The racing world has lost one of its greats. Nicky Hayden, once dubbed the “Kentucky Kid” of Moto GP, died today after a bicycle crash in Italy. He was an avid cyclist and succumbed to his head and chest injuries after being hit by a car while cycling in Italy last week.
Having grown up in a racing family, Hayden began riding as a toddler and was a talented racer in the dirt as well as on the pavement. Like so many of the great American Moto GP racers, his roots were in flat track. In 1999 he won his first Grand National Championship race and went on to be Rookie of the Year. He was the youngest rider to become an AMA Superbike Champion in 2002, which immediately propelled him into the Moto GP circuit in the premier league.
Hayden joined the Repsol Honda Team in 2003 (also taking the Rookie of the Year Award for Moto GP), and in 2006 he won the Moto GP Championship. He was the last American to do so. Hayden stayed in Moto GP until 2016. Last year he returned to The World Superbike series (he had raced once before in 2002) with the Red Bull Honda Team.
Racing aside, Hayden was known for his smile and his unmistakable voice — a buttery Southern drawl with a plucky cadence, as heard in this video with his father. He was the middle brother in a Kentucky racing dynasty that included national supersport champions Tommy and Roger Lee and, like his father, Hayden wore No. 69. “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,” his brother Tommy Hayden told Fox Sports. “We are all so proud of that.”