MotoGP retires late former champion Hayden’s No. 69

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The “Kentucky Kid” is gone but his No. 69 will have a permanent place in MotoGP.

The series has retired the number of former champion Nicky Hayden, who died in 2017 after a bicycling accident in Italy.

Born and raised in Owensboro, Kentucky, Hayden used the number throughout his career from 2003-2016. He won the MotoGP championship with Repsol Honda in 2006 in an epic duel with seven-time champion Valentino Rossi that wasn’t decided until the final race.

Hayden is also the last American rider to win motorcycle racing’s top championship. MotoGP held a retirement ceremony Friday at the Circuit of the Americas, the home of this week’s Grand Prix of the Americas that is the only race of the season in the U.S.

Hayden’s father, Earl, was presented with a plaque with a red, white and blue “69.” The family has a deep history of motorcycle racing and they all wore the number when they raced, said Nicky Hayden’s brother, Tommy.

“The number 69 is a special number in our family,” Tommy Hayden said. “To have it retired in MotoGP, the pinnacle of the sport, means a lot to us.”

The Texas track has also dedicated an area where fans gather to watch the race as “Hayden Hill” with his number painted on the grassy hillside. Nicky Hayden’s championship motorcycle is also on display during race weekend.

Hayden died after being struck by a car while on a training ride on his bicycle. His number is the sixth to be formally retired by MotoGP.

“There are some riders that regardless of the number of titles, he means something special,” said Jorge Viegas, head of FIM, the governing body of motorcycle racing. “Some will remain in our hearts forever. Nicky is one of them.”