Nicky Hayden

Hayden world champion, Valencia MotoGP Race 2006
Country: 
Birth Date: 
29 July, 1981
Driver Status: 
Former

Nicky Hayden Biography
 

Nicky Hayden was born into a family of dirt track racers in Owensboro, Kentucky on July 30, 1981.

Both his father, Earl, and mother, Rose, had raced: Earl achieved some good results in mid-level competitions while Rose dominated the so-called women’s 'Powder Puff' class for a good five seasons.

Their five children - in age order Tommy, Jennifer, Nicky, Roger and Kathleen - all learned to ride almost before they could walk and, although the girls later chose to pursue different careers, the boys all became successful professional racers.

Nicky began his motorcycling career as a four-year-old at Paducah International Raceway. From that moment on, he competed regularly in dirt track competition and spent nearly every weekend travelling all over the American Midwest with his family.

A highlight was the historic Springfield TT in 2002 where, having qualified on the front row, all three brothers stepped up to the podium! Nicky, Tommy and Roger Lee finished the race in that order, something that had never happened before in a professional AMA Dirt Track race.

At that time, Nicky was already one of the most talented riders in the AMA Superbike championship and in contention for the championship, which he duly won just a few months later.

Nicky had moved gradually from dirt to asphalt, being signed by Honda America at 16 and competing in his first full road racing season in 1998, where he finished fourth overall in both the AMA 750 Supersport and 600 Supersport categories.

In 1999, at eighteen years of age, he became the youngest ever AMA 600 Supersport Champion, fighting for the title against his brother Tommy. In the same year he also participated in 12 of the 18 Grand National dirt track rounds, taking the Rookie of the Year title in that series.

In 2000, still with Honda, he progressed to the premier AMA Superbike category and finished second overall, just five points behind Mat Mladin. In 2001 he closed the season in third place while in 2002, as well as winning the prestigious Daytona 2000, he became the youngest ever AMA Superbike Champion at 21 years and two weeks old.

2003 signalled a dramatic change of direction. Pursued by both Honda and Yamaha for a ride in MotoGP, the young American ultimately chose to stay with the former, becoming part of the factory Repsol Honda team alongside world champion Valentino Rossi.

Catapulted into a completely new environment, Hayden was immediately respected for his open nature and ready smile, as well as his aggressive and spectacular riding style. In his debut year he achieved two podiums, at the Australian and Motegi GP races, finishing the season in fifth position and beating the likes Troy Bayliss and Colin Edwards to be Rookie of the Year.

Rossi rocked the MotoGP world by leaving for Yamaha in 2004, in turn putting pressure on Hayden to help carry HRC's title hopes. It would be a more difficult season, with results that see-sawed, and the season was complicated further when Hayden fractured his collarbone on a Supermoto bike. He finished the year down in eighth place, despite podiums at Rio and Sachsenring.

But Hayden bounced back in 2005, shrugging off a crash in the first race to bring a series of ever better results, culminating in his first MotoGP win at his home race of Laguna Seca. A further five podiums, in Germany, Qatar, Australia, Turkey and Valencia, saw Nicky close the season in third position.

2006 would be the greatest and most dramatic season of Hayden's career. Nicky started the season strongly, with seven podiums in the first eight races, including a win at Assen, which took him to the top of the riders' classification. This lead was then strengthened by a second win at Laguna Seca, putting him 34 points ahead of Dani Pedrosa and 51 ahead of Valentino Rossi.

However after the summer break momentum swung rapidly in favour of Rossi. Hayden slowly lost ground to the Italian, but was set to cling to the championship lead until a bungled pass by his own team-mate Dani Pedrosa took him out of the penultimate round in Estoril. Hayden's character shone through in the immediate aftermath and he soon focussed on trying to overturn Rossi's eight-point advantage at Valencia and become the first rider since 2000 to defeat The Doctor.

On 29th October 2006, while Rossi fell, the Kentucky Kid finished a safe third and became world champion. The emotion and elation on Hayden's face during the slow-down lap has become an unforgettable part of MotoGP history. Rossi, whose title duels normally descended into acrimony, was quick to offer congratulations to a rider he would always consider one of his best friends in the paddock.

In 2007 MotoGP changed from 990cc to 800cc engines, with Hayden given a miniscule RC212V that looked to have been designed around Pedrosa's proportions. In a season that saw Casey Stoner and Ducati dominate, Hayden never looked fully comfortable and was left to salvage three mid-season podiums for eighth overall.

2008 was another year of mixed fortunes for Hayden, especially at the start of the season when, despite several top five finishes, he failed to reach the podium. An injury to his foot, caused while he participated in a Supermoto race at the X-Games in Los Angeles, complicated things and forced him to miss the Czech Republic and San Marino GP races after the summer break.

However, always ready to fight harder when the going gets tough, the American rider was back on form at the second of his home rounds, at Indianapolis, where in hurricane conditions and less than perfect health, he finished second behind Valentino Rossi.

Another podium at Phillip Island and a series of strong results towards the end of the season allowed him to climb the leaderboard to finish his final year with Honda in sixth position.

In 2009 Hayden joined Ducati alongside 2007 world champion Stoner. The first race, at night in Qatar, was postponed for 24-hours due to torrential rain and Hayden, who fell in qualifying, finished 12th. It was the start of a year of gradual improvement for Hayden who, with determination and hard graft, continued to pick up pace before reaching the podium at Indianapolis and closing the season positively.

Heading into 2010 with greater confidence on the Desmosedici, Hayden began the season respectably with a brace of fourth place finishes in four of the opening five events. Climbing onto the podium at Motorland Aragon, Hayden was a steady hand over the course of the season, lacking the outright pace of Stoner, but bringing it home enough to secure a vastly improved seventh overall.

Joined by former title rival Rossi at Ducati for 2011, Hayden had something to prove against his high-profile team-mate and did a fine job of keeping him honest. A podium finish at a slippery Jerez during round two laid down a marker, Hayden going toe-to-toe with Rossi aboard the troublesome GP11 and, despite the greater attention being paid to his team-mate, finishing just seven points behind the Italian at the end of the year.

With the media frenzy surrounding Rossi - particularly his struggles on the Ducati - continuing into 2012, Hayden maintained his relatively low-profile to post consistent, if unspectacular, results. A high-speed crash in qualifying at Indianapolis would break a run of points’ finishes, before a nasty-looking fall at Aragon (in which he was sent over the barriers) hampered him further.

In the end, Hayden would end the season ninth overall, but without a podium to his name for the first time in MotoGP. However, with Rossi jumping ship to Yamaha, Nicky was retained for a fifth season on the Ducati, this time alongside the man that replaced him at Honda, Andrea Dovizioso.

With the Honda and Yamaha riders often out of reach, Hayden’s final season with Ducati mostly revolved around a season-long duel with Dovizioso. Evenly matched with the Italian, Hayden would battle hard - highlighted by a last corner clash at Indianapolis - but the limitations of the GP13 saw Hayden often occupy the lower end of the full prototype machines, with a best finish of fifth coming in the wet at Le Mans.

Frustrated not to try the latest GP13 modifications for the closing rounds, Hayden lost out to Dovizioso by 14 points in the final standings. He then returned to Honda in 2014, albeit in the form of the new Open class, at Aspar team.

Bitterly disappointed with the performance of the 'for-sale' RCV1000R Production Honda, Hayden's season was rocked further by a persistent wrist injury, necessitating two surgeries and a spell on the sidelines. With the injury seemingly healed and the promise of a more competitive bike on the horizon, Hayden enjoyed a positive conclusion to the season and remained with Aspar on the upgraded RC213V-RS Open bike for 2015.

Hayden’s last season in the top flight wasn't to be a final flourish and he would break the points on just five occasions as the Open Honda again struggled to develop over the course of the year. Bowing out with his worst season in MotoGP since making his debut in 2003, it wasn’t due to a lack of determination.

Without competitive MotoGP options, Hayden opted for a fresh start in the World Superbike championship in 2016, where he had a real shot at becoming the first rider in history to claim both the 500cc/MotoGP and WSBK crowns.

The #69 took his first step towards that goal with a debut World Superbike victory in his rookie season, at Sepang in Malaysia. Hayden then made a popular return to MotoGP as a stand-in rider for Marc VDS Honda (Aragon) and then Repsol Honda, the team with which he started his world championship career (Australia).

2017 saw a much-needed new version of the Fireblade in WorldSBK, but it was far from race ready, with both Hayden and team-mate Stefan Bradl struggling to make an impression in the opening rounds.

Hayden, made an official MotoGP Legend in his final full-time Grand Prix appearance at Valencia 2015, was 13th in the World Superbike Championship and just over a month away from his 36th birthday when tragedy struck on a road in Rimini.