Take a moment and think of the one thing in your life that you are most passionate about, the one thing you would do if responsibility and monetary obligations ceased to exist. Now take your passion and multiply it by ten…that’s how Nicky Hayden feels about racing.
Nicky began racing at the tender age of four and since that time has thrown a leg over a motorcycle just about everyday of his life. But don’t think for minute that because he gets paid to fly around tracks he views racing as a job. In fact, he freely admits that he is one of the most blessed people on this planet, and even enjoys the little things that seem to irk most high profile racers. What about interviews and autographs, those can get a little tiring, right? Not even close. The commercials, the fans, and anything associated with racing is just butter on the biscuit.
In all honesty, I wish you could have HEARD the interview which follows. In the past, I have interviewed excitable racers that enjoy talking about two wheels and love what they do. However, I have yet to speak with someone who is as passionate, honest, and open about the world of racing as Nicky was. Nicky has a legion of fans and it’s growing…for good reason. This IS the kid next door, except for the fact that he has more talent in his big toe than the whole of America.
Sit back and see what Nicky had to say about his future with racing, his status as a road racing rock star, and battles with brothers, Tommy and Roger Lee.
Coming off of last year there were a lot of expectations for this season. Obviously, things haven’t really gone the way you would’ve hoped, can you give me a little insight into what’s been going on.
The season hasn’t gone the way I wanted to at all, and I’m not going to make any excuses. Many of the mistakes that I made are on my shoulders. I fell off twice and that just killed us, like at Laguna and Road Atlanta. Those were my fault and there’s nobody to point the finger at but myself.
There were a few things early on and it seemed like nothing would click. There were a few setup problems with the bike, like at Daytona where we lost a couple laps. Obviously there’s a few things we would have liked to have happen differently, but lately things have been going a lot better and I’m really happy with the way the last two races have gone, and it seems like we’re on a roll now.
Yea, talk about that last second drag between you and Kurtis (Roberts) at Brainerd. You guys had been dicing it up all race long and then you just nipped him at the line, take us through that last corner.
Brainerd was a great race, it was so fun. I still get goose bumps thinkin’ about how much fun that race was! There were four or five guys right there in the draft, Brainerd tends to produce really good racing and it always seems to come down to the draft. It’s darn near impossible to get away from anybody and with a few laps to go I decided to try and draft past on the last lap. Kurtis got me going into turn 2 and from that point I thought it was going to be really tough to make the pass. But I felt really comfortable in the infield, and my position in the standings meant that I really didn’t have anything to lose…I was going for the win. I got back by him once in the infield and coming into the last corner I got in pretty deep, maybe not as deep as I should have and maybe I should’ve blocked the line a little more, but Kurtis went in really hot and when I saw him come by me I thought it would be tough for him to get a good drive. So I just relaxed and tried to stand it up and roll on the gas and not get too excited. I was really pumped to get the win.
You know, Kurtis and I REALLY like to beat each other and it was real sweet to get the win, a day before my birthday, 3 Hondas on the podium, I was pretty stoked for sure.
We’ve seen your new Joe Rocket commercial where you talk about growing up on bikes and the fire that burns inside of you. I mean, every time I see you crash you sprint to the bike, yank it up and hop on it before a corner worker has even gone five feet. Most guys will walk away from the bike and act disgusted the whole way back to the pits. Talk about stoking the fire and keeping it on the burn.
Man, I feel so fortunate to be doing what I love to do. I’ve raced motorcycles my whole life, it’s my passion, and to get paid to do it and travel around the world chasing my dream is really cool. Last week I was shooting a commercial and it was unbelievable and in the span of two weeks I was running at Virginia International Raceway, racing dirt track, flew to L.A. for a commercial and on my flight home I was thinking “I just did more in two weeks than most kids get to do in 2 years.”
A lot of my buddies, they don’t even get out of Owensboro, they just go to school or work all day. I just try and make the most out of it, because I know I’ve got talent and a great opportunity and I don’t want to take it for granted.
What was it like for you growing up? Were you able to live a pretty normal childhood? You had the normal group of friends like any kid growing up?
Oh, for sure. I’ve got my crew back home in Owensboro and they’re pretty much kin. I did all the stuff, I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. Comin’ up, I played some basketball, football, and I did that stuff. I got a little bit of play time, but to be honest with you, I wasn’t really ever that good at any of those sports!
Anybody who knows me knows that I like to have fun and all my buddies come to the races at Ohio and Atlanta. I know it’s easy to get caught up in racing, but when I’m at home, I like to spend time with my family and friends and just hang out and do fun stuff that other 20-year old kids do.
You’re quickly becoming the Golden Child of American racing. Your popularity continues to grow with every race. Are you comfortable with the fame and that notoriety?
I don’t know, I don’t really think about it a whole lot.
Well, for example at Sears Point we saw a couple of girls just screaming for you like you were the Backstreet Boys. Is that something you laugh at, or do you just shake your head at it all?
I laugh at it. I don’t like to ego trip on it, but I like racing and it’s good to give something back to the sport. It’s been really good to me and my family, so it’s nice when younger people seem to relate to me more so than the older guys.
When I came on at the age of sixteen, there were a lot of older people walking around the pits and not very many younger kids. Now when you go to a race you’ll see all different ages and a lot more young kids hangin’ around. There’s guys out there hangin’ with their girls and even girls out there on bikes. I think I’ve maybe had something to do with that. I think the younger kids cheer for me a little bit more and are in my corner more so than the older guys. So I think it’s good for the sport.
Talk a little bit about the team, what’s it like racing with a legend like Miguel DuHamel?
He and his dad are both legends and sometimes people will come up when Miguel is standing right there, they’ll ask where his dad is at, it’s kind of funny. For the most part though, we just kind of do our own thing. It’s helped me from the standpoint that everybody wants to beat their teammate and since he’s a legend, he’s tough to beat, but that just makes me that much better.
Our styles are totally different though, night and day. But sometimes he’ll try something, or I’ll try something and we’ll tell one another if it worked. That’s really pretty valuable since there isn’t a lot of time for set up, those little bits of information are pretty helpful.
But we hang out in the truck and have fun. I got him listening to rap music a little bit and we goof off, so it’s pretty fun.
How are things with Honda? Can you give us any inside on what’s going on next year, are you bolting overseas or what?
Well, I got another year on my contract here in the states. But it’s no secret that it’s my dream to go to Europe and take a shot at a World Championship. It’s a big step, but there’s no way I could say no.
As far as being with Honda, it’s a dream really. You ask anybody and they’ll tell you it’s the team to be with whether it’s the GP’s or whatever. So hopefully they’ll keep me around for a long time.
How’s it going with the brothers? You guys still getting along pretty well, no on track squabbles that we should know about?
Me and my bros get along real well. Both of my brothers get along too, we all hang out together and things like that. Back in ’99 when we (Tommy) were battling we wouldn’t do anything to help each other, but we got along fine off the track. Now we try and do more to help each other on the track, just by talkin’ about different stuff.
But sometimes I still let things get the better of me. Like at Laguna I accused him (Tommy) of not letting me get a tow. I thought he was purposely not letting me get a tow so I couldn’t go quick, but I was just being a Cry Baby and I realize that. He’s my bro and he’d let me do anything.
Even my little brother has picked up the pace and improved a lot. I’ve been really impressed by him and people are actually surprised by the fact that we shared a room all the way up until I had a Superbike Factory ride. I had already got second place in the Daytona 200 and was still sharing a room with my little brother! I have a good relationship with them, and even with my sisters, they come to the races. So, I got a lot of things going for me and I’m just trying to enjoy it.