There are some things that you just have to work your way through. This is my attempt to work through one of those things.
On a bright and glorious Sunday morning at Indianapolis, I watched a young man die. I didn’t even know what I was seeing until long afterward.
During the warm-up lap of the first race of the day, the USGPRU race featuring 12- to 18-year-old riders, one rider somehow fell off of his bike and was struck by a rider behind him. 13-year-old Peter Lenz sustained serious blunt force trauma and succumbed to his injuries.
Photo courtesy of The Superbike School
I didn’t know what was happening, really. As often happens at live sports events, I was looking somewhere else, maybe talking to Bill or something, when I heard the “Ohhhh!” from the crowd and looked over to see riders on the ground. I could tell that it was taking a long time getting him onto a stretcher and into the ambulance, but that sometimes happens for various reasons. I don’t think there was ever an announcement to the crowd – but I was wearing earplugs for the thunderous noise anyway and might have missed one if it was made. Not that it necessarily was the right thing to do to the crowd at the track anyway.
Photo courtesy of MotoGP Galleries
It’s a harsh, harsh reminder of the dangerous realities of the sport that I’ve followed avidly for seven years. It doesn’t happen often – the last time it happened on such a world stage was the tragic death of Daijiro Kato (pictured at right) in 2003 – but riders can and do die doing this thing that I love. Coming home after a near-ecstatic weekend, checking on the condition of the injured rider, and learning the worst…it’s beyond “sobering.” It’s an outright shock – a deep, thorough shock to my system.
I will admit that for a few hours last night it cast a pall over the entire weekend in my memory, and in fact made me reconsider my fandom of the sport in general. The fact that I pay money and cheer for something that resulted in the death of a thirteen year old boy and the utter traumatization of the twelve year old boy that accidentally hit him isn’t something that is easy to digest. At all. And I hope it never becomes so, for any of us – that none of us take for granted that people risk their limbs, their health, and their lives not only for money or fame or pure joy of competition, but also for the entertainment of us, the spectators.
As I lay there in the dark of night last night, with the sounds of motorcycles still ringing in my ears, I thought of many things. Of how tragic it is that a promising young man died doing what he loved; about the future of the sport; about NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt’s on-track death and the impact upon the sport of the high-profile loss of one of its superstars; but mostly I found myself thinking of Eight Belles.
When Eight Belles was euthanized at trackside at Churchill Downs following her second-place run at the 134th Kentucky Derby, I felt a similar feeling of horror and disbelief – and similarly held my wife as she sobbed. I also felt that same sort of guilt, that my participation as a spectator (this time on television rather than in person) somehow meant that I shared some portion of the blame for the death of a competitor. Ultimately, though, I was able to enjoy horse racing again. I even visited the Downs, the scene of the crime, and was able to enjoy my time spent there. But not without having that little bit of concern in the back of my mind…the worry that something horrible would happen again.
Peter Lenz’ death is not directly comparable to that of Eight Belles. Eight Belles, for all her beauty, was an animal and not a human being. While I’m not an animal hater, I am not a person who places the lives of animals upon a level plane with that of human beings. But, also, Peter chose to compete in his race of his own free will – he was by all accounts a great young racer, with a bright future ahead of him in the sport, and he loved what he did. That puts things in another perspective.
His father’s words on Peter’s Facebook page brought some peace to my heart:
He passed doing what he loved and had his go fast face on as he pulled onto the track. The world lost one of its brightest lights today. God Bless Peter and the other rider involved. #45 is on another road we can only hope to reach.
After a while of soul-searching, I’ll go back to Indianapolis again next year and enjoy myself. And I’ll look back on the fun memories from this weekend without a dark cloud hanging over everything. I think that’s what Peter’s family wants, and what Peter himself would have wanted.
But I’ll probably let my DVR’ed footage of this weekend’s races sit unwatched for a little while before I can bring myself back to yesterday.
And I’ll never watch another motorcycle race without remembering the name of Peter Lenz.
My thoughts are with Xavier Zayat, the other rider involved in the accident, and his family as well.
And my sincerest condolences to the Lenz family.
Godspeed to Peter, and thanks.
Filed under: Life and other states of existence, Motorcycle Racing, motorcycles, Motorcycling, Taoism | Tagged: death, indianapolis motor speedway, peter lenz | 7 Comments »