Originally published by Julian Ryder on Sunday, October 29, 2006
‘I’ve always believed,’ said Nicky after the race, in a room crowded with journalists and TV cameras, ‘that good things happen to good people.’ The round of applause went on for a long time.
A hundred yards away Valentino Rossi, whose chances of an eighth title slipped away when he lost the front at turn two, was offering a similar opinion. ‘Nicky is my personal favorite (if I don’t win!); he’s a great guy as well as a great rider. This is not easy in this paddock. I like him, I like his family. His father came to my motorhome after Portugal to congratulate me—after Portugal….! Fack! ‘He deserves to be World Champion.’
The milk of human kindness was also flowing inside the Repsol pit. Nicky said several times that he is ‘cool’ with Dani Pedrosa. The Spaniard told him on Saturday night that he wouldn’t race him and in the race ‘left the door wide open for me.’ Dani also made a very public point, when the TV cameras were in the pit before the sighting lap, of crossing over to Nicky to shake his hand and wish him good luck.
When Nicky got the signal telling him that Valentino was back in twentieth place he thought ‘oh boy’ and contemplated attacking the Ducatis in front of him. A ‘3rd OK’ signal from his crew persuaded him to play safe. That left an astounding Troy Bayliss to fight off his team-mate—although Loris didn’t seem too upset. His third place meant he took third place in the championship by one point from Marco Melandri. It was Ducati’s first ever one-two finish in MotoGP. Just to make Troy’s day perfect, it was also his wedding anniversary today.
Nicky has always harbored a feeling that he is an outsider in this paddock. ‘It’s me and Squirrel against the world,’ he’s been telling his dad. Nicky explained that following Rossi down pit lane in Sepang and seeing all the 125 and 250 mechanics come out of their garages to congratulate Valentino is one of the images that reinforced that feeling. The wave of sympathy that came his way after Estoril seemed to quite surprise him. He should be in no doubt. Nicky and his family did not come up through 250 GPs (the last champion to avoid the 250s was Doohan) but the GP paddock has really taken to the Haydens in general and Nicky in particular.
It may sometimes be a little difficult for Europeans, especially the non English speakers, to get to grips with the Owensboro, Kentucky way of expressing yourself. They may not fully understand the dialect or the accent, but they know a good person when they see one.