(I wrote this at Laguna Seca WSBK last July.)
“Just look at the people who are here, look at their faces. They’re wounded. We’re all wounded. Motorcycle racing as a whole has suffered a huge wound with Nicky’s death.”
So says King Kenny Roberts on Sunday afternoon at Laguna Seca in July. And, as usual with Roberts, he’s right. If you stand near the bottom of the steps leading from the vendor area to the paddock and people watch you’ll see a great many who look as if they have been sucker-punched. That someone came from nowhere and punched them behind the ear and when they got back up their world was irrevocably changed and not for the better.
Nicky Hayden would have been racing at Laguna Seca if he had not been killed in a bicycle/car incident in Italy. There are many tributes to Hayden here at Laguna Seca this weekend, and much of the Hayden family are also here–minus father Earl–spending time with fans accepting their condolences with grace.
The late Hayden and Roberts had so much in common. Americans, dirt trackers, Daytona winners and of course world champions. But they were also slightly rivals. Friends tried to push Nicky Hayden onto a Team Roberts KR5/Honda when he raced MotoGP. Both Roberts and Hayden seemed to have little interest in that match up. That all probably all started with the rivalry between Kurtis Roberts and Nicky Hayden–at Willow Springs in fact–in the late 1990s which made any possibility of Team Roberts and Nicky Hayden working together.
King Kenny Roberts says he always liked Hayden and that they’d talked a few times in person and on the phone, but both steered clear of any of the Big Subjects. “I liked him, you know. Hell, everybody liked him. When someone called me and told me that he’d been killed I reacted like anybody would. I wanted to wake up from a very bad dream,” says Roberts.
Where do we go from here, Roberts is asked.
“Well,” he says in that voice that if you know him means the answer is obvious, “we need to heal. The wound needs to heal.”