Roger Lee Hayden began his rookie season as a World Superbike racer with a punishing travel schedule. It began in January with a test in Australia, followed by another test in Portugal. Then it was back to Australia for the season-opener and back to Portugal, followed by Spain, Holland, Italy, and South Africa. Somewhere in between he spent some time at home in Owensboro before he moved to Italy, where he lived with Ben Spies at the Texan's Lake Como house. The week before Monza he flew to Jerez to hang out with his brother Nicky at the Spanish GP and a week later Nicky was hanging with him at Monza. He'd been to the Swiss Alps, where he tried to keep up with the hyper-fit Spies on a mountainous ride. He'd collected tens of thousands of frequent flyer points, a passport full of stamps, and incredible memories. And a grand total of two world championship points in seven races.
Yet when we caught up to Roger Lee in his rather modest trailer in the Miller Motorsports Park paddock, he was anything but down. He went into World Superbike eyes wide open. When he joined the family-run Team Pedercini Kawasaki team, after an unpleasant and unfruitful dalliance with a Belgian Moto2 team, he knew what to expect. The Italian team is run by former racer Lucio Pedercini. His father builds the engines, his mother does the cooking. They run on a shoestring budget and don't have the equipment or technology available to the other teams.
"He is in a tough situation," Spies said. "I know how difficult it was, and I was on a competitive bike. It's really hard for him to really show what he can do. The team's a great team. I know the team owner, he's a super nice guy, but it's under-budgeted and he's obviously not on the most competitive bike this year. It's a really tough year for him right now."
Still, Hayden usually finishes within a spot or two of the factory Kawasakis of Chris Vermeulen and Tom Sykes. And he feels he's in the right place.
"You're not going to get recognized racing in America, so I went to the Jerez GP to meet a bunch of people," Hayden said. "(I'm going) to the Barcelona GP because I'm in Europe, try to meet other people." And Hayden has to look to the future, because the recent past wasn't very pretty.
Although it's been difficult...
Although it's been difficult getting used to fighting for mid-pack placings, Hayden (95) is keeping his head up and riding hard, learning the tracks, the travel, and the culture of living in Europe.
Roger Lee Hayden moved to World Superbike after two unpleasant years in the U.S. The youngest of the Hayden brothers, Roger Lee came into the 2010 season healthy and ready to race. That wasn't the case in the two previous years.
Hayden was torpedoed in qualifying at the second race of '08 by an overzealous Superstock rider using the session for additional practice (no longer possible now with the dissolution of the AMA Superstock class). The damage was three fractures to his pelvis, a lower left lumbar broken in three places, and a left pinkie finger that was amputated at the first knuckle. He missed five races, and then suffered more injuries at Road Atlanta. He scored points in only four races.
And yet in some ways it was better than '09. When Daytona rolled around, Hayden curiously was nowhere to be seen. The Monster Kawasaki team released a statement stating he was on a "personal leave of absence." That set in motion the rumor mill, which spewed out any number of nefarious theories, none of which was ever confirmed. Whatever the reason, the resolution didn't come until early in April, forcing Hayden to miss the first two races. Tires were a critical issue in the '09 Daytona SportBike series, with most of the four-cylinder contingent complaining of grip issues. Before the season ended, Hayden knew Kawasaki wouldn't be back.