A different Memorial Day: The tributes to Nicky Hayden

May 29, 2017

There are two reasons for this post: First, I just can't let Nicky Hayden's passing go by without any more mention; and second, here at Common Tread we have never taken the attitude that we're the only game in town. We don't mind giving credit to the other content out there in the moto world.

Nicky Hayden's funeral will take place today at noon, Central time, in Owensboro, Kentucky. The ceremony will be streamed live on his Facebook page.

So, on this Memorial Day, in addition to (not instead of) remembering the real purpose of the holiday, it's appropriate for us to remember Nicky Hayden. Since he died a week ago today, thousands of people, from friends and family to everyday fans, have shared their remembrances in eloquent essays, videos, and 140-character tweets. The outpouring has been moving.

And that's not surprising. One person asked why he should care more about a famous person dying than any of the rest of us in the motorcycle community, and this was my answer: "Even if he had never won a motorcycle race, Nicky Hayden was the kind of guy who would be greatly missed."

Nicky Hayden
He always had time for fans and kept a smile ready even when things weren't going his way. Photo by Lance Oliver.
That theme was repeated over and over: Hayden wasn't just a good racer. He was a good guy. To many Europeans, he represented the best of the ideals of American culture, without the bad side that sometimes shows. He always worked harder than anyone. When things went wrong, he didn't blame others in public, and when things went right, he remembered to credit and thank those who had helped him. When life and racing handed him bad luck (and he seemed to get plenty of frustrating bad breaks in his career), he slapped a "no excuses" sticker on his race bike and just worked harder.

"He never really stopped smiling even when things were tough for him, so he’s someone we are really going to miss," said Casey Stoner. "Nobody has anything bad to say about him."

Here are a few of the tributes posted. Please share others you like in the comments section. Maybe most moving of all, to me, was Roger Hayden's post on Instagram.

Nicky my brother, our story wasn't suppose to end like this. You were world champ for a reason. I've never met someone with the desire for racing bikes like you. I remember growing up we shared a room and you studying notes you took from the previous race and we were 12-13 years old, I'll never forget the Monday morning after you won the world championship, you woke me up to go running. That's what separated you from the rest and made you a legend. I could go on. You made everyone here better, cause when you wasn't here, we were riding or cycling to close the gap for when we road with you again,. You pushed me to my best, but more importantly I'll remember what kind of brother you were. You were legend of a racer and a brother. You were there for me no matter what was going on in life. You wanted to help, I'm glad you were able to see me at my best these past couple years, not just on the bike, but mainly off it. I can sit here and ask why all day, but instead I want to be thankful for having a brother like you for 33 years. Don't worry I got the nieces handled. No boyfriends till they're in college and I'll teach the nephews what it takes to be a champion in whatever they decide. This picture is special to me, because after some bad luck and it looked like your world title was over, I grabbed you like this and told you it was still your year, and that was the first thing you did to me when I saw you at the podium. Tell me it back. Even during this incredibly difficult time I still have my faith, I believe if god will bring you to it, he will bring you through it. Till we ride again I love you. #letsgetit #69

A post shared by Twitter: @RogerHayden95 (@rogerhayden95) on

One story I'd never heard before was how the U.S. flag Hayden carried on his cool-down lap immediately after winning the world championship in 2006 actually was brought to him by a Spanish writer.

Julian Ryder gave us a look at Hayden's character by recalling the only two times he saw the nicest guy in the paddock get angry.

Nicky Hayden
In 2002, Nicky Hayden became the youngest AMA Superbike champion ever. Honda photo.

To remember some of the moments you may have forgotten, give a watch to the MotoGP highlights video.

At some point in all this attention, I could imagine Nicky flashing one of his modest but megawatt smiles and saying it was time for all of us to wrap up the tributes and get on with it, whether "it" for us is riding a motorcycle fast, taking care of our families or following his motto of "chasing a dream," in whatever form that takes for each of us personally.

As a final note, let me add this. The Hayden family allowed Nicky's organs to be donated, a fittingly great final gesture. All I can say is some lucky people are going to get some really trick factory parts.