August 30, 2010
How young is too young to race?
During a motorcycle race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, 13-year-old Peter Lenz fell off his bike during a warmup lap and was run over by a trailing motorcycle. A few hours later, Lenz was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital; the cause of death, according to the Marion County coroner's office, was blunt force trauma.
Though he was just 4-foot-11 and 81 pounds, Lenz was already a highly accomplished racer, according to the Associated Press. He earned "expert" designation from the American Federation of Motorcyclists by the time he was 11, and this year, competing in the U.S. Grand Prix Racers Union, he had already amassed four wins and five podium finishes.
His father's message on Peter's Facebook page was heartbreaking. "He passed doing what he loved and had his go fast face on as he pulled onto the track," the posting said. "The world lost one of its brightest lights today. God Bless Peter and the other rider involved. 45 [Peter's number] is on another road we can only hope to reach. Miss you kiddo." Lenz is the youngest driver/rider fatality ever at the 101-year-old Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Without blaming the victim in any way, the tragedy nonetheless raises the specter of age, and whether teens and pre-teens possess the necessary dexterity and presence of mind to pilot vehicles that can go more than 120 mph. Lenz was 13, and the racer whose bike ran over Lenz is only 12.
Officials said Monday that they will look into possible ways to increase safety of racers.
Those affiliated with the sport note that other youth sports, such as football and gymnastics, have a similar possibility for youth injury. United States Grand Prix Racers Union officials say that this was the first fatality in the series in nine years.
NASCAR, for its part, has a proud tradition of young drivers. Kyle Busch go-karted as a kid and began driving cars at age 13. Joey Logano started racing when he was 6. And, most impressively, Jeff Gordon was driving at age 5, and had won 60-plus events by the time he was 6.
Obviously, it's possible to start young and see tremendous safe success. Still, the regulations that could come down from this incident could severely impact future racing -- which, ironically, is exactly what racers and fans alike would not want to happen.
Our condolences to the Lenz family and Peter's fans.
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