An easy laugh, a mischievous twinkle in his eye and a laid-back

Kentucky drawl belie the intensity and focus Nicky Hayden applies to racing. Part

of the Ducati Marlboro MotoGP Team, the Owensboro, KY, native began riding at

the age of three and racing at age five.

After going pro in 1997, then-16-year-old Hayden took five wins

during his rookie season in the AMA Supersport classes in 1998. The following

year, he competed in three different classes of the AMA series, as well as the

Grand National Flat Track series, taking the AMA 600 Supersport title and

earning the Ricky Graham Rookie of the Year award and the AMA SpeedVision

Athlete of the Year award. By 2002, he became the youngest rider in the history

of Superbike to win the series championship.

The newly crowned champ moved up to the highest level in 2003,

taking on the 800cc prototype bikes of MotoGP. He scored his first MotoGP

victory in 2005 at Laguna Seca and captured the Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing

World Championship in 2006.

Highly competitive and extremely driven, Hayden competed in the

Grand National Flat Track series during his "off weekends" as an AMA rider,

adding five national victories to his resume. To this day, he typically spends

his downtime racing bikes and can often be found at another racetrack when not

competing in MotoGP.

Hot stuff

When he's not racing, testing or practicing, Hayden is usually conditioning

for a race. In addition to running, cross-training and working out at the gym,

he does a lot of bicycling. "It's good base training," he says. "It's important

to keep weight off and be light. Bicycle training helps with that and is a good

cardio workout."

Taking advantage of a break in the summer racing schedule, Hayden

flew to Indianapolis to demonstrate his bicycling form at the Major Taylor

Velodrome with the Marian University Zipp Cycling Team in early August. It

didn't matter that he chose a day when the heat index topped 110 degrees; the

Kentucky native is accustomed to Midwestern humidity and excessive heat. In

fact, training in the heat helps prepare him for race conditions.

"Malaysia is really hot," he says, referring to the Malaysian

Motorcycle Grand Prix in Sepang. "You're wearing leathers and the bike puts off

heat, too. It's challenging: during the draft, there's less air, so it doesn't

cool off. It's such a physical thing; you're on the edge every corner, every

lap. It takes a lot of fitness, a lot of strength mentally and physically. You

have to be prepared for the heat."

He may be able to handle the heat, but he's less prepared to be

put in the hot seat. Exhibiting a slight resemblance to guitarist Dave Navarro

– sans tattoos and depending on his facial hair grooming – the

29-year-old motorcycle racer self-consciously ducks all questions regarding his

love life and "groupies" with a bashful laugh. "It's hot out here; are you

going to let me off the hook?" he begs.

Hayden may not want to talk about his "fan club," but the athlete

is immensely popular around the world, especially since winning the MotoGP

championship. "It was huge; it changed things. I have a lot more opportunities

now."

What it didn't change was his desire to succeed. He says he's even

hungrier than before because winning felt great, and he's determined to work

his way back to the top, this time on the back of a Ducati.

His boyish charm and down-to-earth appeal, combined with

indisputable talent and a willingness to perform, make him a public relations

dream come true. The special edition 848 that Ducati North America put on the

market last year sold out within a couple of weeks, thanks to Hayden. His photo

shoot for Tissot, the Swiss watchmaker, illustrates his model-like good looks can

translate into marketability.

Trading on that marketability, Hayden has collaborated on a book, The

Haydens: Nicky, Tommy, & Roger, From OWB To MotoGP, and recently completed work on his MTV special, The

Kentucky Kid. The young entrepreneur also

has his own signature line of clothing. Modestly relegating himself to the role

of advisor for the line of casual wear, he says, "I don't design; I just give

my opinion." Nevertheless, he is responsible for unique race-inspired

influences.

Extended family

Whether his modified Mohawk, accented with racing stripes shaved

into the sides of his scalp, will influence hairstyles has yet to be seen. But

his sense of humor has earned him a following. Life isn't all work and no play

for the Kentucky Kid, as he's affectionately nicknamed, no matter how much he

claims to enjoy training and racing. His fun-loving nature is demonstrated by

an amusing video he posted in which he "interviews" his father after a scooter

crash.

Family plays a central role in Hayden's life. "My family supported

me as a kid," he says simply. In fact, his parents crisscrossed the country in

a box van, taking the three Hayden boys from one dirt track to the next in the

early days. As an homage to his father, the MotoGP champ adopted his old

number, 69.

When Hayden returns to Indianapolis for the Red Bull Indianapolis

GP MotoGP, family will be with him. In fact, younger brother Roger Lee will

compete in the Moto2 race for Team Honda/Moriwaki. Nicky believes it will add

to the weekend, but he jokes that the brother he shared a room with until he

turned 18 will have to learn the hard way: "no puppy love!" Upon reflection, he

relents, saying, "He can help me. We'll be on the same track the same weekend.

He might have some good feedback."

Feedback is particularly important in light of a rules change that

has limited testing, but any feedback he has is unlikely to be shared with his

Ducati teammate, Casey Stoner. "We share information a little," he hedges, "but

we want to beat each other. It's a touchy subject."

Discounting the disadvantage of newly instituted testing limits,

Hayden admits it's a "big challenge" to have less testing time, but says it's

enough. "Half the time, we were testing tires. Now that we run spec tires, we

can eliminate a lot of testing since we're not developing them." Unwilling to

admit that wind tunnel testing and reviewing computer data aren't his favorite

ways to spend a day, he insists that he enjoys "anything to help us go faster."

After a dismal first season with Ducati last year that saw Hayden

fall to his lowest-ever position in the points as he struggled to come to grips

with a new bike – the Desmosedici GP9 – and his new team, anything

that helps him go faster is welcome.

Crediting his team for adapting well to the new rules package and

a new engine that makes it "smoother off the bottom, more predictable, easier

to get some feel into it and a little bit less radical," he considers last year

a "transitional year," pointing out that he spent the previous nine years with

Honda. Not only did he switch to a new team, he also changed to a new tire:

Bridgestone.

Things are going better this year. Sitting 6th in the

points as they came off the summer break, he feels "more comfortable with the

bike, the team [and] with everything that's going on around me," he says. "I value the way Ducati go about things and I

understand the Italian way better. We're on the same page. I like the

bike better this year; it's more suited to me."

Whether the team caters to him more, as Hayden believes, or

there's simply a better understanding between him and his Italian team, he has

been able to make the bike work better, resulting in consistent top 4th

and 5th finishes and fighting for race wins. "We've been in the top

five a lot, but we need to take that next step and do better," he admonishes

himself. "We have the package to do it. I know I can do it. I don't need to

talk about. I just need to go out and do it when it counts."

Home race

It would count big if he did it at Indianapolis, where he has

finished on the podium in the previous two MotoGP races. "I like the track

quite a lot," Hayden says about racing at the Brickyard. "It suits my style. Indy

has unique sections off the oval to the infield that make it impossible to set

up the bike for the transitions. You need good grip for the fast sections. The

Ducati should work well there so we'll see."

Explaining that he likes any track where he's had a good result,

he says Australia is one of his favorites because it's on the ocean, it's

really fast and it's not easy. "You need guts."

Indianapolis Motor Speedway may not have an ocean view, but it has

atmosphere, and Hayden likes that. Plus, because it's the closest race to his

home, he has a lot of support from family and friends in attendance. As he

says, it's a "special race with a lot of expectations."

Expectations beyond Indianapolis also run high. Recognizing the

pressure for one of the three front-running American riders (which includes

Tech 3 Yamaha teammates Colin Edwards and Ben Spies) to win, he believes the

Ducati team has "a good enough package to be winning races.

"The bike has improved a lot from last year, and the engineers

there are really committed to wanting to make it the best bike on the grid.

I've seen a lot of improvements from last year in terms of rideability,

reliability, and it's a more consistent bike. I think the bike has a lot of potential

that we haven't even got to yet. But, having said that, we still want to

improve."

Continually focused on improvement, Hayden had

surgery on his right arm during the off-season to clean up some scar tissue

from an earlier injury. Suffering from compartmental syndrome, commonly known

as arm-pump, he says his arm is good and his body is healthy. At 29, he

considers himself in his racing prime. "It's not just about being young

and fearless; you've gotta' be smart. It's a long season – you have to

find that balance. I hope my best days are still ahead."

He also hopes the days ahead will be with Ducati. Although he

hasn't ruled out racing with four wheels – and even swapped seats 10

years ago with Michael Andretti, spinning out in an Indy car at Mid-Ohio Sports

Car Course – he remains "fully committed" to bikes at this time.

More importantly, he remains committed to Ducati. "I've been

blessed with this opportunity. I love the team and the bike," he insists. The

team reportedly loves him too, having been impressed by his passion,

determination and commitment.

Ducate is expected to announce a one-year contract extension at

Indianapolis, teaming him with legendary rider Valentino Rossi in 2011. Rossi

is leaving Yamaha after seven seasons and four world titles. Hayden's current

teammate Stone has already announced a move to Honda, where he is expected to

be joined by American Ben Spies.

Whether Rossi steals the limelight or the two harmoniously confer

on developing the Ducati, the hard-working Hayden is determined to achieve

better results. "We took a big step from last year to this year, and I would

hope to be able to do the same next year."

If Nicky Hayden can beat the heat and meet the expectations by

taking a big step to the top of the podium here, not only will there be a lot

of Haydens cheering him on in victory circle, but it's a good

bet Indianapolis will become his favorite track.

Ready

for Red Bull?

MotoGP's

top 10

By

Lori Lovely

The 2010 Red Bull Indianapolis GP kicks off with practice

on Friday, Aug. 27, followed by Saturday qualifying and the race on Sunday,

Aug. 29, rain or shine ... or heat. Heating up the track is action from MotoGP, Moto2 and the 125cc class bikes.

MotoGP is the premier class of GP motorcycle road racing, governed by the Road Racing World Championship Grand

Prix, which also features 125cc and Moto2 600cc classes. Grand Prix motorcycles

are purpose-built racing prototypes with the current maximum engine

displacement capacity of 800cc capable of producing speeds in

excess of 200 mph. Teams compete in events around the world.

When it comes to MotoGP, the chase is on. Jorge Lorenzo, Fiat Yamaha

rider, extended his lead in the World Championship standings to 77 with a win

at Brno in the Czech Republic, which made him just the third rider in the

62-year history of Grand Prix motorcycle racing to finish either first or

second in the first 10 races of a season. It's his championship to lose. He has not qualified outside of the top three or

finished lower than second.

Dani

Pedrosa, riding for Repsol Honda, matched Lorenzo's two wins in the first half

of the season, but, as he demonstrated at Brno, inconsistency has offset the

advantage of his remarkably long-lived Honda engine, relegating him to

second-place. Pedrosa's teammate, fourth-place Andrea Dovizioso is likely to

suffer the same engine pangs.

A

crash at the season opener in Qatar started Ducati rider Casey Stoner's year

off with a thud, but the Aussie has climbed onto the podium five times this

season. A third place at Brno boosted him to third in the championship. Working

with teammate Nicky Hayden to improve the bike's starts off the grid, Stoner is

gaining momentum as the season proceeds.

The

doctor is in the house. Valentino Rossi returned just six weeks after a leg

injury following a horrendous crash at the Italian Grand Prix in April.

Finishing fourth at Sachsenring, he just missed out on a podium, but he got it

at Laguna Seca. Unfortunately, the Fiat Yamaha rider struggled to a fifth place

finish at Brno. However, the nine-time World Champion can never be counted out.

Sixth

in points behind Rossi is Ducati's Nicky Hayden, whose determination and

dedication will be bolstered by the support of family and friends at his home

Grand Prix.

American

Ben Spies, riding for Monster Yamaha Tech 3, is in a serious battle for Rookie

of the Year with Marco Simoncelli, with satellite

team San Carlo Honda

Gresini. Clinically methodical as he learns each new track, Spies has turned

in some astounding performances, such as starting from the front row in Brno.

Consistent strong finishes have placed him seventh in the points standings.

Another

satellite team rider, Randy de Puniet, made his comeback at Brno. The French

LCR Honda rider suffered multiple fractures of his left leg in a crash at the

German race at Sachenring. After a private test in the south of France, he

declared himself ready to race and eager to make up points.

Rounding

out the Top 10 are San

Carlo Honda Gresini's Marco Melandri and Colin Edwards, riding for Monster Yamaha Tech 3. Melandri is still recovering from a shoulder injury

suffered at Assen, although a new electronics package for his Honda should make

him feel better. Improvements to the Yamaha helped turn around Texan Edwards'

season, although he hopes to be fighting closer to the front than his seventh

place at Brno.

INFOBOX

Friday, Aug 27: gates open at 8

Pit Walkabout at 9

125cc

Practice at 12:40

MotoGP

Practice at 1:55

Moto2

Practice at 3:10

Saturday, Aug 28: gates open at 7

125cc

Practice at 9

MotoGP

Practice at 9:55

Moto2

Practice at 11:10

125cc

Qualifying at 1

MotoGP

Qualifying at 1:55

Moto2

Qualifying at 3:10

Sunday, Aug 29: gates open at 7

125cc

Race at noon

Moto2

Race at 1:15

MotoGP Race at

3

For tickets:

Order online at www.imstix.com

By phone: (317) 492-6700, or (800) 822-INDY outside the

Indianapolis area

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