This early photo shows older...
This early photo shows older brother Tommy and sister Jenny (racing wasn't just for boys with the Haydens) alongside Nicky in their early dirttrack days.
The brothers (and sister Jenny, too) were all racing dirttrack, and winning by the age most kids enter kindergarten, dreaming of someday becoming AMA Grand National dirttrack champions. Then someone they looked up to ironically change their direction. "Scotty Parker (Ed. note: multi-time Grand National champ) one time at Lima, Ohio," Earl says, thinking back, "he said, `Earl, go home, sell all your dirtbikes tonight and go roadracing. I'm the only factory Harley guy out there.' When Scott said that, well, we come home and bought YSR50s the next week."
With the foundation laid, it was still up to the brothers to deliver, and they did. After years of YSR50, RS125 and TZ250 racing at the regional and sometimes national level, they finally broke into the big time. Rob Muzzy, a man known for spotting talent, shocked the roadracing community in '97 when he hired Tommy as teammate to multi-time AMA Superbike Champ Doug Chandler. Later that year, Nicky turned 16 and raced a few AMA events on a Muzzy-prepped (but privately run) ZX-6R. Like brother Tommy, Nicky showed immediate talent and determination, but ended up in the dirt a few too many times. Nonetheless, the HyperCycle Suzuki team signed Nicky for 1998, and he quickly caught everyone's eye at the fourth round of the AMA championship at Willow Springs, where he won both the 600 Supersport and 750 Supersport classes. From that point on, everyone knew who the young kid from Owensboro was.
When multi-AMA Grand National...
When multi-AMA Grand National Champion Scotty Parker told Earl Hayden to "go home, sell all your dirtbikes tonight and go roadracing," because factory dirttrack rides were getting scarce, Earl put his kids on Yamaha YSR50s the next week.
Nicky was signed by Erion Racing for the '99 season, and was immediately groomed for a future Honda Superbike ride by being given a handful of rides on a factory RC45, just like Ben and Eric Bostrom before him. Nicky won the AMA 600 Supersport Championship that season--just beating out brother Tommy--and won every Formula Xtreme race he finished (but lost the title to teammate Kurtis Roberts due to a mechanical problem in the first round). It was a nearly flawless season, and launched Nicky into immediate Superbike stardom.
Despite his dedication to racing, Nicky graduated from high school that year. He finally got to move out of the bedroom he shared with Roger Lee, and moved into his own room above the Hayden's newly built six-stall garage, where he still lives today. Tommy has a house a few miles up the road, and sister Jenny lives in an apartment a couple of miles in the other direction; both spend a good part of their day with the family. "He comes in through that door for breakfast," Rose says of her oldest son, "and leaves out that door after dinner."
While some rising stars might feel self-conscious living at home, Nicky seems comfortable and looks at it practically. "Some days I think I'm going to move out tomorrow," he admits, "but really I've got it pretty easy here. It's real easy to stay focused. When I leave town, I just go. I've got my own little place here where I can come and go as I want, pretty much. My mom, she does check up on me some. I don't have to find someone to come and get my mail, or water my grass or anything like that. I don't have to find somebody to cook for me or do my laundry. I'm kind of a `momma's boy' anyway. I think in a lot of ways it's good for my career because it's easy and it gives me more time to work on my bike and practice and stuff."
Nicky raced a Honda RS125...
Nicky raced a Honda RS125 for Southwest Motorsports in WERA competition early in his career, showing surprising speed and catching the eyes of those paying attention; one was Arai helmets, who contracted the Hayden brothers from then on.
In Nicky's rookie Superbike season, he finished ahead of veteran teammate Miguel DuHamel (the winningest AMA Superbike rider ever), won four races, and came up just eight points short of Mat Mladin for the championship. Honda knew they had their man. Former Honda team manager Gary Mathers, the man who recruited Hayden,explains: "Aside from having what it takes to put his head down and run as hard as he has to on a given day, Nicky has all the qualities the marketing/sales people are looking for: a friendly smile, willingness to do the PR responsibilities, [plus] a good understanding of that side of the business and why it's so important. Companies like Honda must have this kind of a return for the huge amounts of money it takes to go racing. In addition to having what it takes to ride the bike, [Nicky has] family values, an appreciation for equipment and the effort it takes to prepare it. He is a really decent young man with a great competitive spirit, wants to do the right thing both on and off the racetrack, has the all-American look, and he's not afraid to pick up the phone and say thank you! He's all a team can ask for."