By Haydn Cobb

It was always going to be a difficult race weekend with a sombre atmosphere after losing a giant of a man in racing and humility, but the World Superbike paddock was brought closer together after the passing of Nicky Hayden.

Hayden was set to be a main attraction to the Donington Park faithful, as he was wherever he raced, and through his heart-breaking absence having passed away on Monday from his injuries sustained in a cycling incident, the Kentucky Kid's spirit spread across the paddock as a timely reminder about the primary reason why we race: for the challenge and the thrill.

Along with condolences and thoughts being sent to the Hayden family, the paddock rallied around for the Ten Kate Racing-run Red Bull Honda squad who bravely chose to race at Donington Park as a mark of respect for their lost rider. The factory Honda team are such an iconic and integral part of the championship who were met with respect and love to try to help share the burden in a show of unity in the World Superbike family.

Everywhere you looked, Hayden's iconic #69 emblem adorned bikes, trucks, helmets, clothing - almost anything a sticker could be stuck to - as the familiar sea of Valentino Rossi yellow and Union Jacks at Donington Park were replaced by the Stars and Stripes which Hayden wore with such pride and passion.

Despite Hayden's full-time presence in the World Superbike championship stretching to just under 18 months the volume of stories, memories and tributes were unforgettable. From being the friendly motorhome neighbour to Tom Sykes to donating knee sliders to help keep Kyle Ryde racing, in his own way Hayden had touched the lives of the entire paddock.

A moment of remembrance with a one minute silence on the start grid was held impeccably as fans, riders and teams made a circle of support around Hayden's team and his Honda which was prepared in his pit box throughout the race weekend in a touching gesture.

The usual hostilities in competition, seen by some that need extracting and focusing in World Superbikes, gave way to the humility and fairness the 2006 MotoGP world champion oozed with the connection of racing and life taking over. Riders largely live by an unwritten code of respect in racing and Hayden was a leader among that which is why he held such a deep place in everyone's hearts.

The British round gave World Superbikes the opportunity to celebrate its 30th anniversary by returning to the venue which hosted its first round in 1988 and former champions marked the occasion. Carl Fogarty, Troy Corser, Neil Hodgson and Sylvain Guintoli plus current riders Tom Sykes and Jonathan Rea have all been or currently are kings of the series but there was one gentleman they admired above all others.

Sitting down for an interview with the current World Superbike champion Rea on Thursday prior to the race weekend, the Kawasaki rider provided an enduring explanation on how he and Hayden may have come from different backgrounds but Hayden symbolised cornerstones of their lives: family and racing.

"It is a very selfish sport but away from it I've got a huge family, brothers and sisters and parents, plus my own family now with two sons and a wife," Rea said. "What I've been able to do in the past few years is being able to disconnect from work mode and be more of a family guy which I've enjoyed.

"I can see Nicky was a massive family guy as well, training with his brothers or hanging out with his nieces and he was due to get married so there are some similarities but there is only one Nicky Hayden in this world and we are going to miss him. He touched so many people. It was inspirational to see how he effected people in such a way."

This show of solidarity and affection knew no boundaries when it came to Hayden, with Rea showing his sympathies to his former team having been a long-time Ten Kate Racing rider, but ultimately it didn't matter what flag or team you competed for. It was about showing a strength of solidarity and how Hayden's influence and character will make a lasting impression on the championship.

A similar mark of remembrance is planned for the upcoming Italian MotoGP round at Mugello, the series where Hayden excelled as a world champion, and there will be similar stories of the American's charms and inspiration.

At Donington Park it was a time for thoughts and grief with emotions still so raw less than one week on from his passing, but it was also a lesson in life and how to live it. Something nobody will ever forget about the Kentucky Kid.