The Kentucky Kid
Fitness and a fierce passion to win helps good old boy Nicky Hayden stay in the chase for MotoGP supremacy
When motorcycle racer Nicky Hayden showed up at the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix in September, there was a tiny sticker on a piece of his equipment. "Rule No. 76: No Excuses. Play Like a Champion," it read. Now before you write that off as just another empty sports cliché, consider the equipment the sticker was attached to: crutches.
Hayden had a broken bone in his heel but was still prepared to pilot his motorcycle at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour in the first MotoGP race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He led for 12 laps and finished second behind five time world champion and current points leader Valentino Rossi.
True to his "no excuses" mantra, Hayden didn't blame his finish on his bum leg. "Getting on the podium is good. But honestly, I'm greedy. I want to win," he said. Hayden won the MotoGP world championship in 2006, ending Rossi's fi ve-year reign, and wants nothing more than to get back to the top. "Once you've tasted blood and had that success," he says, "there's no going back to just being a contender and being happy with it."
MotoGP is like the Formula 1 of motorcycle racing. The 59- to 80-mile MotoGP races take place on tracks filled with sharp turns that force riders to lean their bikes over to gravity-defying degrees. These machines have nothing in common with even the most souped up street bikes.
The 800cc MotoGP bikes cost millions of dollars to build, and they're capable of g-forces strong enough that the rider feels as if his helmet (and maybe his head) is going to fly off. But riders must stay focused enough to smoothly "dive" the bike into turns and weave their way through competitors. It's not uncommon for a rider to finish a race and find rubber from an opponent's tires on his leather suit.
Hayden, 27, grew up at the end of a gravel road in rural Owensboro, KY., and still speaks with a twang that causes him to leave off the s and run his words together when he says things like "200 mileanhour."
Motorcycle racing was a family affair in the Hayden household. Earl Hayden, Nicky's father, raced motorcycles for 20 years. Nicky still uses the same number as his dad, 69. (Earl said he picked the number because when he crashed, it looked the same upside down as right-side up.) Even Nicky's mom, Rose, raced. No wonder their three sons, Tommy, Nicky, and Roger, and even one of their two daughters all took to the sport. Having a racetrack in the backyard didn't hurt, either.
Tommy and Nicky have successful careers on the American Superbike circuit, but Nicky has always stood out from the crew because of his dogged work ethic.
"When he was about 2 years old with diapers, and snot running out of his nose, he was begging me to let him go ride the motorcycle," says Earl. "He was the first one on the track, and the last one to leave. He just wanted to ride all the time."
During a three-week break from the MotoGP circuit in August, Hayden entered the Supermoto event in August's X Games and landed badly on a jump, injuring his foot. "Looking back now, it was not a smart decision," he says. "But I just love racing motorcycles. It doesn't matter if it's a MotoGP in front of 100,000 people or racing my brothers in my backyard. I truly love the sport, and I think that keeps me hungry."
That appetite is what has Hayden so pumped for the 2009 season. You can't win MotoGP races on guts alone. Hayden stokes his passion with a fitness regimen that allows him to endure, even through injury.
"Fitness makes a big difference on the bike," he says. "Once you physically get a little tired, you mentally start making mistakes and that's when you get hurt. And when you fall off these bikes, it don't exactly tickle." The day after the Indianapolis race, Hayden announced that he was leaving the Honda team, with which he had raced throughout his MotoGP career, to join the renowned Ducati squad. Call it passion: Ducati's Desmosedici bike better suits Hayden's aggressive riding style and gives him a great shot to win more world titles.
Getting Fit for GP
The physical demands on MotoGP riders are immense, though often under appreciated. "Stick and ball athletes don't really think of us as athletes, which is a shame," says pro Nicky Hayden. To stay track fit, Hayden has worked with personal trainer Aldon Baker. Here's his program:
CARDIO VERSUS BULK
"You can't be some big beefcake guy, that'll just slow your acceleration down," says Hayden. Baker's program has him doing a mix of cardio every day. The workouts involve a mix of endurance and high-intensity running and cycling. Nicky has a stationary bike set up in his garage.
"Nicky needs more flexibility because he's gotta stay in a weird position for the race," says Baker. An added benefit of the yoga is that it helps Hayden control his breathing, which is important for staying relaxed on the track.
Hayden is in the gym approximately three times a week. "I'm all about doing combination exercises," says Baker, who favors stepups with dumbbells instead of squats and adding leg curls to a stability-ball bridge.