From The Hip: Growing Up Hayden
by roger lee hayden
Friday, July 01, 2005

They came from the '80s: That's me on the left, Jake Zemke next, then ex-racer Ryan Anderson and Sally Jessy Raphael, er, my brother Tom at a dirt track race when I was just six-years old. You can't see it, but I have an even more impressive mullet than Jake.
image by nick hayden
People are always asking me how long I have been racing and things like that. I've basically been racing for my entire life, or have been at racetracks while my family was racing for my entire life.

We were always riding as kids, every day, and being kids, when you've got dirt bikes around, that's all you want to do. I always wanted to be with my older brothers back then and they were on bikes from sun-up to sun-down most days, so it was natural for me to follow them.

We were racing probably 45 weekends a year back then, maybe more in some years. There were so many dirt track races around Kentucky then; it was every weekend we were traveling somewhere to go racing here or there. Three races a weekend, wherever we could go.

So, basically, that's all I knew. I played a little bit of sports in school, did the regular kid thing, but I was definitely far from an athlete, I can tell you that.

My first race was actually somewhere in Ohio. It was a little indoor dirt track, in the winter. I was in second grade, and I don't remember a lot of it. I wasn't a scholar in school, by any means. My brothers and my sister they were always leaving to go racing so I wanted to start tagging along a little bit. My parents told me if I got my grades up, they'd let me go to this race that was coming up, the first one of the year. So, I got my grades up somehow and went there with my PW50. I don't remember much about the race other than it was an indoor short track somewhere in Ohio and I won it. I saw a picture from that race not too long ago and I'm actually riding wearing a pair of cowboy boots in the race. Yes, really.

I had a real strong brush with horse racing as a kid. But I actually stepped out of it because I thought bike racing was safer than horse racing. I was all geared up to do some horse racing as a kid, then my sister was bucked off a horse and she broke her wrist. I was like seven or eight years old at this point and I told my dad that was enough for me, that horses were too dangerous and that I'd rather do bikes.

Growing up, we were dirt trackers primarily. I met people there that are still my friends today; they became my friends for life. People like Jake Zemke, who has been a friend of mine essentially all my life. He tells stories about me being 4-5 years old and I have no memory of this stuff at all.

I was pretty good on the (dirt track) ovals and in TT races. I made the 750 main a few times. I finished on the podium once in dirt track, but I definitely wasn't quite a standout. To be honest, I wouldn't mind going back and doing some of it now, because I feel I'm such a better rider now, and a smarter rider. I would like to try my hand again at it again.

I raced YSR50s for years. My very first time on a bigger roadrace bike happened at Mid-Ohio. One year they had a school after the Mid-Ohio AMA roadrace and I did it on a 125. I'd never used the front brake on a roadrace bike at that point. I was used to flat-tracking, where all you use to slow the bike down is the rear brake. So, boom, I show up and am supposed to start using the front. It didn't go real well, as you can imagine. I was going in deep into the corners and then sort of easing on the front brake. After a few near misses I went really late on the brakes once, didn't even get close to making the corner, and crashed the bike pretty good. I ended up crashing three times my first day on the 125. So, it was a bit of a rocky start.

Growing up my biggest rival was Ben Spies; we were always traveling to Texas to go roadracing in the CMRA series, which was a good series. They let you start racing when you're nine years old in Texas. They had a lot of good guys there, a lot of fast local guys, and you could always find somebody to race with, and push you and beat you around a little bit.

Spies and I were heated rivals and it was fairly serious for 11 year olds. We'd race each other at the GNF—the finals for club racing—and he'd win one year and I'd win the next. I remember once beating him at the GNF and looking back after the checkered flag and seeing him pounding the gas tank on his bike, which made me pretty happy.

"It was pretty funny, a few years ago, Nicky was going to his senior prom, and Tommy broke his track record that night. One of our buddies was there watching Tom, he called Nick and told him what had transpired. Nick wanted to leave his prom date at dinner and come home and ride."

As for my brothers, some people say that Nick is a better dirt tracker or that Tommy is the better dirt tracker of the two. I think that they're both pretty good. Tommy was maybe a little bit better when they were younger, but Tommy gave it up early. You judge everything by results, so if you go by results you'd say Nick was better. We still flat track at our house a lot every day, and they're pretty even. My dad always keeps a stopwatch on us, and we always keep a track record at the house. It was pretty funny, a few years ago, Nicky was going to his senior prom, and Tommy broke his track record that night. One of our buddies was there watching Tom, he called Nick and told him what had transpired. Nick wanted to leave his prom date at dinner and come home and ride.

It's pretty competitive like that. I think that's one of the things that help us; we always have somebody to push us. They both push me and help me out a lot. I think it's been nothing but advantage for us.

We're off to Laguna Seca next week. Laguna is definitely a good track for me; I've always gone pretty good there. Last year I got first and a second so I'm looking forward to going back. It's a pretty fun track, it flows and it's not just stop, turn and shoot like a lot of tracks we go to. It's a physical track, but I always look forward to going to it, because it's been good to me. I got my first ever podium there, and won my second-ever race there. It's just a track that I've always gone good at, so I always like to go back to those.

I'm really good on the tracks that flow well, like Road America. The Corkscrew, I'm pretty good through there. I don't know, because there's a few lefts, but it mainly goes right. A lot of guys always think that dirt trackers always go good on left-handed tracks, but the bottom line, at the end of the day, it's either you're comfortable or you're not, and it doesn't matter if it's left, right or straight.

It's a pretty big race, too, and the MotoGP guys are going to be there, so it'll be pretty exciting to watch them, but it's not like I feel added pressure because they're going to be there. It's just another race for us, and they just happen to be there, and we get a chance to watch them.

I've got a trainer now. His name's Aldon Baker. He's the same guy that trains Ricky Carmichael, and he's been working with Nick the last couple of years. I asked him last year when he was at the house if he wouldn't mind setting me up on a little program.

I want my game to be strong all the way around, because I know once I go to Superbikes or to another level, it's going to be part of the job. So it's been a big—you can probably tell when you see me it's been a big influence on me. The guy works hard, and he believes in hard work, so I was pretty happy about that. Some days are a little bit hard, but all in all, at the end, it's all working for one goal. Next year, I definitely want to make that next step to Superbike, and it's not going to be a cakewalk, for sure, and I want to be prepared whatever way possible.

Well, a few more days and we'll be at Laguna Seca. I'll see everybody there.


Return to News


© 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 Hardscrabble Media LLC