Happiness is the exercise of vital powers, along lines of excellence, in a life affording them scope. The test of a persons character is not how they act to others when things are going well, but when they aren’t.
In the outpouring of messages on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram yesterday with the news of Nicky Hayden’s passing one theme kept repeating, as great of a race that Nicky was, he was a better person and sportsman.
RIP NIcky Hayden; Champion of the USA, Champion of the World, and the finest example of a sportsman it’s ever been my fortune to meet
— Julian Ryder (@MotoGPJules)
Nicky was a great sportsman, a true gentleman and a friend. We’ll never forget him. Our hearts and thoughts are with his family and friends.
— Repsol Honda Team (@HRC_MotoGP)
Humble, funny, professional, strong. You were really a good guy!! You will miss Nicky!!
— Andrea Iannone (@andreaiannone29)
A beautiful person, genuine and real.
— Mark Webber (@AussieGrit)
A beautiful person, genuine and real.
— Mark Webber (@AussieGrit)
Godspeed Nicky Hayden. RIP. The best, most humble and honourable man I have known in the GP Paddock. Simply gutted that this should happen.
— Neil Spalding (@Spalders)
I remember the first time I saw Nicky Hayden race, it was on TV from Willow Springs where he won his first AMA race in the 600 Supersport class riding for Carry Andrews and the Hyper Cycle team. There had been a lot of talk about how good he was going to be in the road racing press based off what he had done in dirt track and in club racing. But to see him in action against grown men who were champions in their own right, you saw he was going to be something special.
I also remember another 600 Supersport race from that year at Sears Point (now called Sonoma Raceway) he was racing Miguel DuHamel for the lead of the race and they were trying to out-brake each other into every corner. They both had the back end of their bikes sliding they were on dirt, and it almost seemed like a contest of who could back it harder. Oh yeah? That was good, but watch this! Nicky ended up crashing but his skill with bike control at 16 had your jaw on the floor.
In those early years during interviews Nicky was raw and he was honest. By raw I mean he hadn’t had any media training, he was just a high school kid from Kentucky. Very quickly though a little media training had him polished up, a little more at ease. His answers were a little more PR friendly but they were always honest.
I covered the AMA Road Racing series from 1999-2003, so I was able to watch front and center as Nicky rose to stardom in the U.S. and headed off to conquer the world in MotoGP. While the publications I worked for at the time were nothing special, Nicky always had time for questions and was willing to give you a quote. He was confident and a little cocky, but not in an arrogant way. He came from a close-knit family and it kept him well grounded. It’s a trait that would stay with him through his triumphs and his tribulations.
Nicky would, of course, go on to win multiple AMA championships, head to Europe and win the MotoGP title in an epic battle during the 2006 season. Nicky was holding an eight-point lead coming into the penultimate round of the championship when he was his team mate during the race. Going into the final round at Valencia it was all but certain that Valentino Rossi was going to win another championship. So certain was it, that the Valencia circuit and or MotoGP had set up yellow fireworks and smoke bombs (Valentino’s signature color) to go off after the race to celebrate Valentino’s win and the championship. A funny thing happened on the way to certainty, Troy Bayliss won the race (a fantastic story in its self) Valentino crashed and The Kentucky Kid put his head down to finish third in the race and take the championship.
Nicky would race another 10 years in MotoGP with some success, but somehow always seemed to be on the wrong bike at the wrong time. Yet through all of that he always maintained an upbeat personality, at least publicly, and not matter how bad things were, he would never throw his team or his equipment under the bus.
Last year Nicky made the move to the World Superbike championship with the promise from Honda that a new and better bike would be coming for 2017 if he could just grit his teeth through the 2016 season. Nicky would win a race and finish on the podium four other times.
For the 2017 season, the new bike came and things didn’t improve. After the last two rounds at Assen and Imola, something happened that came as a shock to most of the motorcycle press, Nicky called his team and Honda out for not having a competitive bike. Nicky may have been 35 years old and some would view him on the backside of his career, but the competitive fire burned as hot as ever.
Sadly we will never know if Nicky would do something no one had ever done before, win a top level domestic championship, a 500CC/MotoGP championship and a World Superbike Championship. He was also one win away from winning “The Grand Slam”. The Grand Slam consists of wins on dirt track half-mile, mile, short track, TT and road race. Nicky had multiple AMA road race wins, won on the short track, half-mile, and the Peoria TT. He came within a bike length of winning the mile race in 1999 at Del Mar. Had he done that Nicky would have joined Doug Chandler (the last man to do it) Kenny Roberts, Bubba Shobert (one of Nicky’s hero’s growing up) and Kenny Roberts.
On May 17th while riding his bicycle near Rimini, Italy Nicky was struck by a motorist. The impact of Hayden slamming into the windshield was strong enough to completely shatter it and dent down the roof of the car. Hayden’s bicycle was found in the nearby ditch with its frame snapped in half. According to Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport a security camera recorded the crash, displaying Hayden apparently not halting at a stop sign. Hayden sustained a traumatic brain injury as well as a broken femur, broken pelvis, and multiple fractured vertebrae. Yesterday on May 22, 2017, he succumbed to his injuries.
Nicky’s older brother Tommy, also an accomplished road racer had this to say in a statement from the family, “Although this is obviously a sad time, we would like everyone to remember Nicky at his happiest – riding a motorcycle. He dreamed as a kid of being a pro rider and not only achieved that but also managed to reach the pinnacle of his chosen sport in becoming World Champion. We are all so proud of that.”
So rather than “Rest In Peace” we say “Slide In Joy Nicky” you will be missed.