Remembering A Great Racer, A Great Person, And Some Reflections His Death Evoked
*I wrote this 3 years ago upon receiving news of Nicky’s tragic passing, and penned this tribute and reflection. The thoughts and sentiments are my own.
The motorcycling world was rocked recently with the shocking news of racer Nicky Hayden’s tragic cycling accident and subsequent death. Fans the world over mourned the passing of an American icon in motorcycle racing. Nicky had excelled in AMA flat track and road racing, winning championships in each across the late 90s and early 2000s, then left his mark internationally by taking the 2006 MotoGP World Superbike Championship. The past couple of years saw Nicky move to WSBK, World Superbike, already challenging the lead riders and teams there. In an age that currently sees few Americans competing on the international stage, not only was Nicky there representing us all, he was winning races and winning fans. As well as his achievements, Nicky was beloved the world over with his chiseled good looks, broad smile, affable Kentucky personality, and Southern drawl. His popularity arguably rivaled that of the world renowned Valentino Rossi, his friend, former teammate and rival on the track.
And in an instant, he was gone, felled in an unlikely accident, hit by a car while bicycling in Italy, of all things.
Hayden securing the 2006 MotoGP world championship, appropriately at Laguna Seca. *photo by MotoGP
I had followed Nicky’s career and been a “Kentucky Kid” fan since his first days of moving up from AMA to MotoGP in 2003. I met his “kid brother” Roger Lee recently, himself competing successfully in MotoAmerica. From all I’ve seen and read, the Haydens are a close-knit, loving, down-to-earth Southern family, morally upright and all-American. The whole Hayden clan has been steeped in motorcycle racing practically since diapers, with parents Earl “The Squirrel” and Rose instilling a love of motorcycles and racing in each of their five children (3 boys and 2 girls). America’s “First Family of Racing” made race fans proud and excited about the sport, whether in road racing, flat track, or motocross, as sons Tommy, Nicky, and Roger Lee each excelled in national and international competition.
Nicky’s achievements particularly have become truly legendary:
Multiple AMA Grand National Flat Track winner- 1999-2002
AMA Supersport National Champion- 1999
Daytona 200 Champion- 2002
AMA Superbike Champion- 2002
MotoGP World Superbike Champion- 2006
WSBK World Superbike winner, Sepang GP- 2016
Nicky wins a rain-soaked Malaysian GP, 2016. *photo by WSBK
Nicky Hayden’s passing reminds me of several truths. First, life is fragile. We humans, for all our intelligence, creativity and industriousness, are still so easily broken, so easily disabled, so easily killed. The strongest person on the planet can still be vanquished with something as simple and small as a river stone (see the beloved David & Goliath story). I’ve come to grips with my own fragility, as age and health issues have altered my life in recent years.
Which brings me to the second truth- life is fleeting. We are only here for a short time, and nothing modern science and medicine achieves will lengthen our days. The good Lord set our time here to be no longer than 120 years (see Genesis 6:3), and even that is only rarely attained. Time flies by, like a breath vapor on a winter’s day or a morning mist over the mountains in summer. Ask any senior adult, and they’ll attest to this. Here one day, gone the next.
“What we do in life, echoes in eternity.”
Lastly, to quote from the movie Gladiator, “What we do in life, echoes in eternity.” As a person of faith, the Bible teaches me that human length of days and level of achievement are all for naught apart from the things I do that honor God and better the lives of my fellow man. Nicky and the whole Hayden family have been selfless, humble philanthropists, supporting many meaningful causes stateside and across the globe. A true, lasting legacy beyond racing.
Life is fragile, life is fleeting, and life is best lived selflessly. Nicky Hayden reached the pinnacle of motorcycle racing. He was a fierce competitor, and beloved icon in the sport. But even more important, Nicky was a good man, with a big heart for people, and a generous, open hand to those he could help. To me, that’s the highest tribute.
RIP Nicky Hayden
*article first appeared in June issue of Born To Ride magazine.