Nicky Hayden, who rose to prominence on the American dirt-track motorcycle racing scene and claimed the MotoGP world championship in 2006, has died from head and chest injuries suffered five days ago when he was struck by a vehicle while cycling in Italy. He was 35.
Hayden’s fiancée Jackie, mother Rose and brother Tommy were with him at the Maurizio Bufalini Hospital in Cesena. In a statement, Tommy Hayden offered thanks on behalf of his family.
“It has been a great comfort to us all knowing that Nicky has touched so many people’s lives in such a positive way.
“Although this is obviously a sad time, we would like everyone to remember Nicky at his happiest – riding a motorcycle. He dreamed as a kid of being a pro rider and not only achieved that but also managed to reach the pinnacle of his chosen sport in becoming World Champion. We are all so proud of that.
“Apart from these ‘public’ memories, we will also have many great and happy memories of Nicky at home in Kentucky, in the heart of the family. We will all miss him terribly.
“It is also important for us to thank all the hospital staff for their incredible support – they have been very kind. With the further support of the authorities in the coming days we hope to have Nicky home soon.”
The Red Bull Honda World Superbike team mourned “a true champion” in its statement.
“Throughout his career Nicky’s professionalism and fighting spirit was greatly valued and carried him to numerous successes, including his childhood dream of being crowned MotoGP World Champion with Honda in 2006. As well as being a true champion on the track, Nicky was a fan favourite off it due to his kind nature, relaxed demeanour, and the huge smile he invariably carried everywhere.
“Nothing says more about Nicky’s character than the overwhelming response expressed by fellow racers and his legions of fans over the past few days. Jackie and his family are truly grateful for the countless prayers and well wishes for Nicky.
“The ‘Kentucky Kid’ will be sorely missed by all that ever had the pleasure of meeting him or the privilege to see him race a motorcycle around a track, be it dirt or asphalt.
“The racing world says goodbye to one of its dearest sons. Rest in peace Nicholas ‘Nicky’ Patrick Hayden.”
According to reports in the Italian media, the 35-year-old American was biking solo in Rimini, Italy last Wednesday – having competed in a World Superbike Race in Italy the previous Sunday – when he was hit by a car. He was transported to a local hospital before being moved to Bufalini Hospital, where he remained in extremely critical condition through the weekend. Italian police have opened an inquiry into the accident, and the conclusions are expected in July, according to The Guardian.
The Guardian reports the driver of the vehicle was given a breathalyzer test and was not over the limit.
Both of Hayden’s parents, Earl and Rose, raced dirt track, and Nicky, along with siblings Tommy, Jenny, Roger and Kathleen, followed suit. Nicky was riding by age 3 and racing two years after that, and the kids would turn endless laps around a short track on the family’s property.
When he turned 16 in 1997, Nicky joined his brother Tommy in AMA racing, and in 1999 he earned 1999 AMA 600 Supersport crown and landed on the factory Honda outfit for 2000. He continued racing dirt tracks when he could on the professional AMA Grand National Championship dirt track tour.
In 2002, Nicky won the Daytona 200 and became the youngest AMA Superbike champion ever, earning a promotion to the MotoGP world championship with the Repsol Honda factory team. He had two podium finishes in his rookie season, and earned his first win in 2005 at Laguna Seca.
In 2006 he won the MotoGP championship after a season-long battle with Valentino Rossi. Hayden joined Ducati’s factory team in 2009 and raced for five years before signing with the Aspar Racing Team (which ran two Honda bikes) for 2014. He amassed five poles and three wins before switching to Superbike full-time with Red Bull Honda, although he made two starts in MotoGP last year to fill in for injured Honda rider Jack Miller.
There was an outpouring of sympathy during the week for the Owensboro, Kentucky native nicknamed “The Kentucky Kid,” including a touching post by Valentino Rossi, whom Hayden prevented from winning his sixth straight MotoGP title when he took the honors in 2006:
“Nicky is one of the best friends I have had in the paddock. We were teammates in his rookie year in 2003, when he was a young guy making his debut in his first European experience. That season ended with the World Championship for me and with his first visit to the podium, at Phillip Island. After a few years we fought for the title down to the last race in Valencia and, unfortunately for me, he won and became MotoGP World Champion. After the race we shook hands and hugged.
“Later we were again teammates during the difficult years at Ducati, when sometimes we would fight right down to the wire, maybe to get the last place in the top five. Nicky often came to the Ranch, where it was always spectacular to watch him and try to steal some of his secrets when we were battling, because he’s one of the fastest flattrackers in the world and before moving onto asphalt he won some of the biggest American flat track races like the Peoria TT.
“But the best memory I have of him is when he came to shake my hand after the unfortunate race in Valencia in 2015, on the lap of honour. For him it was a goodbye to MotoGP, and I had just lost the World Championship. His look of support from inside his helmet is one of the few positive memories I have from that day.
“Forza Nicky, we’re all with you.”
Nicky è uno dei migliori amici che ho avuto nel paddock.siamo stati compagni di squadra con la Honda nel suo anno da rookie,il 2003,quando era un giovane debuttante alla prima esperienza europea.quella stagione si chiuse con il mondiale per me e con il suo primo podio a Phillip Island.dopo qualche anno abbiamo lottato uno contro l'altro per il mondiale 2006 fino all'ultima gara e alla fine,purtroppo per me,mi ha battuto ed è diventato il campione del mondo della MotoGP.dopo la gara ci siamo dati la mano e ci siamo abbracciati.in seguito siamo stati ancora compagni di squadra nei difficili anni della Ducati,quando parecchie volte abbiamo lottato all'ultimo sangue,magari per conquistare l'ultimo posto nella top five.Nicky veniva spesso al Ranch,dove era sempre uno spettacolo vederlo e cercare di carpire qualche segreto battagliandoci insieme,perché lui è uno dei più veloci flattisti del mondo e prima di passare all'asfalto ha vinto le più importanti gare di Flat Track americano come il Peoria TT. Il più bel ricordo che ho di lui però è quando è venuto a darmi la mano dopo la sfortunata gara di Valencia 2015,durante il giro d'onore.per lui era l'addio alla MotoGP,io avevo appena perso il mondiale.il suo sguardo di supporto dentro il casco è uno dei pochi ricordi positivi che ho di quel giorno.Forza Nicky,siamo tutti con te.
Prior to the start of the 2016 World Superbike season, Hayden sat down with CNET’s “Roadshow” to talk about his career in racing and the motorcycles he considered himself lucky enough to ride.