He has not won the AMA Superbike crown, yet. Nevertheless, Nicky Hayden belongs on a GP machine, fighting for a World championship.
Hayden, winner of the last four AMA Superbike races this year, eliminated himself from the Superbike championship points race early. Nevertheless, after watching him walk away from the field at the Virginia International Raceway Superbike race, including Anthony Gobert on a track where the R7 is more than competitive, I began to put Hayden’s talent in perspective.
At 20 years old, Hayden has a wealth of experience in AMA competition, and a 600 Supersport championship (every bit as hard to obtain as the Superbike championship). He is also the only full-time roadracer in the United States who can show up at a flat track national and win. The importance of this last point cannot be overstated.
Nicky has hugely talented teammates, including Miguel DuHamel (the winningest AMA rider in history) and Kurtis Roberts (a prodigy in his own right), but Hayden’s performances stand above these talented men on identically prepared machinery. Indeed, at VIR, neither Roberts nor DuHamel could keep Nicky Hayden in sight and Gobert’s R7 walked away from the Honda RC51s under those two men, but he couldn’t stay with Hayden to the checkered flag.
Reportedly, both Hayden and Roberts have clauses in their contracts that allow Honda to specify their transfer to World GP racing next year. Bad luck and Mat Mladin could keep Hayden from the AMA Superbike crown again next year. Who cares? It is time for Hayden to move beyond AMA competition and take on the best competition the world has to offer.