Hayden Gets Dirty

Henny Ray Abrams | August 31, 2010

Nicky Hayden didn’t get the finish he’d hoped for in his home Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix, but he wasn’t going to let that ruin a good weekend.On the second of 28 laps the Kentuckian caught his left knee puck in a drainage gap on the raised curbing and it was nearly torn off his leathers. What was left was flapping against his shin and not providing protection when he got his knee down in the track’s 10 left-handers. Hayden raced to a lonely sixth, which for most would be a bad weekend, but not this weekend and not for Hayden.Hayden started the weekend with his first front row start for Ducati. A few hours later, the Italian factory announced that he’d team with Valentino Rossi for the next two years. Most of the world got the announcement via press release, but the lucky few got it in person.Surrounded by much of his team and with Ducati CEO Gabriele del Torchio at his side, Hayden heard the extension of his contract announced with fanfare and streamers on the stage at the Indy Mile. And then Hayden got back to doing what he loves best, riding a dirt tracker on a mile and he proved that he still had, as he’d pronounce it, the ‘skeelz.’Hayden strapped on a Ducati red steel shoe, climbed aboard Joe Kopp’s Latus H-D/Lloyd Bros. Ducati dirt tracker and did three laps; green, white, checkered. It was the first time he’d ridden the bike and the first time he’d been on a proper dirt track since the 2002 Du Quoin Mile. When it was over, all too quickly, Hayden was given the time for his one flying lap. And that might have put a bigger smile on his face than the pole position or contract extension.”It was a lot of fun,” Hayden said. “You know, it was just cool to do my announcement there in front of the fans and stuff. I seen people that came up to me that I hadn’t seen in ten years. I thought it was cool, Marlboro Ducati, multi-million dollar team and has the announcement there with my team on the stage with the streamers. I enjoyed it, I enjoyed the laps.”Obviously, everybody watching. I hadn’t been on a real dirt tracker in eight years. That was the last, other than Earl’s Lane,” he said of the dirt track on his family property.Hayden had ridden Harley and Honda dirt trackers, but never a Ducati. His impression was that

“the engine on it was awesome. It was really smooth, the engine. But dirt trackers run a left peg that’s way back. And also they were shifting it. When I ran a dirt track, you never would shift on a mile, so that was different. So when I first sat on it and stuff, I was like, ‘Oh my god, this feels so odd.’ But when I got about half a lap, I was like, ‘OK.’ I mean I still probably needed a ‘c’ on my number. It’s one thing that kinda came back relatively quick.”Obviously, I didn’t want to put it in the fence (prior to Sunday’s race). But I couldn’t help myself. I did three laps; green, white, checkered. Tom (Hayden) had me on the watch at 39.4. Kenny Tolbert,” Chris Carr’s crew chief, “told me they had me at 39.2. I ain’t checked the official qualifying yet, but they tell me it would have gotten me a front row start for the heat race.”The 39.2 would have put him 20th in the 47-rider field and the 39.4 would’ve landed him in 20th, tied with Larry Pegram, but without the benefit of practice or the eight qualifying laps, in two four lap sessions, of the other riders.”When Tom showed me the time, I looked over and said, ‘Are you sure?’ I didn’t think I was going that hard. And Sara Goad, Johnny Goad’s wife, showed me what they had. Kenny Tolbert told me what they had. I’m not saying,” Hayden said with a grin, “but it’s not too bad.”

Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor

Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.