Legendary journalist and television commentator Dennis Noyes told me to expect something different when Nicky Hayden and his dad Earl arrived from Owensboro, Kentucky into MotoGP™ in 2003 – Dennis is rarely wrong. The very nature of the sport makes the MotoGP™ paddock a tough uncompromising work place. Lives, reputations and careers are at stake in a frenzied atmosphere of competition and egos. It’s not a place you would associate with family values and manners but, in addition to that 2006 World Championship, that’s exactly what Nicky brought to our world.
Nicky embarked on the worldwide adventure with his Dad that led to that ultimate MotoGP™ world title with enormous talent that had already brought him so much success at home. They arrived on new continents and in new countries to compete against the very best, battle-hardened campaigners and came out on top. Wherever they went they made friends with their humour and humility in their totally new surroundings.
Who will ever forget that first Grand Prix win fittingly at home in Laguna Seca in 2005 when Nicky picked up Earl for that pillion ride on the celebration lap? Who will ever forget that sunny afternoon on the Mediterranean coast of Spain when Nicky clinched the 2006 world title fighting off the challenge of Valentino Rossi in Valencia? It was one of those I was there afternoons and rarely in the 70-year history has there been a more popular win among the occupants of the paddock.
I only saw Nicky lose his temper on two occasions. The much filmed and discussed collision with his team-mate Dani Pedrosa in Estoril that so nearly cost him that 2006 World title brought a rare burst of emotion and expletives. The second occasion was more frustration than temper. Valentino Rossi had a habit of talking to the person sat next to him in the press conferences while another rider was answering questions from the audience. Nicky stopped his answers on one occasion to tick off Valentino that it was bad manners and the nine times World Champion took notice.
There have been so many great World Champions who have made that trip across the Atlantic to upset the European domination on two wheels. The likes of Roberts, Spencer, Lawson and Rainey may have won more titles but few have left such a lasting impression as Nicky Hayden.
In Austin on Thursday, Nicky’s number will be retired from MotoGP. I’m sure I speak for many when I say it may have gone but we will never forget number 69 represented that humility and honesty still had a place in this crazy world.