sent to Japan to negotiate his contract with [Honda Racing Corporation]. HRC is a kingdom, and dealing with the principals was an ordeal. I flew over there, and it was an all-nighter, and we kind of broke up at 3 a.m. without reaching a negotiation. We got back to the bargaining table again at 6:30 or 7 a.m., and we were able to put something together in time for me to fly back home that day. I was just so relieved, because I knew he would be a champion. I knew it in my heart, and I knew it in my mind. The rest is history.
“Nicky was just such a stellar individual, such a tremendous person, that it’s hard to look back at it now and know that he’s gone. I think Nicky would have done it again with World Superbike—I think he would have gotten back up there again. Even though he was a little bit older, with the new bike and a lot of HRC support again, I think it would have happened.”