Goodbye to the 69 & hello to a special legacy

Yesterday at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, Nicky Hayden’s number 69 was retired from the MotoGP Championship. Approaching the two-year anniversary of his passing, it was an emotional day for the Hayden Family but also a proud moment. It was a packed room with journalists, many of Nicky’s friends, former competitors and fellow American racing legends, as Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta and FIM President Jorge Viegas presented the family a plaque commemorating the retirement of his number.

“Because there are some riders, regardless of the number of titles, they mean something special,” Viegas said. “All of us suffer from the ‘disease’ of loving motorcycle racing and some will remain in our hearts forever. Nicky is one of them.”

That feeling was the same for Nicky. His love for racing motorcycles was not a secret. He lived and breathed it, as did his family. Although he consumed motorcycling racing as a whole he really loved MotoGP. A paddock where he spent 13 years of his career; it was a place he dreamt of reaching, following in the footsteps of other American Grand Prix Champions coming from flat track roots, names like Roberts and Rainey. He went on to score three wins and ultimately accomplish that childhood dream of winning the world title in 2006. 

That dream was shared by, and with, the Hayden family. And that honor of retiring a number, something that has only been done for a select few – Kevin Schwantz, Daijiro Kato, Marco Simoncelli, Loris Capirossi and Moto2 rider Shoya Tomizawa – has not been unnoticed by the Hayden family, nor was the turnout to pay their respects.

“I’d just like to thank everyone for joining us here, everyone who’s showed up to celebrate this special occasion with us,” said Tommy Hayden, the eldest Hayden brother speaking on behalf of the family. “For sure we’d like to thank Carmelo and all of Dorna for this event and for all their support; pretty much since Nicky’s accident, they’ve gone way out of their way in every way you can imagine. Nicky loved MotoGP and I think he loved it for a reason because there are a lot of good people there – starting at the top, and we want to thank everyone for everything. Nicky had a lot of success on track but I think we all agree that he made just as big of an impact off track. That’s something that, as a family, we’re most proud of.”

It also meant a lot to the family because 69 is more than just a number, racing with the number 69 is a Hayden Family tradition that spans a couple generations.

“Before my brothers and sisters were even born, my dad raced with that number and there were other family members even before us that my dad helped and supported who always raced with the number 69,” Tommy said. “My sister raced when she was younger, my brother Roger, myself, always raced with the number 69 throughout our childhood years and growing up. Nicky carried the number through his whole career, it’s very special and like I said it has a lot of meaning so to have it retired from MotoGP, the pinnacle of the sport, as you can imagine, it means a lot to us.”

It wasn’t as though the praise for Nicky as a person, Nicky as a professional, only happened posthumously. When he was honored as a MotoGP Legend at his final MotoGP race back in 2015, there was an overwhelming response. Most was focused on who he was as a person; the nice guy in the paddock and his unwavering professionalism. Those qualities were worthy of acclaim but when asked about it at the time Hayden appreciated the attention but felt it was what you were supposed to do. That was how he was raised.

“I think my parents should get most of the credit for a lot of that kind of stuff,” Tommy said. “Many times, since we were little kids, they always told us how what people thought of us off the track would mean way more to them than what we did on the track. My dad, I can’t tell you how many hundreds of times I’ve heard him say that to us. So, I think that for sure stuck with Nicky and stuck with all of us for our whole lives, and we try to live by that.”

But how would Nicky feel about this honor and all of the outpouring of respect from the paddock and beyond? That’s a hard question to ask when that person is not around to answer for themselves.

“I think he would feel really good about it,” his brother Tommy said. “That was very important to him, how he carried himself and all that was very important. What kind of role model he was to kids. No one was forced to be here today so for people to show up and support him and all the events you can tell it’s really genuine and people want to do it. For me, it’s a good feeling. I know he would be extremely happy.” Nicky had a lot of great things to say, but the most fitting in this case was about respect: “You can’t win it. You can’t buy it. You earn it.”

Words by Andrea Wilson @awilsonphoto

Photos by CormacGP @cormacgp

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