By John Ulrich
I met Tommy and Nicky Hayden when they were pretty young. The occasion was a special Honda RS125 exhibition race sponsored by Moto Liberty during the 1993 WERA Grand National Finals at Road Atlanta. I’m pretty sure the minimum age for racing with WERA at the time was 12, and looking at Nicky he looked younger than that. When I asked Nicky what grade he was in, his answer didn’t quite compute, so I asked him what he was studying. And again, it didn’t quite correlate with what my kids had been studying at his claimed age and grade. But although Nicky may have actually been just 10 or 11, he already knew how to ride a racebike very well!
I can’t remember the overall race results, but I know Nicky beat me, badly! A few years later I became friends with his father Earl, and when we met at various racetracks he and I would do the racer dad thing, talking about each other’s kids and how they were doing. But since that day way back when, Nicky Hayden consistently demonstrated that he was a fierce competitor and a tireless trainer, but also a good guy, a wonderful role model, a perfect gentleman and a great representative of his family and of our sport.
Rest in peace, Nicky. Rest in peace.
And hang in there, Earl old friend. You and your family are living a dad’s and a family’s worst nightmare, and I am so sorry…
By Aimee Bemisderfer
When news first spread of Nicky’s tragic accident I wouldn’t allow myself to listen to the horrific details. It’s Nicky Hayden, the healthiest, most lively person I have ever met. As more and more details emerged, it was impossible to ignore the severity of his injuries. Now , every time I see a picture, hear an interview or watch a video, I find myself in tears.
Would Nicky Hayden even remember my name or where he knew me from? Probably not. My family ran the club that first welcomed the Hayden family to the road racing community. Before The Hayden Bros were who we know them to be today, they were three absolutely, adorable, tiny, children with equally cute southern twang accents who were driven in a box van from Kentucky to Texas overnight, by their father, Earl.
Their very first road race was at Oakhill Raceway in Henderson, TX. Earl quickly introduced himself to my father, Charles, and told him of his plan to get his family racing. My father said “you want to race and we want to put on a race so I think we can make this work.” The boys were then introduced to my mother, Connie, who could not resist a kid. Ever! Earl showed mom their birth certificates. Not being a document specialist she asked to see their teeth. After the examination it was determined that they had most of their adult teeth so they were good to go! If it sounds a little more archaic than the sophisticated regime of professional motorcycle racing you know now, you’re absolutely right. Connie and Charles had the laws of the land at the time and had the opportunity to run the club as they saw fit for the betterment of racing. They just watched Colin Edwards come through and earn a ride as a rookie expert. Now they had the opportunity to see The Hayden Clan. They knew special when they saw it and they were not going to be the ones who stood in the way of greatness.
Tommy and Nicky went to rider’s school, insert eye roll here. Those boys didn’t want to read a book about racing, they wanted to ride! Their weekend progressed and it was obvious to everyone that they knew how to ride a motorcycle, they had after all been riding most of their lives. Test time, insert yet another eye roll and maybe some nerves here. Earl approached my dad and confessed that Nicky wasn’t great in school and asked if it would be OK if Tommy read the test questions to Nicky. My father agreed but assigned me to be a monitor to make sure that Tommy wouldn’t give Nicky the answers. He didn’t.
I have a couple of distinct memories from that short 20-30 minutes in the school house. First question was True or False “Is motorcycle racing dangerous?”
Nicky’s answer? “False”
*First line of the Rider’s School Handbook is “MOTORCYCLE RACING IS DANGEROUS”
Nicky is the only person in my family’s era of the CMRA that got that question wrong. I’ll also never forget the little giggle and head shake after Tommy asked him if it was OK to have an open beer container in the pits while there was a race on the track. He got that one right but added a “stuuuuupid” before circling No. They passed! No more school rooms, books or tests.
Now is when the greatness revealed itself to everyone else. And I’m not just talking about talent. I’m talking about their love, strength as a family and moral integrity. My younger brother Aaron and I were about the same ages as Tommy and Nicky. Aaron almost immediately gravitated towards them, hanging out in their pits until someone put him to work. They were always so good to Aaron, recognizing that there’s a little something special about him also. If you had asked Aaron what he wanted to do when he grew up he would say “Drive the big truck for the Hayden Brothers.”
The Hayden’s would make their way to Texas and Oklahoma for every CMRA race they could. The two boys would race for the coveted number 69. Once they were both in the same class they couldn’t both have it. Tommy got it because he was older and he was winning. Nicky was disappointed and didn’t want any other good for nothin’ number. My Mom pulled Nicky aside one morning and said “I’ve got a lucky number just for you!” It was #29 which my dad had run at one time or another. Nicky was appreciative but still wasn’t thrilled UNTIL he beat Tommy for the first time that day. He ran up to my mom and gave her the biggest hug and exclaimed “It is a lucky nuuummmbberrrr!”
Earl would continue to drive the Hayden’s Family Racing box van overnight after school (Rose’s Rules!) to get them to the track. The boys eventually transitioned from YSR50s to RS125s and TZR250s. They made it to the GNF at Road Atlanta but weren’t allowed to race due to their age so they went trick or treating, spraying unsuspecting victims with silly string when they didn’t have candy. Sometimes they’d spray you with silly string even if you did!
When Roger Lee was able to start racing he still couldn’t touch the ground on a YSR50! We would always grid him up in the back so that Earl could hold him up by the tailsection. Roger was always so mischievous as most younger siblings are. He would end up bestowing the nickname of Double A Rone to Aaron and my brother would just beam with pride that the Haydens included him into their clan. Years later after the boys had moved on to bigger and better deals, Aaron worked so hard and graduated from High School with a patch in Academics. He was so proud and asked our Mom to mail them an invitation to his graduation. Mom told Aaron that they probably wouldn’t be able to make since they were so busy. They couldn’t make it but boy, did they make it up to Aaron! They sent him the biggest box of Hayden swag you have ever seen! Our entire family was so touched by the gesture.
In 2002 my father had completed his tentative schedule for the CMRA races. There was a round at Oakhill Raceway that conflicted with the Laguna Seca round of World Superbike/AMA (which Colin and Nicky were both dominating in). One of our oldest family friends, Ronnie Lunsford, pulled Aaron to the side and made him a deal. “If you get your dad to change the date of that Oakhill race I will pay for you and your sister to go to Laguna to watch Colin and Nicky.” The deal was done before the end of the day. Aaron is pretty persuasive AND dad couldn’t be the reason we didn’t go. We went, we took pictures in the pits, we watched Colin win on U.S. soil. Unfortunately, Nicky didn’t win his class, I believe Bostrom won? Anyhow, when we were at the airport going home we spotted Nicky sitting over by himself. He looked over at us. Aaron sheepishly waved, not knowing if Nicky would remember him. Nicky waved back and then yelled across the terminal “Are you coming over to talk to me or what?” It made Aaron’s entire trip that much more memorable. He remembered and he was still the most humble, sweetest kid, I’ve ever met and we will always be Hayden Bros fans.
There are so many other memories that I have. Memories that I will cherish for my entire life.
It was such a natural upbringing. There were no track days. Earl didn’t buy them rides. It was pure talent and hard work by kids who had an eye on the future and by a father who had a plan and never let go of it. You will never see another family like them. Nicky will be the last organic American Champion. Pure Talent. Humble to his core. Rooted by his family and their values. We will always be Hayden fans. Not just the boys but the entire Hayden family. Our hearts and prayers are with all of them now.
I end this poorly written, heart-felt story with a quote from my father: “Those years of putting on CMRA races with my family and watching the Hayden family were some of the best years of my life.”
By Nick McFadden
My childhood hero, one of my training partners, and one of my good friends has gone to a better place now.
I wish I could tell you thanks one more time for everything you’ve done for me and listen to you say ” You knowww… ” one more time in the garage at the house. It just doesn’t seem real at all. Just texting you Friday before your accident and you taking time out of your race weekends to tell me “good job” and always checking on how things were going.
When I was a privateer, showing up to the races in a pick-up truck, and no one else really believed in me anymore, you were there buying tires for me so I could stay racing in AMA/MotoAmerica. Kicking my ass everyday on the bicycle, eating your roost everyday on the practice track, watching you pay for lunch with nickels and dimes when you were still riding in GPs , going to miss it all .
See you again brotha. Ride in Peace . Forever
By Jake Lewis
At a complete loss of words and heartbroken. The three Hayden brothers were my childhood heroes and the Hayden family has been my second family since I was 4 years old. The past three years Roger and Nicky have became brothers to me and I’ll never forget the laughs, memories, battles at Sunset Downs and cycling, flipping coins to see who pays for our dinner dates, our California winters, s–t talking, and all around good times we have shared together. Today the world lost a great guy and an all around legend. Rest In Peace Nicky Bobby, and Rat Pack always ?? #69forever
By Bobby Lewis (Jake’s dad)
Today the world lost a legend and I lost a hero.
My first memory of Nicky Hayden was when he was about two years old in nothing but a diaper crawling all over a dirt-tracker in the Hayden’s garage.
He used to tell me that he was my hero. We would send letters back and forth in the mail, and his were always signed, Your Hero Nicky.
I started by telling him if he was World Champion he would be my hero as he talked about it all the time. He sent me a clock with his picture on it, engraved with Future World Champion when he was about 14.
All throughout the years he stayed the same good person that he started out as. In 2006 I told him he truly was my hero.
Our family and his are very close and we are deeply saddened. I feel thankful that I got to be a part of his life.The Haydens are devout Christians and I know he is in heaven now. However, I don’t think he rested in peace today–I think he showed up there, put on a set of leathers and a helmet and went out…..and won that mile!
By Ken Hill
The first time I officially met Nick Hayden was at a Freddie Spencer Riding school at the end of 2006. NH had just won the World Championship, next year’s MotoGP bikes were going to 800cc and NH was there to ride with Freddie, working on his next steps for the new era of displacement. Nicky walked into the instructor dressing room that first morning, and after some small talk said, ‘Hey guys, this is what I’m working on, let me know what I can do better….” So for the next few days, we rode with NH, watched Freddie work with him and had full access to his thought process of his riding.
Those few days (and a few more like that later) were instrumental in building the methodology and the language I use today. Sitting on the inside of the track at LVMS with Nick Ienatsch, we watched Nicky ride, lap after lap, later talking with him and decoding his thoughts, simply a priceless experience. Nicky’s thought process to his riding was simple, which became the cornerstone for how I teach today. There was no complication, just a very clear and concise way of hauling ass. His dedication to training, to be better at his craft, was simply unparalleled as witnessed by him running low on gas, coming in, filling up to go ride again–never getting off the bike. He just wanted to be better.
Losing Nicky is more than losing a good dude. Losing Nicky is losing a piece of what we all wanted to be. His dream and our dream, that a Kentucky kid, brought up in a great family environment through hard work, sacrifice and dedication, could become a MotoGP World Champion.
Losing Nicky seems surreal. It can’t be. He was so much hope and inspiration for SO MANY people, larger than life, yet somehow completely reachable, as witnessed by many of the riders I work with today who rode and trained with him. Losing Nicky hurts on so many levels, but I will do as Nicky would do – share what you do with others, never stop working at being better and to keep riding. Godspeed NH.
By David Swarts
On Monday, the world lost a true Superhero. Not only did Nicky Hayden have superhuman skills to ride motorcycles, he was also blessed with other superhuman qualities, like modesty, loyalty, dedication, optimism, and the incredible ability to connect with people, whether it was from a single five-second encounter in the paddock or through a televised interview.
I first came across Nicky and his brothers Tommy and Roger when they came to Gateway Motorsports Park, near my hometown of St. Louis, to race in a WERA event. A few years later, our paths crossed again when I came to work covering races for Roadracing World Publishing, and for many years I worked with Nicky on the “Young Gun” column he wrote for Roadracing World & Motorcycle Technology.
When Nicky went off to race in MotoGP he knew he wouldn’t have enough time to keep doing the column, so I stepped back to become one of many people who looked forward to seeing Nicky once or twice a year when MotoGP came to America. And on every one of those occasions Nicky made sure to say something that made the year since our last visit disappear and our friendship renew like it had been before.
But I also saw that Nicky did this with everyone, and I mean everyone, from his former teammates and mechanics to fans he had only met once briefly. Nicky would look them in the eye, ask them something about themselves and then really listen to what they had to say. It was amazing, and I always admired Nicky for this as much as I admired his skills on the racetrack.
My last real interview with Nicky came in 2014, when I visited his relatively new home in Owensboro to do one of our Cribs/At Home With… features. Nicky had to sit out the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix, his home grand prix, while his wrist recovered from major reconstructive surgery.
One of the things we talked about was his future, what he was going to do after his time in MotoGP came to an end and if he would consider racing in the Superbike World Championship. At the time, Nicky said he was focused on staying in MotoGP because he wanted to be in the big show, to be in the spotlight, to be in front of the biggest crowds, to feel the pressure. It’s what he had worked for all his life and anything less wasn’t the same. He said he had little interest in going to World Superbike, which made me a little sad because I knew that the end of his racing career might be near.
Then Nicky got the ride with the Honda World Superbike team, and just like Nicky was always optimistic — or at least never negative – I daydreamed of him becoming the only rider to win both a MotoGP World Championship and a Superbike World Championship. Maybe it wouldn’t happen, but I definitely knew that it wouldn’t be for a lack of effort or attitude on Nicky’s part.
In 2016, Nicky won a race on his aging Honda CBR1000RR and added another page to his legend by getting a podium finish at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the site of so many moments for the man forever known as the Kentucky Kid. There was no storybook Championship in the cards that season, but it didn’t matter because Nicky was a winner again, happy, engaged to marry his girlfriend Jackie Marin, and it looked like we would continue to see him race for years to come, maybe even in MotoAmerica.
Sadly, Nicky’s incredible life came to an end Monday. As bad as I felt, I could only imagine how horrible the five days from Nicky’s accident until his official death must have been for his family and fiancé. Actually, I got to see it on the face of his brother Roger while we were at the MotoAmerica test near Pittsburgh last week. So all of my thoughts and prayers right now are for them. I hope that the strong bond and the strong faith that the Hayden family has always shared sees them through this dark time and that they will keep living their lives with the same passion and dedication that Nicky always did. I know I will.
By Tim Burleson
It was the last day, of the last race of the 2010 American Pro Racing season. We were at Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham. It was Sunday. I had already done one chapel service at the inflatable chapel Mr. Barber puts up each year behind turn 14. It was a rainy morning, mist hanging in and about the trees surrounding the track.
I was back in the paddock preparing for the first of two chapel services there. This being the last race of the year, at chapel we were to celebrate the Christian Rite of Holy Communion. This was a custom during the years I was privileged to serve as chaplain to the American professional racing series. I was at my station in the Pegram Canopy making final preparations to serve Communion to what I thought would be a small crowd due to weather.
Five minutes before starting time, the tent flap moved and in walked the Hayden family; Earl, Rose, all three boys, one of the daughters and their families. They took seats around the white circular tables and waited as others arrived. At the appointed time I began. Communion Chapel was even more compact than regular chapel as we had much to do in a short time. After our opening prayer time, I began the Communion Litany. When it was time to take the Communion elements I asked all who desired to receive Communion to line up and I would serve them. The Hayden family all got in line. I served them the bread and the cup, including Nick. I must have been a bit flustered by having the opportunity to serve the entire Hayden family that I accidentally called Jim Pegram, who was in line behind them, “Earl.” Jim quickly corrected me and never let me forget having called him “Earl” that morning, picking on me for years to come.
I am sharing this memory as I was profoundly moved by Nick that morning. He did not come to chapel as the 2006 Moto GP World champion with the swagger and hubris one might expect. Instead Nick came with the hallmark humility and kindness he will be remembered for. Nick came in and worshipped with his family; a family as close knit and loving as few I have known. Like all of us that morning Nick came to Communion as a human, and real person.
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