Tommy Hayden waited until the final race of the season to crash for the first and only time during '09. The spill came late in the second doubleheader race at New Jersey Motorsports Park on Sunday, when Hayden was chasing both Josh Hayes and the biggest payday of his career. His bonus for finishing second in the championship would dwarf anything he'd made to that point. But more important than the money was winning his first superbike race.
Hayden had led early and later dispatched his teammate-seven-time AMA Superbike champion Mat Mladin-before making his move on Hayes late in the race. He'd just passed the Yamaha rider on the 21st lap when he lost the front after tipping into a top-of-third-gear right hander. "I just got up the inside, rather than just getting beside him, I kinda went in a little too deep," said Hayden at the end of the day. "Then I had to go inside a little early, so I had a better lean angle to brake harder. The track falls away a little there; just lost the front on the off-camber. It's disappointing, but I left it all out there."
The worst part of the crash was that there was no quick shot at redemption. The season was over. He wouldn't be able to exorcise the demons until Daytona-six months away. "That last one, having to sit on it all winter, that was pretty painful," Hayden admits.
Snapped up by Rob Muzzy from...
Snapped up by Rob Muzzy from the AMA dirt-track series to join the Kawasaki team in '97, Hayden struggled to get comfortable with his new ride, finishing his debut season in 12th spot, and 11th in '98.
"About midway through last year, I really felt like I should've won some races," recalled the eldest Hayden brother, looking back at his '09 campaign. "I mean, Mat (Mladin) passed me on the last lap at Fontana last year and I felt like I was definitely faster than him that weekend. My bike was set up better. I should've won that one." But he didn't. Nor had he won in any of the 120 superbike races dating back to his rookie season of '97, when Rob Muzzy saw a talented dirt tracker who he thought would make a future roadracer. In the ensuing 13 years, during which he was in and out of the Superbike class-this is his ninth year in the premier class-Hayden won a lot of races and a pair of Supersport championships. But he never found the key to getting to the top of the Superbike podium.
With Mladin and Spies gone,...
With Mladin and Spies gone, Hayden realizes that it's his time to be the Yoshimura team leader, a role that he's ready and willing to accept.
The 2010 season sees a number of changes, the most important being that Mladin is no longer racing. The all-conquering Rockstar Makita Yoshimura Suzuki team now has a new leader. "I don't think it really changes anything, but I'm aware of that kind of responsibility or whatever you want to call it," Hayden says of stepping into the role. "That's something that I'm ready to accept and want to accept and feel like it's my job."
Hayden gets along with teammate Blake Young, the Wisconsinite protégé of Kevin Schwantz, but they couldn't be more different. The veteran Hayden is more methodical in his approach, mapping out every part of the weekend, honing his riding technique, studying the computer graphs deep into the night. "I think [he] just kinda flies by the seat of the pants a little bit," says Hayden of his 22-year-old teammate. "Just tries to always kinda make it happen, so to speak. Sometimes that works for people just fine, it's just a little bit of a different approach."
Although probably the most...
Although probably the most reserved of the Hayden brothers, Tommy still couldn't help acknowledging that he'd finally gotten the monkey off his back on the cool-down lap at Fontana.
Hayden also has a vastly different personal life. He and his wife, Christie, have two young daughters, Olivia and Klaudia, the younger of which was born just a month after the end of the season. Married life hasn't affected his racing at all. He trains in the morning, while Christie looks after the children and on the weekends "I'm at the track and riding and during the weekends, I don't even think about it. Unless someone reminded me or something, it wouldn't even cross my mind."