The world of motorsport suffered an irreparable loss yesterday. Nicky Hayden succumbed to injuries caused by a collision on May 17th while he was on his bicycle in Italy. He was 35, and the last American to win a MotoGP Championship. Humble, funny and well known in the paddock for his off the bat one-liners. Rather than commiserate his untimely passing, let’s take this opportunity to celebrate the life of one of the greatest veterans ever to split-lanes.
Kentucky Kid wherever you are, this one's for you.
Starting on a flat-track where he was called “Mr. Dirt” -- a form of two wheeler dirt racing -- set up by his father in his backyard, Hayden’s unstoppable talent saw him sky-rocket through the ranks right into road racing. His infamous never say never attitude and his incredible ability to abolish anything that stood between him and the success he craved were perhaps his most defining characteristics.
American Honda was the first to scout and recruit the incredible youngster for the AMA Superbike series. He became the US Superbike front runner in 2002 after overcoming the veteran, Mat Mladin. He was 20 at the time.
His meteoric growth soon had him on Honda’ MotoGP radar. Even though it meant stepping out of his comfort zone, he quickly adapted to the new pace. Finishing 5th in 2003, 8th in 2004 and finally taking the final step on the podium in 2005. However, 2006 was his year of redemption, despite not winning a race until the 8th event of the season. His string of seconds and thirds had him in very serious contention for the championship. It all came down to a race on Valentino Rossi’s home ground of Valencia, where Rossi was in the running for the championship with a narrow margin separating him and Nicky. No one expected the GOAT to go down, but he did. And Nicky claimed the MotoGP world with a smooth third place.
Even with the crown, the humility of the young man had him famously say that he won because the other riders had a bout of bad luck.
In 2016, Nicky returned to WSBK, where he spent his final days riding with Red-Bull Honda’s contingent. Where he was touted to be one of the quickest most experienced riders on the track.
There are few words that can be offered at a time like this, Thank you for the memories “Mr. Dirt”/The Kentucky Kid.