Pre-Daytona Spooge

Brent Avis
by Brent Avis
In last year's Daytona 200 ByArai, Nicky Hayden, then 18-years-old, came within .011 seconds ofbecoming the youngest champion of North America's most prestigiousmotorcycle race. Hayden dueled with Australian Mat Mladin in the closing laps of therace, coming up just a few inches short of victory in the second closestfinish in the history of the race, which dates back to 1937.

"It was awesome," Hayden said. "I would have liked to have won itreally, but I think it was a great race and it set the tone for a greatfirst season in superbike for me. I think if we had come in here and nothad such a good result we would not have had such a good year. Runninggood here put the pressure on us for the rest of the year."

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Hayden will be 19 when he competes in this year's 60th annual Daytona200 By Arai on March 11. Even though he's too old to become the youngestwinner of the Daytona 200, Hayden is still hungry to win.

"We gained a lot of confidence by having such a good run in the 200,"said Hayden, who rides the factory Honda RC51. "One of my goals in 2001is to come back here and win the Daytona 200. The race could have goneeither way really. It makes you want to come back and win the thing."

Hayden was raised in Owensboro, Ky., a town that has a penchant forproducing racers.

On the stock car side, the town has produced three Winston Cup drivers-- Darrell Waltrip is a three-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion and 1989Daytona 500 winner; Michael Waltrip followed in his older brothe'sfootsteps and drives the No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Inc.;and Jeremy Mayfield also competes in the Winston Cup Series driving theNo. 12 Mobil 1 Ford.

Owensboro is also the home to the Green brothers, who all compete inthe NASCAR Busch Series. Jeff Green won the 2000 NASCAR Busch Serieschampionship, David Green won the 1994 Busch Series championship andMark Green drives the No. 55 Davis & Weight Motorsports Chevrolet.

Even Hayden's two brothers, Tommy and Roger Lee, will compete in thisyear's Daytona 200. So what's in the water in Owensboro?

"I don't know what it is about my hometown that produces racers,"Hayden said. "It's pretty neat, though. In Owensboro, motorsports seemsto be pretty big but it's more of a NASCAR town. Not too many people areinto bikes but they love racing.

"I try to keep up with the (Owensboro) boys and see how they're doing.The Greens had a charity golf tournament and my brothers went there andsigned some autographs and donated some things. Mark Green has said thathe follows some of my races and that's a good deal."

Winning the Daytona 200 By Arai would definitely stir up the town ofOwensboro and it's a victory coveted by Hayden.

"It's the biggest race in America. I grew up around the race watchingit as a kid many a time. It would mean so much to me and Honda to winit."

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Brent Avis
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