Honda MotoGP fans were thrilled to hear that Nicky Hayden—the Kentucky Kid who won both AMA Superbike and MotoGP championships on Honda racing machines—returned to the Honda fold for the 2014 season, competing on Honda’s production RCV1000R MotoGP machine for the Aspar team.
We caught up with Nicky just after the holiday break, and asked him to put something together around the theme of his famous racing number 69. He decided to tell us about his 6 favorite Honda motorcycles, and his 9 favorite race tracks.
Six Favorite Honda Motorcycles
I grew up with Bubba Shobert as my hero. I can remember being a kid and going to the Duquoin Mile. It was the closest Mile to our house so we’d go there. One day I was walking in with Tommy and my dad and there was Bubba’s tuner, Skip Eakin, warming up Bubba’s RS750 under a shade tree. The sound of that bike has stayed with me to this day. I can picture it in my mind right now. It just seemed so advanced, and of course it was; it’s a Honda. I got to ride one a couple of times and really enjoyed it. I might have one of my own someday.
It was basically a coin toss to decide between the RS750 and the RCV for the number one spot. What makes the RCV special to me is that I won my MotoGP world championship on it, but I think that anybody who rode that bike will tell you what a great bike it was. V5 engine—really special, but it was more than just a great engine. What makes a great bike is not one that’s easy to ride but one that a lot of riders with different riding styles can go fast on. That’s the RCV—so many guys went fast on that bike. It was good basically at any track and in any conditions-wet, dry, hot or cold. The engine of course is what everyone focuses on. It was so powerful and at the same time it was so smooth. It was the complete package and really was a racing weapon.
I rode the RC45 a little bit early in my career when Miguel DuHamel got hurt, but for me the best Superbike I rode was the RC51. It was a full on HRC race bike. Up until then as a rider you’d climb on a bike and have just a tach and a couple of gauges to get info from. First time I climbed on the RC51, it had a digital dash and when the bike started it said “Welcome to Honda Racing,” on it. But it was more than that, the RC51 was an HRC special and if you’ve ever seen their exhaust work or their carbon fiber stuff then you know how incredible they are.
The RC51 I rode in 2002 was so advanced. I mean the transmission back then was like a seamless MotoGP gearbox, it shifted so nice and smooth with basically no interruption. No delay, almost like it was automatic.
I won Daytona on the RC51, won at a lot of places and then won the AMA Superbike title in 2002. A lot of good RC51 memories.
I’ve owned a CRF450 since the first ones Honda made. Even when I rode for other manufacturers I still went and bought Honda CRF450s to train on. I also raced that bike on dirt track and the 2002 model is the one I like the best mainly because that’s the bike I won some Grand Nationals on. I won the Peoria TT on a CRF and also—my favorite ever race win—the Springfield TT when we Hayden boys finished 1-2-3 in the race. We got all the hardware that night!
I think that the CRF was a bike that changed the sport of dirt track—in terms of short tracks and TTs—because, before the CRF, people were buying frames and engines and mating them together to different degrees of success. But the CRF, I think, is the bike that came into dirt track, a DTX-style bike, and could win as basically a production motocross bike. I can’t see a point in my life where I won’t have a CRF450 in my garage.
I won my first championship on the F4 and I just remember it as a very solid, fast and reliable bike. When you’re starting out racing that’s exactly the bike you need and we were fortunate to win the title on the F4. I still see that model CBR, with the same graphics I had on my bike, on the streets today and it doesn’t look dated at all. That says a lot about a bike, I think.
I’ve ridden a lot of cool and trick Hondas in my life but the Honda I have ridden the most is the XR100. I grew up racing my brothers on XRs in our backyard and I still use one from time to time today. I’ve had a ton of fun on XR100s and the second best thing about the XR100 is that it’s just a tank in terms of reliability. We have ten-year-old bikes in our garage that have been ridden hard every day of their life and are still going strong. Keep good oil in them and the spokes tight and they seem to go forever. We’ve had XR100s that we thought were not going to last the week at our place from all the hard riding but a little refreshing and they last for many more years. I think anybody can get something out of riding an XR100, from my dad to my sister’s friend to me, a MotoGP rider. It’s a good teacher.
1. Laguna Seca
It was tough to pick my most favorite track because I do get to see so many great racetracks riding MotoGP, but Laguna has to have the top spot. I think that Laguna was one of the first “real” road race tracks in the US and a construction crew—no computers—laid it out. It’s such a distinctive track with the Corkscrew and turn one. If you’ve been there you know what I mean. There is not another Laguna Seca.
I won my first Superbike race at Laguna and also won two MotoGP races there. The first MotoGP win at Laguna was incredible but the second one is actually more special to me because I didn’t qualify well and came into the race leading the points. I felt a lot of pressure to deliver that weekend. The race in 2006 was so hot and one of the most physical races ever and I was able to pull it off.
2. Peoria TT
Again, a very distinctive track that you really have to see to understand why it is so special. Until you ride down that hill you don’t know what it’s like—it is thunder in the valley. I love dirt track but I love more than just going left and Peoria being a TT track suits me just fine. It’s got a jump, some right hand corners and turn one and two are basically the first part of a half mile track. Everybody should experience the Peoria TT once in their life, if not as a rider then for sure as a spectator.
3. The Springfield arena
This is where they have the Springfield short track and the TT. Mainly I just love the dirt on this track—it’s the best dirt in the world and offers so much to someone with an aggressive riding style. Plus every time you showed up the track was different so it was very challenging to try and win there.
Some people might read this and think, why Indy with all the European tracks that I get to race on? But when picking a track I took more into consideration than just the layout. Indy is a special track for me because I can drive there, race in front of my friends and fans and in some ways it feels more like a homecoming for me than a MotoGP race.
Indy is a special place for any motorsports fan because of the history and its place in motorsports.
5. Phillip Island
Situated next to the ocean in Australia, Phillip Island is like Laguna in that it is old school but it’s also very fast. Very, very fast. Growing up dirt track racing, I like tracks that turn left and Phillip Island turns left. Racing at Phillip Island is usually really good and the flowing layout lends itself to an aggressive riding style.
My lap record that I set in 2008 at Phillip Island stood all the way until 2013 when they re-paved the track.
This race in Italy is incredible for a lot of reasons—the layout, the fans, the location in Italy. It’s intense because of all the build up in Italy and because it’s just a great track. The track has a little bit of everything but is nice and wide and allows decent room to pass. For me, Mugello is good because it suits my style a bit more than some tracks because it has some banked corners. With banked corners you can really load the bike up running it in and then carry a lot of speed. Mugello is a great track and flows well.
7. Hagerstown, MD
Probably not the most well known Grand National dirt track, but I won my first Grand National race there. I battled all my heroes at Hagerstown—from Jay Springsteen to Scott Parker. Hagerstown has long straights and tight corners—I like that style track where you really have to lay it over going into the corner and you have to scrub off a lot of speed with the front end. You have to work it to go fast at Hagerstown.
I was torn between the Daytona short track race and Assen for number eight. I love Daytona short track even though it’s not the greatest track in the world but it’s a racetrack. It’s rough, it’s gnarly and gets full of ruts as the night goes on. For me it’s also the first place I ever rode a Grand National.
Assen, it’s the Cathedral of racing. Nothing more needs to be said.
9. Sunset Downs
Not many people outside of the Hayden family circle know the name of the track by my dad’s house. It’s called Sunset Downs because as kids we’d come home after school and we’d always say we’d ride every day until the sun went down behind a line of trees on the property line. We have lights out there now so we can ride into the night if we want, but the name stuck.
*Professional rider shown on closed course.