CONCORD, N.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. is among the many who continue to have American MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden in their thoughts.
Hayden remains hospitalized in serious condition after being hit by a car while on his bicycle May 17 while training on the Rimini coast in Italy.
The 35-year-old Kentucky native was treated at the scene for life-threatening injuries from the crash. He was then taken to a local hospital in serious condition with head and chest trauma.
In an interview with FOXSports.com, Earnhardt opened up about his interaction with Hayden and why he’s such a respected figure in motorsports.
“I met Nicky at Indy a couple years ago,” Earnhardt said. “He’s a huge fan of motorsports – two wheels and four wheels. He’s made a lot of friends in this garage and other forms of motorsports, as well. Everybody knows who he is. He leaves an impression on you because he’s an incredible person. He’s really, really nice and really humble. Always has a smile on his face.”
Although Earnhardt and Hayden have had many face-to-face interactions, social media has allowed them to support each other as motorsports competitors.
“We’ve kind of supported each other a little bit through social media, just kind of tit-for-tat on pushing each other and saying ‘Hey, how you doing?’,” said Earnhardt. “Ever since we’ve met, I was always just really surprised he was a fan or was a supporter of our team. I’ve just always watched him from afar ever since.”
The two-time Daytona 500 champion has recently developed a new passion for cycling, joining other drivers in the garage, including Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray.
For Earnhardt, that was just another reason why Hayden is weighing heavily on his mind.
“I picked up cycling about three months ago. I really, really enjoy it a lot,” Earnhardt added. “I’ve talked to Jimmie (Johnson) a lot about safety, the dangers and how to enjoy cycling. All of this kind of intersected and all of this is weighing really heavy on our hearts. We’re certainly very worried about Nicky, wishing and praying for him to heal.”
— Hendrick 88 Team (@Hendrick88Team) May 19, 2017
Earnhardt wanted to pay tribute to Hayden in some way, so he took it upon himself to order stickers of Hayden’s signature number, No. 69, which are featured on all four Hendrick Motorsports cars this weekend for the Monster Energy All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“We’re really concerned, but just hoping he can heal. I really don’t have a correct line of communication to anyone in his circle, but we just want to be able to show our support for his family and all those people who are affected by his accident,” Earnhardt said. “It’s got to be incredibly difficult for them to be a half a world away from their homes with him trying to get through what’s going on.”
As Hayden’s official prognosis remains unknown, Earnhardt said he felt the tribute is the least he could do to let a fellow racer and his family know the NASCAR world is thinking about them.
“I just can’t imagine how difficult that must be,” Earnhardt said. “I just really wanted make sure we know that we’re thinking of them. We’re just praying and hoping for some good news.”