Four years ago today, American racing lost one of its icons. 2006 MotoGP World Championship winner Nicky Hayden, who raced the very nice No. 69, died. He had been struck by a vehicle while he was riding his bike in Italy. But despite the tragic loss, his legacy still lives on.
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Known as the Kentucky Kid, Hayden started racing as a teenager. He adopted his legendary number, 69, because his family joked that it could be read properly whether he was upside down or upright on the track. He became the youngest AMA Superbikes Champion when he took victory at age 19.
And that was only the start of his success. After that victory, he was pegged for top-tier of motorcycle racing with a top-tier team: the factory Repsol Honda MotoGP team alongside the legendary Valentino Rossi. Unfortunately, that made for a rocky rookie year (I mean, no one would want to be compared to Rossi), but that didn’t stop Hayden from finishing fifth in his first year and winning Rookie of the Year accolades.
Three years later, Hayden took his first Championship. In his MotoGP career, he only took three victories but 28 podiums. During his Championship year, Hayden scored a mere two wins, but his consistently excellent performance earned him enough points to win overall.
Aside from that, Hayden had a prolific career both on asphalt and on pavement, in international series and in smaller national ones. He was an icon for American racers no matter their discipline, since it can be rare for a US-born driver to make it to the big leagues in international racing. And many remember him as an incredibly kind, funny soul.
Nicky Hayden’s legacy continues to live on. His name currently graces a low-cost apartment complex designed to help unhoused people begin to make the transition to a more permanent living situation in Owensboro, Kentucky, where Hayden grew up.
He is still deeply missed.