Nicky Hayden's winning smile has flashed from atop the AMA victory podium seemingly all season long. With nine Superbike victories this year and 17 total in his brief three-year stint in the seat of a factory Honda RC51, he's already third on the all-time AMA Superbike win list. At 21 years old, Hayden is the youngest Superbike Champion in the 27-year history of the sport, and just earned the most coveted ride in the world of roadracing: a Honda V5 RC211V factory Grand Prix bike.
Nicky's winning smile (and...
Nicky's winning smile (and riding ability) started at an early age, and remains the same today.
Riding since the age of three and racing since he was five, Hayden is no newcomer to winning races or championships. His rapid rise began 18 years ago on the 25 acres of farmland near Owensboro, Kentucky, where his family--including two brothers and two sisters--lived in a 100-year-old farmhouse. At that time, the family business was raising racehorses, as Nicky's father Earl Hayden, a former dirttrack racer, explains: "I bred 'em, raced 'em, trained 'em, and (mother) Rose exercised 'em. Rose was actually going to be a jockey, and then we got married and I kept her pregnant all the time. We had five kids in seven years, so that was kind of fun," he adds with his trademark broad grin. "When we started dating, we went to the races. And back then if the girl went with you she had to race. She raced five years and only lost one race."
Some think it's more than mere coincidence that Earl's success breeding thoroughbreds preceded Nicky, older brother Tommy (24) and younger brother Roger Lee (18) all going on to be factory-sponsored roadracers. "I kind of joke about that," Earl admits, "but horses, you train 'em almost like athletes. There was things that I did teachin' them to win, like in the morning's practice with my horses, I always wanted them to have a neck in front. Get 'em used to winnin'. My best horses [were] the ones with big hearts and my wife [has] a big heart. I had to catch that bloodline 'cause I wanted some fast kids...you know when you go to go buy your horses it's all bloodlines." Nicky gives his father a bit more credit, adding, "He used to race, and even once he quit, he helped some pretty fast guys. I think when we were kids, instead of guessin' at everything, he knew little things [that would] get us going. He knew when to move us to the next bike and things like that. It wasn't just all luck, he knew the right things to do."
He's sitting with the AMA...
He's sitting with the AMA Superbike #1 plate and the Honda CR450F dirttracker with which he won four AMA Grand National dirttrack races in the `02 season.
The Haydens have ridden motorcycles for as long as they can remember--maybe longer--and Nicky showed a keen desire before that. "When he was a little kid in diapers he'd stand out by the barn, just begging me to raise the barn door up so he could just get in there and sit on them," Earl recalls. Most kids might be satisfied to simply ride, but for Nicky that wasn't enough. "When he was real little, I had to tell him a bedtime story every night. So I would have it in Spain or someplace, and it was comin' off the last corner and it was King Kenny Roberts, Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson, [Randy] Mamola and I might throw in Jay Springsteen and I don't know who all, but just the most famous guys out there. And they're coming to the finish line and it's a dead heat and [then] King Kenny won it, with Nicky Hayden second and Wayne Rainey third. And he would cry and cry until I'd tell it to him again, and he would not let me leave until I told it that he won. I mean, I'd have loved to just be mentioned in that breath with all those guys, but I'd have to tell [the story] that he won."
Sideways and then some, Nicky...
Sideways and then some, Nicky describes the benefits of his dirttrack background as, "The big thing is just being comfortable with the bike sliding and being a little bit loose."
Earl's easy-flowing stories keep listeners smiling and laughing, but he does get serious at times, and one of the things he is serious about is his love of family. "I want all my kids to come back from the races on Monday, and sit down at the kitchen table and get along. Now when Tommy and Nicky was going for the championship in 600 (Ed. note: AMA SuperSport in '99, when the two battled tooth-and-nail for the title), they might sit at opposite ends of the table...." To maintain that harmony, Earl explains, "One thing I want to make sure ...is that I never compare my kids to each other."
While all the brothers display uncanny talent, it's Nicky who has risen through the ranks the quickest. Without playing favorites, Earl offers an explanation: "The best thing Nicky ever had goin' in his life is a brother who was three years older than him that he could chase every day of his life. And Tommy was so mentally smart, [that] it really pushed Nicky. One more thing was [Nicky's] work habits. It started when he was three years old. He'd be the first one out in the morning and he would cry when I'd make him quit at night."