Interview: Nicky Hayden on America’s Future
Given the distinguished history of American champions in Grand Prix motorcycle racing, it’s disappointing to think that the U.S. is down to a single rider in MotoGP. 2006 World Champion Nicky Hayden joined the Repsol Honda MotoGP team in 2003 after winning the AMA Superbike championship, and this past weekend celebrated his 200 Grand Prix start.
With the United States’ national motorcycle racing series beginning a new chapter with MotoAmerica, Hayden is uniquely qualified to comment on how the rejuvenated AMA Superbike series can help young America riders follow in his footsteps. I spoke to the Aspar Honda rider at Losail to find out what he thinks about the future of American riders in Grand Prix racing.
Scott Jones: What are the most important things the new AMA could do to help young American riders adapt to international motorcycle racing?
Nicky Hayden: It’s true, we need to help bring along the young talent better. There are a couple of things: one is just to have more opportunities for the kids. Now it’s really tough for them to get any support, there not being a lot of rides out there. Unless you have a lot of money, it’s just really tough to get any sponsorship, or to get a ride.
If you look around the AMA, there’s a couple of factory Yamahas, and otherwise not a lot of opportunities for kids. So that’s one thing.
And also, the schedule this year is better, so just getting on the track more helps. Last year it was five races and two-day events. That’s not a lot of time for a young rider to develop talent.
And as much as anything, deeper fields. In the past couple years, there’ve been some fast guys at the front, but the depth is not there. So I think it doesn’t matter if you’re riding a motorcycle or playing little league baseball, when you’re a kid, the more competition there is just brings out the best in everybody.
That’s why I think Moto2 and Moto3 develop such good riders. They have pretty equal bikes and it comes down to who pushes the most.
SJ: In the Spanish system, before the CEV they have kids on pocket bikes at 3 and 4 years old. What about getting kids racing earlier?
NH: Yeah, age is another thing. You can’t really start [in the U.S.] until you’re sixteen. I haven’t been to any club races lately so I can’t say how good the competition is there. But yeah, you drive by a kart track in Spain and Italy, and see all these kids out there. Mini-moto is huge.
SJ: Do you think that’s something that the AMA should consider, having events for younger riders?
NH: If they could. I know it’s not easy because of the insurance and things in the US. I’m not sure if the KTM Cup there having this year is a little younger [the minimum age for the KTM Cup is 14 – SJ]. But for sure, the younger the better. I mean, look around at Moto3.
SJ: If you were 16 again and wanted to make it to GP racing, how would you approach that now? Would you stay in the U.S. or would you have to move to Europe?
NH: It’s hard to say because, as I said, I haven’ been to any of the US club races, so I don’t really know what kind of competition they have. I think that some of the tracks in America are getting better to help young riders.
But for sure, you’d have to consider moving to Europe. To get over here on these tracks, against this competition, to really get pushed – I’m not saying I would or I wouldn’t, but it would be something you’d have to consider.
SJ: Are you in touch with any young American racers, and if so, do you hear much interest from them in coming to GP racing, or are they content to stay and race at home?
NH: I do see young guys around, especially in my town, there’s a couple of kids that my dad helps, and my cousin [Hayden Gillim] won the Sportbike championship last year. Which, it’s a shame but it just goes to show you: He won that championship and it didn’t really do a lot for him in terms of getting some support. Now he’s got a ride, but it wasn’t until a month ago or something that he got the ride. Normally, you win that championship, you should have some offers right away.
And plus I do some local dirt tracks and different things, and I do see some interest, but I wouldn’t say every American kid just can’t wait to move to Europe. I think some of them like being home with their buddies and their friends and goofing off.
So I definitely hear kids talking about being happy to stay where they are if the [AMA] championship gets better. But I’ve also talked to some kids who really want to make that step.
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