From 2009: The 'Grind It Out' World Of Nick Hayden
(Tuesday, March 03, 2009)

The math is startling and reveals the radically daunting challenge that Nick Hayden was handed when he chose to leave Honda and sign with Ducati's MotoGP team for 2009. While, years ago, riders regularly wore out boxes of gloves and boots in rigorous and plentiful pre-season testing, today, post-season, in-season, and pre-season testing is strictly limited by Dorna, and the allotted time that MotoGP riders are allowed to test has actually been diminishing as the years pass.

Hayden, the 2006 world champion, has made the mammoth change from a Honda on Michelins to a Ducati on Bridgestone control tires--essentially, dramatically changing all major factors in the working life of a MotoGP rider. Hayden has had, in total, only six days on the Ducati GP9 thus far.

And he has only five more days of pre-season testing remaining until the MotoGP season begins under the lights of Qatar on April 12.

Like most world-championship-caliber-riders, Nick Hayden isn't happy unless he is fastest or so close that the difference is negligible. Presently, he seems realistically satisfied with his progress on the carbon-fiber-framed Ducati, saying he realizes that he's "got a big job ahead of [him]" and a very limited amount of prep-time before the season begins.

Sometimes asking a rider to evaluate how testing is progressing can be pointless. These are men who brush off 145-mph crashes and show no fear. Their unquenchable competitive streak has conditioned them in such a way that anything less than being very fast is unacceptable. Four-time world champion Eddie Lawson verbalized this mentality in the film Faster, explaining that, in the insular world of a rider, if they win, everything is great but, if they finish even second, 'you just want to kill everyone'.

Better, perhaps, to ask their mechanics, because many times no one knows riders more intimately than their mechanics, past or present.

Ex-racer Dan Fahie worked as a mechanic with Nicky Hayden and the late crewchief Merlyn Plumlee when Hayden rode at American Honda, including when the Kentuckian won the Superbike championship and the Daytona 200 in 2002. Hayden was a close friend and sometime house guest of Fahie's even before he signed with Honda, or any other roadrace team for that matter.

Asked for his viewpoint on the challenge in front of Hayden, Fahie tooks a philosophical position. "The reason that he's where he's at today," the current Kawasaki roadrace crewchief explains, "is because he works really, really hard at it. The best example that I have, in my interaction with him, is the dirt track races we did in 2002."

Backstory: while he was vying for the Superbike championship in 2002, Nick Hayden, then just 20 years old, was also in a quest to nail a spot for himself on the very exclusive motorcycle Grand Slam list. For that, he needed dirt track wins, so a back-door Honda program was developed so that AmHon could help him attain his Grand Slam goal. While Hayden was racing the RC51 Superbike for Honda, and he was also racing a Poovey Honda RS750 on big dirt tracks and a Honda CRF450 on the shorter ovals and TT tracks. Hayden won the Springfield TT that spring on the Honda 450--a race that Fahie says Hayden prepared for by grinding out laps and spending countless hours riding.

Fahie remembers, "I was involved in (the '02 dirt track effort) from the beginning. I can remember driving home with him after the Springfield win. I told him, 'You know, ... no one is ever going to know how hard you worked for this single win'. Sure, he went out and dominated that race at Springfield and made it look gravy. But, in preparation for that, he probably made five trips to California just to test the dirt track bike or talk to us about the dirt track bike and Springfield. At the same time, he was riding his practice bikes at home so hard in preparation for that one race that he literally just destroyed the bikes, wore them out or wore out and blew up the engines. Countless laps and countless engines. He was just beating the bikes to death."

"Obviously, he works really hard and everything is approached from that same foundation. He gets where he needs to be by riding and putting in laps. He's not a guy that sits down over a weekend and thinks about things and wakes up the next morning and it's all better, like (Anthony) Gobert could do.

How does Fahie see Hayden's chances as the '09 MotoGP season approaches? "Nick is a guy that needs to ride. I look for him to get faster the more laps he puts in."
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