Photography By: Henny Ray Abrams
DAYTONA BEACH, FL, MARCH 16 – Tommy Hayden didn’t recognize the number on the phone when it rang, so he went back to what he was doing. Three minutes later the same number showed up and now there was a voicemail. Hayden put down what he was doing, checked his voice mail, and a few hours later was on a private plane with his father, Earl, and two friends headed to Daytona International Speedway.
Hayden’s life on the unemployment line didn’t last long. Shortly after Thursday morning practice, Hayden got a call from Yamaha race boss Keith McCarty. Y.E.S. Graves Yamaha’s Garrett Gerloff had broken his right femur in his first official practice with the team and Hayden was the first rider McCarty thought of. A deal was quickly struck and before long Hayden was working on the details he’d ignored for most of the winter.
“Started the roller coaster of, I don’t know, 12 hours, I guess,” he said.
The first issue was leathers. He headed to his brother Nicky’s house to borrow a generic set of leathers that Nicky had worn the first time he rode a Ducati.
“I mean, in the back of my head, I don’t know why I didn’t have leathers ready,” Hayden said after qualifying the Yamaha YZF-R6 10th fastest on Friday morning. “I thought to myself all winter, like, you at least should be ready. I even had some [leathers] drawn up a couple months ago once it looked like I was getting ready to do one thing, getting ready to do something else, so it just never, never happened. I didn’t want to just get ‘em for fun.”
His advice to racers in waiting about having a generic set of leathers ready: “It’s a good idea. I would recommend that.”
The last time Hayden rode a 600 at Daytona was in 2008. Hayden raced a Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R600 to ninth place. For the past three years he concentrated on Superbike, and the short course. So returning to a 600 on DOT tires on the long course was an adjustment.
“Different, I mean it’s just really different,” Hayden said after his first session on the Y.E.S. Graves Yamaha. “I mean, first all the 600 characteristics alone, no matter what 600 I came down here and got on. And then also things are just completely different… tires.
“The first couple laps of just riding around was no big deal, but once you kinda get start wanting to work out of the comfort zone a little bit it’s a little bit tricky, just getting a feel for everything. It’s a lot of little things, clutch set-up, a lot of things that are kinda critical, but very finicky too. So trying to prioritize here on changes I can make, realistically, and get the best gains without starting all over with a new bike again for the next session.”
Hayden spent the early part of the session getting used to the bike, making only one pit stop. He was down around 20th place when he upped the pace in the latter stages of the 50-minute session. Hayden dropped his time by more than two seconds, finishing with a best lap of 1:51.609 on then 19th of his 22 laps.
“Just a couple times I just got in and followed a few people around, a little bit,” he said of where he found the time. “I hadn’t been through that section of the track for a long time, the west end. So it’s different. There’s a couple bumps there, different things that I’m not used to. It helped finding a few people around. Just getting comfortable. And then speeding up a little bit.
“That’s it for the qualifying We’ll see. I’m excited to be here. The team, they seem excited to have me. They’ve been real supportive, so I’m enjoying it. I just want to… I’d like to have a good race.”
Hayden now has a few hours to make adjustments for this afternoon’s finally qualifying for the Daytona 200 and the run for the Rolex Daytona Chronograph.