Editor’s note: We are very sorry to report that motorcycle racing legend Nicky Hayden has died after being hit by a car while training on a bicycle in Italy. He was 35. We met him once, he was a great dude, and it sucks. Here’s an interview we did with him a couple years ago that reminds us of his spirit and passion. RIP, Nicky.

Nicknamed The Kentucky Kid, 33-year-old Nicky Hayden is fighting the good fight for American motorcycle racing.

He won the MotoGP World Championship in 2006 and he’s looking to do it again in 2015, starting with the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas in Austin, Texas this Sunday.

We tracked down Hayden—who’s back with Honda, the team that gave him his start 10 years ago—to ask what he loves about bikes, whether he ever drives an actual car and what goes through his head at 200 miles per hour.

“On the track you can’t control everyone around you. When you’re out there with 25 other guys you can’t control them either. Once you put the helmet on and lock in, you don’t think about it, it’s just what you do.”

So you’re in Austin this weekend. What are you going to be riding?
A Honda RC213V-RS. It’s got a 1000cc engine. They won’t give specific numbers, but it’s got over 250 horses. I’ll be doing speeds of about 210 miles per hour. Austin has a big straightaway so we’ll definitely be seeing some top speed.

Do you remember when you knew there was something special about bikes?
I don’t remember my first time on a bike. They tell me I was three years old. My dad raced and my mom raced, my cousins race, two of my brothers race, I grew up with it. It was in my blood. I don’t remember days without riding bikes. From a really young age, I knew I wanted to make it a profession. I want to ride as long as I can. I’ve gotten to see the world and do things that I never would have imagined as a boy from Kentucky. I love bikes and they’ve been really good to me.

What’s your favorite bike for riding around town?
I ride bikes that go fast for a living. When I ride bikes on the street, I’m not racing stoplight to stoplight. My favorite bike here is a dirt bike. It’s really good cross training. It [involves] a lot of the same muscles and concentration. The ground is loose, so you have to learn throttle control. I ride a CRF-450, that’s my favorite bike other than my racing bike. I recently did a shoot out in LA on a CB-450 and I’m in the market for one of those around here for tooling around town with my buddies.

Do you ever drive cars?
I do drive a car. We have real winters out here in Kentucky. If I’m going to an airport, it’s hard to go to the airport with a couple of bags on the back of a CBR-1000 or something. It’s enjoyable, but you have to be careful about cars. My favorite is a Honda Ridgeline. My garage looks like a Honda shop because I have a Honda bike, scooter, car. If I want to cat around town or go on a road trip I have a G Wagon.

What goes through your head when you’re out on the track?
Very little. At that speed you need to be locked in on one thing. You can’t be thinking about what’s for dinner or anything else. Things happen and consequences are big. If you haven’t been to the track for a while, at first speeds seem really fast, but your body and your brain adjust to that pretty fast. I’ve been doing this for so long that I don’t really think about it. Last year in Italy I was out watching because I had a wrist injury. It looks faster than it feels. I felt safer on the bike than I did standing there watching.

Why do you feel safer on the bike?
On the track you can’t control everyone around you. When you’re out there with 25 other guys you can’t control them either. Once you put the helmet on and lock in, you don’t think about it, it’s just what you do.

Are you more competing against yourself or the other guys on the track?
It’s a little of both. In the practices and the qualifying, it’s more about getting the most out of you and your bike. But once the race comes around, then you’re racing the guy beside you. You’re trying to figure out their strengths and the best chance to overtake them. But you’re still mostly focused on yourself more than the other guy.

Do you have any superstitions?
I have a routine I follow on race day. When I wake up, when I eat, when I stretch. If I have a good qualifying or a good race before, I want to wear the same leathers or the same helmet. When I have something on my iPod and I win a race, that’s my go to jam, I go right back to it.

What would you do if you couldn’t ride anymore?
I’m not sure. That’s why I chose bikes. It’s the one thing that fit. To be honest, school wasn’t really for me. I would be doing something with bikes. That’s what I’ve always known and done. I would want to help another young American rider. I’m the last American in the world championships. I definitely want to do my part to help some young talent and get some more American riders represented at the world level when that time comes.

Why do you think there’s a shortage of American riders?
Well, it’s not always been the case. In the late 80s, the Americans were very dominant. The sport hasn’t caught on in popularity like it has in Europe, especially in Spain and Italy. There they have some championships for young riders that are very competitive. It’s like any other sport. You get guys in at a young age and develop them. We haven’t done a good enough job at developing young talent. We need to raise our game.

I hope to see the sport gain more interest here in America. If more fans were exposed to it, it would catch on. It’s one of those sports that TV doesn’t do justice. It’s something that you really need to experience live. Not just see it, but feel it and hear it to get the full effect.

Photos by Aspar Racing.