Nicky Hayden, known affectionately as the Kentucky Kid, spent his life racing motorcycles. He began his career on dirt bikes, racing competitors much older than himself. Many have reported that Nicky often had to start races at the back of the grid, allowing for his family to hold the bike upright as his feet did not yet touch the floor.
While still studying at high school, aged just 17, Nicky began his long love affair with Honda bikes. In his first year with the team he claimed the AMA Supersport championship, followed by the AMA Superbike championship three years later. Nicky remains the youngest rider to have claimed this title.
In this same year, Nicky completed further dirt track racing winning four of them (the Springfield short race twice, the Springfield TT and the Peoria TT). It was during the Springfield TT that all three Hayden brothers, (Nicky, Tommy and Roger) took to the podium together for the same race.
In 2003, Nicky began his career in MotoGP, remaining with his much loved Honda team. He was teammate to Valentino Rossi who was the reigning champion at the time. In his first season, Hayden secured two podium finishes (Pacific and Australian Grand Prix) but his first victory came in 2005 at his home race in Laguna Seca.
With this new momentum behind him, Nicky’s 2006 season started with a bang, securing four podium finishes in the first four races. He lead the championship until the penultimate race of the season when he faced his only retirement. However the final race of the season brought a retirement from Rossi and a podium from Nicky, allowing him to finally clinch the MotoGP world championships.
After a move to the factory Honda team, Nicky’s career became ever more mixed in its fortune, with mechanical issues, on track incidents and team mate treatment resulting in him parting ways with Honda. In 2009, Nicky moved to the Ducati team where his mixed fortune continued.
After a short stint back with his old Honda team, Nicky decided to make the move to World Superbikes, remaining on a Honda run bike. During the 2016 season, Nicky secured four podium finishes (Netherlands, USA and German Grand Prix’s) and one outstanding win (Malaysian Grand Prix). Nicky lost his life midway through the 2017 World Superbike season, where he sat 13th in the championship.
The sadness felt at the passing of Nicky Hayden was echoed by all within he paddock. World champion Marc Márquez stated that he felt “shattered after the news” and Aprilla rider, Aleix Espargaro, posted online that Nicky was “the most easy and good guy I ever met on a paddock in my life.” This emotion travelled further than the motorcycle garages, with British F1 Champion commenting that Nicky will remain “forever in our hearts”. Nicky’s brother, and fellow motorcycle rider, Tommy Hayden, requested that we “remember Nicky at his happiest- riding a motorcycle.”
After a bicycle accident in Italy, where he was hit by a car, Nicky succumbed to his injuries five days later. He was aged just 35.
—Charlotte Andrews, Correspondent (Sports)