Nicky Hayden’s famous racing number 69 – inherited from his father Earl Hayden – has been retired from MotoGP. A ceremony on Friday, attended by his family and friends, marked the honour, one of a number of tributes to the last American to win a GP World Championship.
Nicky’s father Earl used 69 during his AMA dirt-tracking career, later explaining the advantage was “it was the same whether you were upside down or right way up”; eldest son Nicky took it over for his successful AMA career then brought it with him to MotoGP.
A solemn ceremony to formally retire the number strayed towards the wrong side of mawkish, but recovered on a groundswell of respect and affection for the fallen rider. Earl Hayden and eldest son Tommy joined Dorna and FIM chiefs at the top table, with the rest of the family in prominent attendance.
Speaking on their behalf, Tommy said: “Nicky had a lot of success on the track, but I think we agree he made just as big an impact off the track.”
This reflected the paddock-wide view of Nicky as a man universally liked and admired within racing.
Later in the day, the MotoGP paddock and track marshalls joined family at friends at “Hayden Hill”, the grass berm at Turn 18, where his title-winning Repsol Honda was on display. The bike was to appear again on the front of the grid on race day.
Nicky was the middle and most successful of three racing brothers, with the last of them – Roger Lee – retiring from US Superbike racing at the end of the 2018 season.
He narrowly defeated Valentino Rossi for the 2006 MotoGP championship in a last-race shoot-out. The ever-popular Kentucky rider died after a collision with a car while training on his cycle in Italy in 2017.
Two other numbers have been retired in MotoGP – Kevin Schwantz’s trade-mark 34 and rather more surprisingly Loris Capirossi’s 65.
by Michael Scott