It may be 90 degrees F. with...
It may be 90 degrees F. with 90-percent humidity, but Nicky just loves to ride. Here he nails the triple jump on the Hayden's supercross-spec training track on their ranch during his daily "workout."
The World Superbike race at Laguna Seca this past July gave Nicky his first taste of racing at the world championship level, and it left him hungry for more. "I loved Laguna, I just had an awesome time," Nicky enthused. "My learning curve went up. It was my first time racing with a lot of those guys. Even though you watch 'em on TV, you don't really see. Laguna is a hard place to pass normally, but those ]WSB] guys weren't having any problem. Give them any little inch and they'd make it stick. They would make room where there wasn't necessarily any. They wouldn't wait for you to make a mistake, they would just make a hole."
"In the first leg, I felt really good to start from the fourth row, and at the end I caught up to [take] fourth [place, behind Colin Edwards II]. That's what I like is being at the end of the race and still charging, not going backwards. The first leg I wanted to do good and get a good finish. The second leg, I was ready to try to put on a show and make somethin' happen, and it caught me off-guard. It's something I learned from. I got an awesome start and I was up to third or fourth. On the first lap, I kind of relaxed too much, and one guy came by me going into [turn] three and kind of got me off-line. By the time I looked up at the end of the first lap I was back to seventh. I seen the guys at the front getting away, and [Noriyuki] Haga was kinda coming backwards. I thought I had to go to the front right then and there, and was like, `Whoa, I gotta go, I gotta go now!' I [outbraked Haga into turn 11] and was tryin' to get stopped so that he didn't square me back up, and I just stayed on the brake a little too long [and fell]. And unfortunately he ran over my bike [and crashed as well]. I was bummed about that. That was the one thing I didn't want to do was take out any regulars or get in their way."
One of the things that Honda Superbike chassis mechanic Dan Fahie thinks sets Nicky apart is his ability to learn from other riders and apply it. Without him saying as much, it's obvious that two riders in particular impress Nicky: Haga and Anthony Gobert. "Haga was baaad!" he says with obvious excitement. "Like when he was going to the front at Laguna in that first leg, some of the stuff he was doing was real impressive. I mean, the lines he would run from the Corkscrew to the bottom of the hill--I've never seen anybody use that line. Just the way he would bring it back up [to the right] from the bottom of the Corkscrew and drive down the hill. He did different things that I've never seen anybody do before. Probably the biggest thing is I seen him pass in areas that I've never seen anybody pass in."
After a close battle with Gobert at Sears Point in 2001, Fahie recalls, "He [Nicky] came in and he was madder than a hornet that he lost by inches. I mean he was really pissed off. Then about an hour later, he had simmered down and thought about it and said, `Man, that's the funnest race I've ever been in.' He said, `Gobert's one of those guys that you show him something once and you'll never have an opportunity to make a pass there ever again because he will go faster there. He learns so fast. If he's behind you, he'll take your line and if it's better he'll use it right away at the heat of the moment, in battle.' And Nick had never really been around a guy with that much savvy. The thing that [Nicky] didn't really realize at the time is that that's [how] he is. He's no different."
Now that Nicky's headed for the Grand Prix series, there are people second-guessing whether the timing is right or not. Though he feels Nicky might be heading over to Europe a year early, Mathers, his former team boss who's worked with many of the greatest talents in the sport, has this to say: "I think Nicky has the potential to be as good as Spencer, Lawson, Rainey, Shobert and others at that level. If he continues as he has been for a couple more years, he'll have the experience and confidence to be as great as any before him."
Ultimately of course, Nicky will determine his own future, and of that he thinks the choice is quite clear. "A big thing that Merlyn (Plumlee, his crew chief) said is really keep the learning going strong. If I stay here a couple more years, am I really going to just keep going like I am now? After riding Laguna [World Superbike] I realized what I learned racing with all those boys and realized that I need to keep going. I know it's a big challenge and I've got a lot to learn and a lot to see. I know it will be a really different lifestyle and a big adjustment but the sooner I get used to it, the sooner I learn to like it. I feel like you get the opportunity to go race GPs, there's no way I could say no. I gotta go for it. It might not ever happen again."
You can bet Nicky Hayden is going to make the most of his opportunity.
With three factory riders...
With three factory riders in the family and over 50 years of competition between them, the Hayden family definitely doesn't have a shortage of trophies and race memor-abilia. This is but a small sample of their collection in a corner of the Hayden compound's workshop.