NICKY HAYDEN: We Remember The Kentucky Kid

June 2, 2017 Tags: ,
Nicky Hayden Tribute
Nicky first captured the author’s attention at the Daytona 200 race in 2000.  He was barely just 19 years old and competing in the top American race series against some of the best talent in the world.  The story line at Daytona was this Kentucky Kid had the potential to topple the motorcycle racing world through his hard work and his dramatic rear-sliding motorcycle riding.  Nicky did not disappoint us that year as he finished a very close second (less than 1 second) to Mat Mladin and outperformed the likes of racing legends Doug Chandler, Miguel Duhamel, Troy Bayliss, and Scott Russell.  I remember distinctly clicking through the gears on my Honda Blackbird as I rode away from the Daytona Raceway thinking this kid was something special; someone to watch as he climbed the ranks.  Again, he did not disappoint.

Time and time again, I found myself at race events or in front of the screen where Nicky captured the imagination and hearts of the racing world.  I watched as he earned the MotoGP Rookie of the Year Award after finishing fifth as a rookie.  I whooped and hollered and hugged my friends on the side of the track as Nicky finished first at the Laguna Seca round in 2005.  Cheered with joy as he won the MotoGP championship in 2006, besting the greatest rider of all time, Valentino Rossi.  He gave American motorcyclists a reason to be proud.

Nicky Hayden wins the MotoGP Championship in 2006

So you can imagine the unbearable weight felt when I learned Nicky passed away from a car accident while riding a bicycle.  All the range of emotions swept over me as I recalled the time meeting Nicky at Laguna Seca while he was riding in MotoGP with Ducati.  Feeling like my legs had been swept from underneath me, I was confused.  I’m not one to lament celebrity death, but this passing was stinging.  How could an icon be removed from us at the early age of 35?  He had so much unresolved business in World Superbike.  He was the highest performing American in either MotoGP or World Superbike and he was gone.

Nicky Hayden Tribute Donington Park

It was a stroke of luck that I found myself at Donington Park for the next round of World Superbike racing.  I was eager to see Nicky come to grips with the new Honda Fireblade.  Instead, I was in the front row paying respects to Nicky along with thousands of other race fans at the track.  It was a solemn ten minutes; fans all over the world paid their respects to the Kentucky Kid.  They honored him with their silence.  They honored him with their applause.  We honor his memory by simply keeping him in ours.

Nicky Hayden Memorial Donington park

4 Comments

  1. Dave Mickey 2 weeks Reply

    I spent about 20 years in N. California – lots of pro bike racing between Laguna and Sears Point (each less than 2 hours ride time from home), and even some San Jose Miles for good measure and all of it with throttle steering. Kenny, Rainey, Mamola, and Lawson were soon all in Europe. Started watching sports cars. Then another racer came along, young, and with 2 or 3 little brothers following behind. But wait. This whole pack was said to hail from not Kentucky, but Owensboro, KY.

    I grew up there, a generation or so before Nicky, up to about High School. I’ve been back, and things don’t change fast there. I probably roamed among the same schoolyards and class rooms as did Nicky, and could be, with some of the same teachers. Surely went to the same county fairs with tractor pulls. A lot of bird hunting gets done. Lived about a mile or two from the home of the girl Darrell Waltrip married; she schooled with my oldest sister. There’s a lot of America there with tobacco auctions, soybeans being farmed, and dirt oval stocks out in Whitesville.

    So as Nicky started to make it into the viewfinders of fans and media, there was an immediate and deep recognition of the gentle Southern drawl and quick flashes of grin following a funny story that gets passed down from farmers to sons there in Daviess County that felt like home. Not a dripping drawl, but a certain dialect that is light enough that most folks cannot place the speaker to any part of the country with any accuracy. Some KY folk lose it, others just tuck it away. I slide back into it when I do visit there.

    It was clear that the racing world, and anyone who lived around him, respected him greatly. He came off as just a good kid, a guy that would be a great friend. A respected racer who could do things with two wheels like no other, and still be a respected racer.

    So beyond the obvious, Nicky became my racing hero – the best of all the things America can be, and better yet, from my hometown.

    Ciao, Nicky

    Dave Mickey

    • Thank you for that heart-warming story. Ride safe Dave!

    • Chuck Mickey 1 day Reply

      Said well, big brother. Thank you.