Peter Lenz, a very promising young roadracer, took his final lap during the Indianapolis round of the MotoGP series this year. Peter crashed and was hit by another young rider who didn't see him as they were going to grid up for the support race. Major media jumped on the story to exploit its grim emotional impact: "Thirteen-year-old killed in racing accident." The story elicited self-righteous and accusatory statements about his parents' irresponsibility for putting the child in harm's way, even going so far as saying that criminal charges should be brought against them. I, for one, only wish that my parents could have been so "irresponsible."
Of course dead is dead and I'm still alive, but I've experienced only a fraction of the exhilaration that Peter Lenz did in his 13 spectacular years of life-half of which he spent riding and racing. The 3400 crash-free practice and racing miles he had put in while winning nine championships in Canada and the USA should be recognized. Peter was living what must have appeared to other pre-teens to be an alluring and exotic lifestyle, spending dozens of days driving long distances to and from racing events, sleeping in the van and "living the dream." Showing maturity beyond his years, he rarely mentioned his adventures or conquests to anyone outside his racing circle, and when he did he never boasted. In contrast to his competitive track spirit, Peter maintained an unassuming and exceptional generosity of spirit, while being a top-marks student. He was an inspiration to many, as witnessed and declared by his friends, racing peers and school classmates. For any age and by any standard of humanity, he left a laudable life footprint. Seeing him and the many other young riders we train only furthers my commitment to championing the huge benefits to young people that this sport provides.
Too young to die: The late Peter Lenz (left) with his friends and fellow racers Joe Robert
Look at newly crowned MotoGP World Champion Jorge Lorenzo. The 22-year old has been riding and racing since he was 3. Recently, Lorenzo received a hero's welcome home on his return to Spain, personally acknowledged by the president and attended by thousands of his fans. At the Day of Champions last year at Donington Park in England, hero memorabilia was auctioned off for charity. Lorenzo's offering: a touching and timely painting depicting his concern about people starving in Africa. The MotoGP grids are populated mainly by riders who began racing in their single-digit years of life. Are they inspirational; are they heroes? Some 300 million TV viewers worldwide unequivocally say yes. Riding and, for sure, racing gives one a different and exceptional perspective on life.
Does a 13-year-old have the right and the maturity to make such a decision; to put himself in harm's way? To truly understand the risks of injury, it is fair to say one would have to have known injury. Peter knew serious injury after hitting a wall at 90 mph (due to a mechanical failure) and suffering multiple broken body parts. Then, too, one can't ignore his familiar acquaintance with paraplegic, wheelchair-bound, three-time World Champion Wayne Rainey. He knew the risks, acknowledged the risks and, by his own stated decision, took the risks. Still, for all of us who worked with him, his loss was a mind-numbing reality check.
Ignoring risk is a byproduct of passion. It runs the gamut from impetuous desire to a fully aware lust for life. In either case, the emotional exhilaration outweighs the risk. In racing the danger is glaringly obvious; the buzz is stepping off into that freefall void of racing exhilaration with faith in yourself the only parachute. On the starting grid, it is never more obvious that you are you and no one else. The reason that only the honest achieve great success in racing is their ability to peer unflinchingly in the mirror. A certain detachment must be present to overcome our own self-image prejudices; a unique separation of what we wish to be and who we really are. To see that quality of clarity and honesty, which develops in young riders, makes my heart sing with hope for the future. Peter Lenz made my-and many, many others'-hearts sing.