December 6, 2006 4:52am CST
Nicholas "Nicky" Patrick Hayden (born July 30, 1981 in Owensboro, Kentucky), also known as The Kentucky Kid, is an American professional motorcycle racer and 2006 MotoGP World Champion. As a youth racing others twice his age in CMRA, Hayden would start the race from the back of the starting grid while a family or crew member held his bike upright because he could not touch the ground. Later at age 17, he was racing factory Honda RC45 superbikes while still in high school. In 2001, his first full season as a AMA superbike rider, he came within six points of winning the championship. The 2002 season, however, would see Hayden answering the bell: he won the Daytona 200 on a Honda Superbike en route to becoming the youngest ever AMA Superbike Champion, defeating Mat Mladin, among others. Immediately after winning his AMA Superbike championship, Hayden was tapped to join not only Honda's MotoGP racing efforts, but what was arguably the premier team in MotoGP racing- Repsol Honda. Hayden also became teammate to the defending series champion Valentino Rossi, who many believe to be the greatest motorcycle racer ever. Hayden was seemingly unfazed, and in his first year of MotoGP racing (2003), Hayden finished fifth in the championship points standings while riding Honda's RC211V, an achievement that won him the Rookie-of-the-Year award. In 2005, Hayden finished third in the MotoGP championship points standings behind Marco Melandri and series winner Valentino Rossi. For 2006, Hayden was charged with spearheading Repsol Honda's championship aspirations, and was the only rider to be handed the full 2006 Honda bike during preseason testing. He lead the championship from the third race and looked set to break Valentino Rossi's championship-winning streak, which had dated back to 2001. Capturing the championship was not without peril: in the second to last round at Estoril in Portugal, teammate Dani Pedrosa missed his braking point while following Hayden. The resulting lowside accident took out both bikes, with Rossi claiming second place in that race, finishing 0.002 seconds behind Toni Elias. This left Hayden eight points behind Rossi in the championship with one race left to go. In the last race of the season on October 29, 2006, the unexpected happened when Rossi fell off his motorcycle on lap 5 trying to make up for a poor start. Hayden, who was challenging for the race lead at the time, was informed of Rossi's mistake and backed off his lap times by nearly a second, winning the championship by finishing a safe 3rd behind race winner Troy Bayliss and Loris Capirossi. He thus won the 2006 championship, beating Rossi 252 points to 247. On September 22, 2006, Hayden signed a two-year agreement that would allow him to race for and develop with the factory Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) team for the 2007 and 2008 MotoGP seasons. He has already begun testing the new 800 cc Honda RC212V. His MotoGP racing number changes from 69 to 1 for the 2007 season.