World Champion Neil Hodgson Remembers His Friend Nicky Hayden
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
By July of 2002 Neil Hodgson had already been through a short corridor of hell in terms of teammates in World Superbike. First it was American John Kocinski and after that it was Carl Fogarty. Hodgson had been kicked around in World Superbike for a few years, and the ex-motocross star was just trying to really learn top level roadracing. After Kocinski he really was wondering what American riders were all about.
Nick Hayden was clearly the best young American rider of his era. By 2002 his future seemed to match his talent–he’d be in WSBK or MotoGP very soon. He had the speed, the drive and the desire to be considered for the best rides.
“I first met Nicky at the WSBK at Laguna in 2002 and I’d already heard a lot about him,” remembers the former World Superbike champion Hodgson. “It’s funny how your own perception can be so wrong about someone. I honesty thought he’d be this super cocky flash kid, all loud and high-fiving etc. It’s fair to say I was preparing myself not to like him.”
The two spoke in the Laguna Seca paddock. There he discovered Hayden was unlike any other American rider Hodgson had encountered at the time. Hayden introduced himself, spoke of his admiration for Hodgson and his accomplishments.
Hodgson takes up the story: “As we now all know now how wrong could I of been. Instead I met young man who wanted to learn. He didn’t talk about himself, all he wanted to know was what it was like racing abroad. He was asking me for my advice. I was shocked and instantly liked him.”
The pair went on to race MotoGP together in 2004 (“Well, I was on the track at the same time as Nicky,” says Hodgson) and were friends. When Hodgson retired and began a career in TV he interviewed Hayden many times in the MotoGP paddock for BT Sports.
“To me Nicky looked like James Dean or Steve McQueen level cool when he was on the bike” says Hodgson. “He was such a natural … . And off the bike he was really humble and just a sweet guy. I miss him already.”