Nicky Hayden: A Lifetime of Dedication to Motorcycle Racing
10,000 hours. In 1993 Malcolm Gladwell published the book Outliers which popularized the theory that anyone can master any skill after 10,000 hours of consistent, dedicated practice. Pro motorcycle racer Nicky Hayden is a remarkable example of what a person can accomplish with unwavering dedication to his craft.
Born and raised Owensboro, Kentucky, a city known for manufacturing and bluegrass, he was introduced to bikes practically at birth.
“…I don’t remember life before bikes. From the time I literally crawled, I was around a motorcycle,” Hayden told MotoGP.com in 2016. “My dad raced, even my mom raced because my dad — the story goes — he needed a fast girl because he wanted to make fast babies. He’d come from Kentucky where horse racing is so popular, and the bloodline was so important.”
The Kentucky tradition of racing bloodlines was most definitely maintained. Both Hayden’s brothers, Tommy and Roger Lee, are professional motorcycle racers. In a historic moment, all three shared the podium in 2002 at the Springfield TT.
From His Sweet 16 to MotoGP World Champion: Nicky Hayden’s Rise
Hayden turned to professional motorcycle racing when he turned 16, the minute he was legally old enough to compete. His number was 69, the same as his father, Earl Hayden. Earl reportedly joked that he chose the number because it could still be read when he was upside down in the dirt.
In 2003 his skill, dedication, and effort were recognized and he was selected to join Honda’s premier MotoGP racing team, Honda Repsol. He finished 5th in the MotoGP championship that year, a stellar performance that earned him the Rookie-of-the-Year Award and put his name on the map as one to watch.
By 2006, the “rookie” was selected to lead Repsol Honda’s championship aspirations, and was the only rider given the full 2006 Honda bike during pre-season testing. Despite a crash with teammate Dani Pedrosa, leaving him 8 points behind reigning 5-year champion Valentino Rossi, he secured gold and the 1st place title. This win made Hayden the David to Rossi’s Goliath.
“Once you’ve tasted blood and had that success,” Hayden said of the win, “there’s no going back to just being a contender and being happy with it.”
Hayden left the Repsol Honda to join the Ducati Marlboro Team, ending his 10 year relationship with Honda. After five years with Ducati, Hayden came home to Honda with the Aspar Team. He raced his final Superbike Championship in 2016, placing 1st and taking Honda’s first win of the season. He placed 5th overall.
In May 2017 his career ended abruptly and tragically in a cycling accident in Italy.
Nicky Hayden Remembered for His Passion, His Dedication
“I just love racing motorcycles. It doesn’t matter if it’s a MotoGP in front of 100,000 people or racing my brothers in my backyard. I truly love the sport, and I think that keeps me hungry.”
Hayden will be remembered as the last American to ever win the MotoGP championship. Throughout his career he was respected for his dedication to the sport and for truly enjoying and savoring every moment, from racing to interacting with his fans.
“Racing motorcycles is just a way of life for me,” Hayden said in 2016. “It’s what I know, it’s what I’ve always done, my family does it, my friends do it, and it really is more than just a job. It’s a passion. Bikes are a way of life for me.”