In the Paddock column – Cycle News

Michael Scott | January 12, 2022

Cycle News In the paddock


Squearl: The End of a Dynasty

Many loving thoughts will be expressed and many words written in tribute to Earl Hayden, who recently passed away after a long and exhausting battle with a debilitating disease.

Out of longstanding respect, I hope CN readers will please me if I add several more. Earl’s death marks the end of an era that not only spanned different motorcycle racing disciplines, but also different classes and continents, and achieved great success in all of them.

The Hayden family at the Motorsports Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Nicky Hayden. (Left to right) Jennifer, Tommy, Kathleen, Roger, Rose and Earl. Photo by Tom Miller

My personal contact with the Hayden family was primarily with the late Nicky, during his Grand Prix years, and it almost goes without saying that the 2006 MotoGP champion has been a credit to himself and his family throughout.

Seeking personal validation from racing heroes was certainly not the reason I chose the role of grand prix reporter, but in passing I can point out that, of all the riders and champions with whom I have dealt with, repeatedly and closely, for over three decades, Nicky was one of only two runners who ever showed a personal interest in me and why I was involved in racing. (The other, by the way, was Wayne Rainey, another natural American gentleman, who also brought the Hayden dynasty to my attention long before the three brothers had hit full racing stride.)

I never sought or expected such an answer. One of the reasons I admire top runners is their almost pathological ability to focus only on themselves. Achieving the drive and focus required for a World Championship rarely leaves much room for social graces, and that’s fine. But when they are present, it is all the more vital.

Nicky, with her warm, open nature and joyous enjoyment of the racing life, made an impression on MotoGP from the start – a credit to her upbringing and personality. Earl followed and immediately became a paddock character.

His gruff voice spun strings of anecdotes that could sometimes make you laugh out loud. Some were about racing, others were about the colorful characters he’d encountered at his used car fleet, 2nd Chance Autos, which describes itself as “a low-budget dealer – we accept trades and buy junk cars”. Few of these characters may have been as colorful as the man his racing progeny called “Squearl”, as many of his other stories attest.

They took him through his own racing career and the early days of Team Earl, often a no-brainer, but always focused and dedicated.

The Hayden dynasty will leave a lasting impression. There were other dynasties that achieved great things.

The Hayden family at COTA in 2019

The first that comes to mind has fallen into disuse, after a string of accomplishments that also completely eclipsed humble beginnings. It is no coincidence that the Roberts family is also American. The land of opportunity, indeed.

The driving force of Clan Roberts came from a rider of boundless talent and determination. Kenny Senior didn’t go racing to make friends, and in his early years in Europe it showed. But the strength of his personality and his own lineage fertile in sharp humorous banter was a game-changer in the years to come, as he rose from driver to crew chief, team owner and race builder – a boundless vision and ambition.

The dynasty was affirmed by his eldest son Kenny Junior, the first father-son champions in grand prix history.

The feat was matched in 2021, when Remy Gardner’s Moto2 title followed his father Wayne’s 500cc crown in 1987, the first for an Australian rider.

Nothing else compares to either of the American dynasties, although there are many father-son examples. Barry Sheene, for his part, was introduced to bike racing by his father Frank, a former rider and later noted tuner and racing boss, in an era before non-big factory teams. Valentino Rossi is another whose GP-winning father Graziano led his early racing career, although he would have preferred his son to stay with four wheels as his own career was prematurely cut short by injury.

These days, the role of motocross dad has fallen into some disrepute, thanks to pushy pops getting in the way and in some cases forcing reluctant sons to push even though their own ambitions might be elsewhere. Mentors are preferably drawn from outside the family, from a small group of professional trainers, often former runners themselves.

earl hayden nicky hayden statue
Earl (in a white and black beanie in the front row) at the unveiling of his son Nicky’s tribute statue in Owensboro, Kentucky, in 2018.

The Marquez family is a perfect example. Father Julia was extremely involved in the years or early days of his two sons’ racing, but when Marc and subsequently also Alex showed exceptional levels of talent, he wisely stepped aside, relinquishing control to the ex-champion 125 and grand prix general Svengali Emilio Alzamora.

All of this just sets Earl Hayden apart, the accomplishments of himself and his sons, and the legacy he leaves behind.

My condolences to the surviving members of his family, and my thanks for the memories. NC

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