Nicky Haden was a great rider who began his career very early on. He started out racing against riders that were considerable old than himself but was easily able to compete with them at their level. This was despite usually having to start at the back to grid as family member had to hold up his bike because his feet were too small to touch the ground. This was for health and safety reason obliviously, but it still didn’t stop the young Hayden from getting up through the grid and mixing it with the older riders. For the track he was a committed Roman Catholic who liked to stay close to family. He was known for his apparel and a nice line in Summer biker jackets. At 17 and still attending high school he moved on to the AMA Supersport Championship on a Honda and it soon became clear that here was something a bit special.
He claimed the AMA at his second attempt and the season after was given the unprecedented opportunity to join MotoGP in 2003. Unlike many others he would not be destined to cut his teeth competing for a few years in the World Super Bikes championships or other slight lower tier competitions. He came into the Repsol Honda team to a biggish fanfare but when you read that he was the then teammate of one Valentino Rossi it was clear that it would be more for experience and tutelage as the great Italian was at the height of his powers at this point. It was a sharp learning curve for the young Hayden but he was still able to secure a fifth place in the championship that year. His second year was beset by some issues and questions were starting to be asked about the young rider’s ability to cut it at the highest level so soon. He silenced his critics in part by a great win at the notoriously difficult Laguna Seca roared on by a partisan crowd.
In 2006 the next year after Rossi’s departure and in light of his success Hayden was thrust into the position of lead rider for the Honda team. He took on the role with a great relish and set about carving a championship victory despite a strong challenge form Rossi. And accident in the penultimate race looked to have cost him as he trailed by 8 points going into the last round. Rossi pushed too hard after starting badly and Hayden fought on to get a third and the championship was his.
Signing a new two-year deal with Honda his future looked assured but a very poor defence of his title, one of the worst ever recorded showed that a few cracks were starting to appear. He won no races during the year and soon returned to his old sixty-nine number. His Father explained the reason they chose the number sixty-nine as it looks the same way upside down as it does right side up!