MotoGP Fans and Riders Show Their Love for Nicky Hayden in Austin

Just weeks away from the one-year anniversary of his death, it's evident that everyone misses the Kentucky Kid.

Nicky Hayden banners, flags, t-shirts, hats, and even tattoos imprinted on the skin of diehard fanatics could be witnessed at this weekend’s MotoGP race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Almost one year after his death, all of them served as a sad reminder that the Kentucky Kid was no longer mingling in the paddock, but watching from above.

If he was watching from above, then he would’ve been happy to see his “69” proudly wearing the red, white and blue on the lawn adjacent to the track’s famous Turn 18—a fast and complex triple-apex right-hander that leads to the main straight. Much to the fans’ delight, COTA’s management baptized the area as “Hayden Hill.”

The grassy knoll by Turn 18 is now called “Hayden Hill.”, Rip Shaub

But that wasn’t it. Actually, far from it. Hayden’s racing colleagues who were once his fierce on-track enemies paid tribute to him by sporting his racing number on their helmets, suits, and even motorcycles. World champion Jorge Lorenzo went as far as adding the “69” to his one-off helmet’s livery for the American race. In the pits, mechanics showed their support to American motorcycle racing fans and the Hayden family with stickers on their laptops or magnets on their toolboxes, as our on-site photographer Rip Shaub was able to capture.

Ducati, one of the MotoGP teams that Hayden raced for during his last few years in the series ditched its often distant attitude toward the media and the fans and erected one of the American’s former racing bikes for everyone to see. Next to the bright-red Desmosedici was a banner with Hayden’s photo and instructions on how to donate to the Nicky Hayden Memorial Fund.

Jorge Lorenzo wears Hayden’s 69 on the back of his helmet., Rip Shaub
A 69 sticker on a laptop serves as one of many reminders of how much Hayden is missed. , Rip Shaub

One of the many thousands of fans present at the Circuit of the Americas was renowned motorcycle marketer and enthusiast Jason Channell of Dallas, Texas. He shared with The Drive one of the heartfelt sights he witnessed over the racing weekend.

“In previous years I’ve watched the race from the hill at Turn 16,” said Channell. This year I decided to watch from the big hill at Turn 1. The large 69 of Nicky was visible from across the track. Prior to the main race, the announcers made mention of that area being named ‘Hayden Hill’ in memoriam of Nicky” over the track’s sound system.

“It was a very nice gesture. Nicky was by all accounts a great guy and a hell of a racer,” Channell added.

Ducati displayed an emotional reminder by erecting one of Hayden’s former bikes., Rip Shaub

Lastly, it was the race winner and Hayden’s eventual successor at Repsol Honda, Marc Marquez, who offered the weekend’s biggest act of kindness by dedicating his dominating victory to Hayden. Marquez and Hayden had a special relationship that’s not often talked about, with the Spaniard looking up to the American rider like he would a wiser, older brother. After all, Marquez was only 15 years old when he met Hayden.

“I took the flag in honor of Nicky, he was an important rider for the USA, but also for the Honda family, it’s the first race here since we lost him,” said Marquez.

Nicky Hayden may have passed away on May 22, 2017 due to injuries he sustained from a crash while riding his bicycle in Italy, but as someone who had the amazing opportunity to interact with him and his father on and off the track, I can safely say that his spirit lives on in the hearts and minds of people all around the world.