Racer Nicky Hayden was competing on dirt bikes before his feet touched the ground. Yet despite the risks inherent to motorcycle racing, “The Kentucky Kid” passed away as a result of injuries sustained on May 17, due to a collision with a car while training on a bicycle in Rimini, Italy. The 35-year old Hayden had competed in a Superbike World Championship race at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari, in Imola days earlier.
Hayden returned to the Superbike World Championship in 2016, where he placed fifth for the season. At the time of his death, he was running 13th in the series, riding for Honda.
Like so many eventual road racing champions, Hayden started on dirt. In his case he was three years old when he first climbed on a motorcycle at his family’s Owensboro, Ky., home. Parents Earl and Rose, and all four of his siblings raced at various times, so it was only natural that Nicky would race on two wheels. First came mini-bikes, followed by 125-cc two-strokes as he quickly honed his skill. Racing motorcycles was a big part of growing up in the Hayden household.
Showing great natural talent and a willingness to work hard at his craft and fitness, Nicky turned professional as soon as he reached the requisite age of 16. Despite a busy competition schedule, his parents stressed education and Nicky completed high school at Owensboro Catholic High School while racing in the AMA (American Motorcyclist Association), where he became faster and more competitive every year. In just his third season as a professional, Hayden clinched the 1999 AMA Supersport championship riding a factory Honda. In 2001 he won both the Daytona 200 and the AMA Superbike title. Often he could be seen racing against brothers Roger and Tommy, who were fierce competitors in the Superbike classes.
His next racing challenge came in Moto GP with the formidable factory Honda Repsol Team. Hayden’s maiden win came in his third season in the series, and in 2006 he won a hard-fought championship, narrowly beating multiple world champion Valentino Rossi. Hayden was the last American to win the MotoGP championship. From 2009 through 2013 Hayden rode for the Ducati factory team before returning to Honda in 2014.
Our condolences go out to his family and friends.