Class of 2018
Known as “The Kentucky Kid,” Nicky Hayden, of Owensboro, Ky., was a force on the American motorcycle racing scene before taking his talent to the world stage, ultimately achieving motorcycle racing’s grandest championship, the FIM MotoGP title in 2006.
Born in 1981, Hayden raced flat track and road raced Yamaha YSR 50s and then Honda RS125s as a youngster. Hayden’s story was a classic tale of an American grassroots racer accelerating through the ranks.
In 1997, he capped his amateur career with the first-ever AMA Horizon Award, presented for his triumphs in flat track. The award signified that Hayden had proven himself to be the amateur racer with the brightest potential for continued success in the pro ranks.
With the Horizon Award in hand, the “Kentucky Kid” turned pro. He was 16.
As a pro, Hayden competed in both the AMA Grand National Championship and AMA professional road racing. He signed with American Honda in 1999 to race the AMA 600 Supersport class for the Honda satellite squad, Erion Racing. He won the 600cc title that same year and was second in the AMA Formula Xtreme series. Showing his versatility, Hayden also won his first GNC race, the Hagerstown Half-Mile, and was named AMA Flat Track Rookie of the Year.
Honda moved Hayden to the factory AMA Superbike team in 2000, and he finished second in the standings. In 2001, he finished third overall. Hayden won the prestigious Daytona 200 at the start of 2002 on his way to capturing the AMA Superbike Championship title that same year. At 21 years old, Hayden was the youngest champion in the history of AMA Superbike racing.
Over those years, Hayden also continued to compete in select GNC races, collecting five more victories against the most-talented flat-track racers in the world.
Hayden then moved to the Repsol Honda MotoGP effort for 2003, earning his first MotoGP win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., in 2005. He won again in 2006 while on his way to capturing the MotoGP World Championship title.
Hayden moved to the factory Ducati team in 2009, returning to Honda in 2014. He began racing in the FIM World Superbike series for Honda in 2016.
Tragically, Hayden was hit by a car while training on a bicycle in Italy in May 2017. He succumbed to his injuries five days later, on May 22.