(2010) We’re all haunted to one degree or another by that strange twist of fate or moment in time that cost us something dear. Passing on that dusty, brand new RC30 sitting in that Honda dealership in Nebraska in 1992. Saying “No I’m tired, I should get home” to the absolute wrong person to be tired with. Laughing out loud when Harley went public and you had a chance to buy in at $19 a share. Those are the moments that stay with you, like too much bad chili.
Riders are as haunted as the rest of us and Nicky Hayden is no exception, although, outwardly, Hayden would be one of the last riders you’d think is haunted by anything. After all, he’s won just about all there is to win in racing: Daytona 200, US Superbike championship, Laguna Seca USGP, MotoGP world championship and the rest.
So what’s Nicky Hayden got to be haunted about? Is it that Pedrosa knocked him down in Portugal in 2006? Naaa. Pedrosa’s not even on Hayden’s radar; he seems to regard him probably like you do the dickweed you’re forced to work with week in and week out. Sometimes a minor eye-roll at the mention of his name, largely, though, no reaction.
How about Alberto Puig, Pedrosa’s manager and the political maestro who forced HRC to focus on Pedrosa and Honda, does he haunt Nicky Hayden? Bright-eyed and taking it all in Nicky Hayden circa 2003 vs Veteran motoGP racer Nick Hayden in 2010 are almost two different people. About Puig, Hayden usually says something like “I still have a lot of good friends at Honda. Two guys are not going to change that” in a ‘please stop asking dumb questions’ voice.
What Nicky Hayden is haunted by is the same person and scene that haunts Wayne Rainey.
Not Pedrosa and not Puig, then what? What Nicky Hayden is haunted by is the same person and scene that haunts Wayne Rainey. Both Rainey and Hayden were beaten by Scott Parker in the final feet of a Mile dirt track races, Rainey in 1985. The defeat cost Rainey probably his best shot at a Mile dirt track win. Does it still bother him today? Parker, now retired, still sees Rainey from time to time, and says that nearly every time they meet Rainey mentions the loss.
“He always says, ‘You just couldn’t give me one, just one, could you?’ says Parker.
For Hayden, his defeat by Parker cost him the Grand Slam. ” … it still eats at me, no doubt,” Hayden said.
Grand Slam? An exclusive little club that probably less than 100 of the estimated 250,000 fans at the upcoming Spanish Grand Prix will know about. To get in the Grand Slam, a dirt track racer has to win races in each of the following disciples: half-mile dirt track, mile dirt track, short track, TT, and then win a Superbike race. Currently, there’s only four members of the Grand Slam club—Dick Mann, Kenny Roberts, Doug Chandler, and Bubba Shobert. Roberts, gift from God and all, actually doubled up, winning races in all five disciples twice in one season.
To get his name etched in US motorcycle racing’s Mount Rushmore, Hayden needs just one more dirt track win—at a Mile. He has come very close several times in his career—Hayden was racing dirt track nearly the entire time he was racing for the US Superbike title in 2002, but has just missed out on that elusive win.
Hayden mentioned dirt track and the Grand Slam Club last week in the Indy USGP teleconference. It’s clear that even after all the MotoGP racing he’s done, dirt track racing remains very close to his heart. American dirt track may look primitive but is anything but in terms of rider skill and close racing. Plus, being a dirt track legend was Nick Hayden’s childhood dream.
Hayden hasn’t raced dirt track—professionally—since 2002 when he won an impressive number of dirt track nationals, including the Peoria TT, Springfield TT and Del Mar. Could he just return and win races, including a Mile dirt track race? Seven-time Grand National champion Chris Carr thinks so. Carr has roadraced for both the Harley-Davidson factory team and also the Muzzy Kawasaki squad. In a career that has spanned more than thirty years, Carr is respected for his ability to go fast and gauge competition.
Carr cuts to the chase quickly after we pose the question—could Hayden win a Mile in a dirt track comeback, whether it be today or in 2012? “There’s no doubt that Nicky Hayden can be competitive at anything he can put his mind to,” Carr says. “Nicky knows how to win.”
Carr has raced with—and beat—two generations of dirt track legends.
“He could come to a place like Springfield Mile and if he was keyed in to how the strategy works, maybe win. It would probably be a lot like the year he beat Mladin in the Daytona 200. Back and forth and in the end the guy with the best strategy won. Springfield is a strategy kind of track. If he had no races under his belt it would be hard, but I think if he raced some dirt track before he got to a Mile he’d do well. It’d be difficult at first.”
“He’d have a better chance at places like Canterbury Downs in Minneapolis or Prescott Valley,” Carr continues. “Those are going to be tracks Nicky Hayden excels at. Strategy … not a big part of it. Those places, because of their make-up, are places you show up and the rider with the best set up and the biggest set is going to win. Those tracks are about set-up on the day and … balls, in a lot of cases. Nicky is not shy in that regard from what I have seen and been told. He’s got the fortitude to ride a bike to its limit and beyond.”
National Guard Superbike rider Jake Zemke has known Nicky Hayden since Hayden was five or six years old. He says he knows how important it is to the Kentuckian to one day slip his name into the record books as a Grand Slam winner. “It’s something that he’s always talked about, since he was little,” says Zemke. “It was one of his goals before he left to go GP racing.”
However, Zemke sees Hayden’s quest as more than just a talented rider wanting to gain access to an exclusive club. Hayden might not be just the next rider to join the Grand Slam Club, he may very well be the last. “Who was the last guy to do the Grand Slam?” Zemke asks. “Bubba? Doug Chandler? And when was that? In the early 1990s, at the latest. Dirt track and roadrace are so specialized now I just wonder if anyone can win all those different races today.”
“It’d be nice to see Nick’s name on that list, that’s for sure,” Zemke said.