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Oct 24, 2011

FIRST PERSON/OPINION: Road Racing Chaplain Tim Burleson, On The Loss Of Marco Simoncelli


Via e-mail:

It has happened again.

A skilled, handsome, gifted racer died at the hands of the speed that thrilled him and the millions who watched. Yet we keep coming to the track. Why?

When Peter Lenz died last year at his tender age, media outlets across the country raged that one so young would be exposed to danger so great. In my opinion they did not understand.

"What did they not understand?" you ask.

Two things they did not understand. One: Each of us has our own acceptable level of risk. Whether it be trying to stop a charging running back with a pulling guard between you, or racing a motorcycle at speeds in triple digits, all of us take risks daily that we can live with.

Heck, getting out of bed in the morning is risky. Say your child or grandchild left a toy beside your bed, right where you step onto the floor. Sleepily you put your foot there and trip as you try to stand. Very likely you will hit something hard that will leave a mark.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration early estimates, over 32,000 people died in traffic incidents in the U.S. in 2010, not on a racetrack but on public roads. Already this season a handful of high school and college football players have died from participating in their sport.

Life is risky and each of us have our own acceptable level of risk.

The Second thing misunderstood by the media after Peter's death--and I'll warn you, I'm gonna get religious here--is that we are each gifted by God to do certain things with our lives. For some it is racing. Several months ago a rider who participates in the AMA Pro Daytona SportBike class asked me "How can I honor God with my life?" My answer was, "If you love racing and are good at it, you probably are doing so now by using the gifts given you."

Just like you cannot tell a giraffe not to be a giraffe, you cannot tell a racer not to be a racer. That is who you are, and it is OK.

So as we join the MotoGP community in grieving the loss of Marco Simoncelli, we can gather in support of the GP paddock, the racing officials, his competitors, all motorcycle racers, and the worldwide fans of motorcycle road racing. We can express concern for Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi as they recover from injuries both physical and emotional.

In addition we can continue to race as safely as we can, and support safety efforts such as the Roadracing World Action Fund which helps deploy Airfence segments.

This week we go to Road Atlanta for the WERA GNF. I have a feeling that if Marco Simoncelli were to talk to us tonight, he would say "Get to the track, have fun and race hard. Celebrate my life and gifts as you express your own life and gifts."

I think Marco would agree with the plaque we keep on our kitchen table. It says "Life's Journey is not to arrive safely at the grave in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways totally worn-out shouting 'Woo Hoo! What a ride!'"

Tim Burleson
AMA Pro and WERA Chaplain
Lexington, South Carolina