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Sep 11, 2010

Readers Comment On Peter Lenz, Xavier Zayat And The Day It All Went Wrong At Indy


Via e-mail:

Thank you for putting together this latest First Person/Opinion article about Peter Lenz and the topic of kids and racing. As a father and an avid racer I am supportive of these classes for the young "kids" to get the experience of a lifetime. But, it is true that people criticize things that they don't understand. These young men and women have much more knowledge and skill on a motorcycle than a large percentage of adult motorcycle racers.

I just wanted to thank you for putting it out there just the way it truly is in our world of motorcycles and racing and I only hope that some of the negativity around this goes away soon. I have been on track with Peter Lenz and other than his small stature there was nothing that would have told me he was as young as he is. I am envious of the younger crowd in racing and wish that I could have started at that time in my life. If my two young boys are interested, I will proudly give them every opportunity that I am capable of.

I wanted to show my support and appreciation of what you are doing.

Dave Raff
AFM #8
Modesto, California


Via e-mail:

The caption for the photo of Xavier said that he pulled out of the race for undisclosed reasons.

I was told by a friend who wishes to remain anonymous that he pulled out because his (right) hand/wrist was hurting him. There was also some talk of the cast coming off for Sunday's race so he could ride better. This info is from a very good source as he was in the pits all weekend for the USGPRU races.

Something about how the kid didn't want to ride Sunday but they tried something with his cast like removing it so he could hopefully last the whole race.

I have nothing against any of these people and I know none of them except for the source. It was a bad deal all the way around. Even though I never met Peter he has touch my feelings deeply.

I see a different side to life after his accident.

God Speed Peter.

Jason Farrell
Oshkosh, Wisconsin


Via e-mail:

Just wanted to drop you a line a tell you thanks for the excellent point of view (as is almost always the case with you).

I was in attendance at Indy this year, and as the father of a son who may or may not want race one day, this story has affected me more than normal. I've attempted to insert myself into this situation in my mind too many times already. I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like for the parents, of either child involved. My heart and prayers go out to all involved.

I've seen a lot of the talking-head dribble on the 24-hour news stations and it mostly makes me sick. It's unfortunate that ignorant people get so much attention when they least deserve it. I've come to realize that there are people in this world that aren't able to think clearly, no matter the situation. Of course that usually involves thinking, something they don't exactly excel at anyway. Unfortunately they are usually lawyers, or people out to make a name for themselves (normally one in the same). I'm biased as I raced for years myself, but to anyone who hasn't, this doesn't make sense to them, therefore they simply start jumping up and down with their heads spinning around on their shoulders.

Thank you for logic in a situation that appears to be void of it outside of the racing community.

Kyle Ray
Canton, Georgia


Via e-mail:

Thank you for writing the two articles on Peter Lenz. My thoughts and prayers go out to his and the other rider's family and friends. I had the opportunity to be on the track with Peter over the last three years at California Superbike School and watch close up the skill, joy and passion he had for the sport that we all love.

I don't know if this idea will work. In Peter's accident he was on the ground sliding for some period of time. We all know that when you are head-down in a pack your vision is blocked. My idea is some type of light that can be activated in the line of sight of all riders that another rider has crashed and on the track, maybe inside of the helmet or on the edge of the line across the windscreen bubble.

These accidents are in some cases a matter of circumstances. In Peter's case this might have helped. In Tomizawa's case this would not have helped as it happened so fast.

This sport is inherently dangerous, However, we should all never stop looking for things that can make it safer.

Thank you for all you have done for the sport of motorcycle road racing.

John Brantley
Danbury, Connecticut


Via e-mail:

I knew you would respond to all the negative media reports in regards to young kids racing. I admire what you do for young and old racers today. I can't say I was shocked to see report Peter Lenz's death on their homepage but didn't report anything about rookie American MotoGP racer Ben Spies' amazing pole position and race result on a non-factory bike.

I personally don't know if I could handle the stress of watching my 12-year-old race around Willow Springs. It really isn't the crashing that would worry me, it's the other bikes that could potentially run her over that make it pretty scary. I believe young kids have the skills and the intellect to make the decisions necessary to be the best at any sport. I think the statistics or at least the family pedigrees of World Champion racers is proof of that. When you compare young race car driver's death statistics we may be at a disadvantage just for the simple fact that young motorcycle racers don't have a box of steel or aluminum around them.

I can not imagine what the Lenz family is feeling right now. However, it does sound like that family was enjoying life as a racing family with a talented son and his fate was just another terrible accident.

Travis Ryan
Las Vegas, Nevada


Via e-mail:

The Calculus of Risk

As the stepmother of a 14-year-old motorcycle racer who competed in Canada with Peter, and someone who knew him and camped at tracks alongside his family, news of his death came as a heartbreaking shock. I've read a number of comments and pieces about it online, and I wanted to tell you that I found the piece John Ulrich wrote entitled "A Simple Question..." to be a refreshing and balanced viewpoint. In Canada, with the lack of national race classes like the 250cc class Peter was competing in with the USGPRU, my stepson competes aboard a CBR600RR against adults in national and regional amateur road racing classes. His father and I looked at one another and said, "this is our worst nightmare, and Michael and Jennifer are living it." There are no words for that feeling.

What I don't see well represented in media coverage, and what I don't think people understand, is that making choices about risk cannot be reduced to simple math. There are complex factors involved, and to attempt to reduce these choices to a "risk minus benefit" type of equation is at best a misrepresented oversimplification and at worst a judgmental, sensationalistic exercise in blame-laying. No parent allows their child to do something if they're guaranteed to get hurt or killed doing it. Whether we're talking about taking your son hunting, supporting your daughter in cheer-leading, or watching your child set out on their first unsupervised walk to school, every parent engages in the calculus of risk. It may not even be consciously done, but we do it, every day. We weigh the activity, the desire of our children to partake in it, the passion and talent they have for it, whether we think they will grow and learn from the experience, the preparations we've made with and for them, the precautions we've taken, and how reliable those precautions may be if tested. We weigh these things against the likelihood of a bad outcome, of injury or fatality. And we land at some result, some feeling, which dictates our decision based on whether, on balance, we're comfortable with and can live with that calculated result.

I acknowledge that different parents have different comfort levels, and I don't judge others who do the calculus and come out with an answer that says they can't allow their child to walk to school or ride their bicycle alone on the street after supper. And I think most parents of kids who participate in motorsports would agree with me when I say that, on balance, we believe the decisions we make with and for our kids are safe and right.

Thank you for your thoughtful piece,

Alix Hayden
Warman, SK, Canada


Via e-mail:

When I was taking Clinical Pastoral Education my supervisor asked me if I had formed a theology that allowed me to serve a racing community. I answered her that I had done so. She then said "What is it?" She asked because she had attended a WERA race to observe my work and was obviously unnerved by the speeds she saw.

My answer to her question was, "Each of us have an acceptable level of risk. We all take risks when we drive a car, step into an elevator, or walk across a street. For some of us an acceptable level of risk is racing at three times the legal speed limit. And this is OK as these people are uniquely gifted to handle it with exceptional hand-eye coordination, mixed with physical fitness, endurance, and sheer guile."

In other words, there is nothing wrong with racing.

God gifted some of us to do it and do it well.

When we lose someone in a racing incident or see one of our competitors injured we grieve and ask honest questions. This is OK, too, as God is not a secretive deity who wants to withhold information. Instead we are told that if we ask "we shall receive."

So in light of our recent losses I encourage us to do two things:

1) Celebrate the gifts of racers. I certainly do. They thrill me whenever they take to the track.

2) If you find yourself overwhelmed by the losses lean upon God and someone else to walk you through your feelings.

I'm at Barber this WERA weekend and will be at Barber for the AMA Pro weekend if anyone needs an ear to bend, a safe place to vent, or a shoulder upon which to cry.

I'm grieving too. Let us as a racing community help each other through our losses.


Tim Burleson, Chaplain
Lexington, South Carolina


Via e-mail:

I traveled to Indy to watch the GP. Got there Friday morning and after watching practice I stopped by the Roadracing World booth to see Peter Lenz and Chris Ulrich. I have been following Peter's occasional columns in Roadracing World for the last year or so, and Chris' since '97, and I wanted to meet them both. I have seen Chris at the races before but I never approached him as there is so much for a racer to think about already on a race weekend.

Anyway, I stopped in three times over Friday and Saturday, and had bad timing as neither was there or the one occasion they were they were a bit swamped so I moved on. I really do wish I had got to meet Peter now.

I have not raced for several years and watching those young riders staging in the USGPRU area on Saturday really was quite refreshing. I told my friend that there was as much raw talent on that grid than in any other class that weekend. I watched both Moriwaki races but on Sunday I sat where I could not see Turn 4. Like most fans in attendance, I did not even know what happened until I got back to the hotel and checked the computer. I was gutted.

I've decided that if a 13-year-old kid can do it, and touch so many people, then a 40-year-old man can get his lazy ass out to the track as well. I'm buying another racebike next week and getting my priorities back in line. Thank you, Peter.

And thank you, sir, for continuing to fight the know-nothings who find only negatives from things like this.

I hope Xavier Zayat knows he is in our thoughts as well.

John Coleman
Tulsa, Oklahoma


Via e-mail:

Like everyone, I have my own opinion on the Lenz Tragedy. However, your article sums it all up in a clear, rational manner, and I think that article will go a long way in clearing things up to the non-motorcycle-racing community.

It will only help, of course, if they open their minds to reading it.

In regards to the 60-mph Tri-Zingers, my first bike at that age went that fast or faster--in my 9-year-old mind. Maybe they were interviewing the 9-year-olds...

Joe Fenech
Ballico, California


Via e-mail:

I just wanted to take a minute to say that Mr. John Ulrich's piece regarding kids and racing motorcycles is spot on and couldn't be stated any better.

I stopped in the foot doc's office Tuesday and to my surprise, with him being a motorcycle racing enthusiast, he, too, jumped right on the media ban wagon.

To add to Mr. Ulrich's piece, why is the media not all over little league sports (baseball, football, etc"¦)? Kids pass every year participating in these activities.

Thank you.

Chris Bower
Orient, Ohio


Via e-mail:

The unfortunate accident at Indy has shifted the media's interest to motorcycle road racing. There have been many articles about the good and the bad of the sport, but none, as far as I can tell, have come from the people involved.

I would like to give perspective on our sport; perspective from a parent who has a child in the sport and would like others to understand it better.

Most people are asking how a child (12, 13, 14 year olds), can be allowed to ride motorcycles that can travel in excess of 120 mph. The children and young adults who took part in the Indianapolis race were not picked from the crowd. These were kids who had been training since as young as 4 or 5 years old. Training on small go-kart and dirt tracks across America, on bikes that can hardly reach 20 mph.

Before I continue, you need to understand that motorsports (motorcycles, cars, snowmobiles, etc., etc.) are different than any other sport. They are different in many ways, but the one I'd like to point out is the equalizing effect. What is the equalizing effect? Take baseball, for example. In baseball, there is no way a 12-year-old will be able to pitch or hit a baseball as fast or hard as a 15-year-old. The same is true for a 15-year-old and a 20-year-old. The same can be said about football, soccer, basketball, etc. (technique and form ignored). Obviously I'm pointing out the strength differences between the two kids.

However, this is not true in motorsports. In motorsports it is POSSIBLE for a 12-year-old to be as fast and skilled as a 15-year-old. How is that possible you ask? It is possible because the vehicle (motorcycle, car, etc.) equalizes the two. If the motorcycle is the same, then it is the skills of the rider that will allow it to go fast or slow. The skills needed to ride a motorcycle have very little to do with strength (yes, "some" strength is necessary) and more to do with experience. Using our 12 and 15-year-olds as an example, it is possible for a 12-year-old to be as skilled as a 15-year-old.

So if strength is NOT needed to ride a motorcycle (or drive a car), then what is needed? Precision and experience. Precision? The precision necessary to ride a motorcycle quickly around a track is simply amazing. Try this, get a piece of paper and try to draw a perfect circle. Now go over that circle multiple times. How clean are the lines of your circle? If you are very precise, there should only be ONE line. If you pay attention, you'll notice motorcycle road racers can go over the same line on the track lap after lap; while going many miles per hour. This brings me to experience. You cannot have precision without experience.

Experience is a tricky word. Most people associate experience with age. While is this true in most cases, it is not always accurate. For example, let's say you are a dishwasher at a local restaurant and you are 30 years old. You have been working as a dishwasher at this restaurant for 3 years (you have 3 years of dishwashing experience). I show up to your restaurant and apply to be a dishwasher. I am 40 years old (more age experience than you) and have worked as a cook at a restaurant for 3 years. Which person is more experienced as a dishwasher? The obvious answer is you (the 30 year old with 3 years of dishwashing experience).

Experience applies in a similar way to motorsports. Can a 12-year-old have the same experience as a 15-year-old? Yes if they are both applying to become motorcycle racers (or dishwashers).

This brings us back to the kids who were riding at Indy. They were all supremely experienced motorcycle riders. They had been honing the skill of riding a motorcycle since 4 or 5 years old. They would ride at a track week in and week out. Gaining precision and experience.

So does this mean they should be allowed to ride motorcycles on the street? Absolutely not. Why not? Because racing (as scary as it sounds) is much simpler than driving a car on the street. In racing, everyone is going in the same direction and at about the same speed. There are no on-ramps, street lights, pedestrians, dogs, birds or opposing traffic. Most importantly, the other people on the track, are similarly experienced. There is no way you can say the same about riding or driving on the street; people are going at various speeds (remember the old grandparent you blew by on your way to work?), directions, etc.

The accident at Indy was 100% a freak-accident. Young Lenz didn't crash into a wall while out of control. Nor did young Zayat ram into the back of Lenz while both were on the bike. Young Lenz fell off his bike, and while trying to get off the track, he was struck by young Zayat.

There will be many who will claim age should be the determining factor for racing. Those people will have chosen to ignore the full meaning of the word experience.

On the same Sunday as Indy, we were in Southern California at a trackday event. At the event there were approximately 90 people. It was a two-day event. There were 5 kids riding at the event. In the two days we were there, there were about 15 crashes (it was an inordinately crash-fest day). Everyone who crashed was an adult of various ages. The kids had no issues at all. Experience doing something, can only come by doing it"¦ not with age.

The question of whether or not kids really know the consequences can never be answered. Anyone who has kids knows how different they are. They may be mature doing something, but immature at something else. They may be shy at home, but drama majors at school. It is up to the parents to make this decision; not the masses, nor the government.

I am very much amazed that no one in the media has attempted to celebrate young Lenz's amazing achievements. I know they've been mentioned, but hardly celebrated. Have people grown so jaded as to think "any" 13-year-old could be this accomplished? I can only speak for my son, but I'm fairly certain this applied to Lenz as well, the amount of dedication and self-drive needed to have made it to Indy on Sunday would turn most people from homeless vagabonds to home owners. At the amateur level, most tracks are in the desert (forget Laguna Seca in Moterey and think Buttonwillow near Bakersfield). In the summer it is over 100 degrees F and in the winter it is freezing. Yet these kids get out there time and time again; gloves, helmet, boots, back and chest protectors and leathers on. Just like swimmers get into freezing pools at 5:00 a.m. to train (oh, did you think Phelps only swam in warm weather, between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.?).

Our sincerest condolences go to the Lenz family. Peter Lenz was an amazing kid who was going places. He was not picked out of the crowd to participate at the event. He had been training for many years, like any other athlete, and had proven to be a phenomenal rider. Godspeed.

Ivan Alonso
Fremont, California


Via e-mail:

I know this is a tough time, I am heartbroken over the little guy.

It sounds like a stupid time to say it but I know that Peter died doing what he loved. I hope the same happens to me when it's my time.

My heart goes out to the Lenz family, I cannot imagine the pain that they are going through.

Gary Hilliard
Dover, Delaware


Via e-mail:

I was awoken this (Monday) morning to the news of Peter Lenz on the local news in Boston and cannot express the sadness that came over me. I'm so sorry for the loss to his family.

It is such a cruel world sometimes.

Michael Bernard
Millbury, Massachusetts


Via e-mail:

Why did it seem to take forever for an ambulance to get there? I was relatively close to that turn and unless I'm blind, the MD racers were already back on grid with tire warmers on before the ambulance got to Peter Lenz. It seemed like it took 5 minutes for an ambulance to get there and then when it did he was surely gone within a minute or two at the very most.

Am I wrong? No one seems to mention this, but the people next to me on the grassy bank in the next left hand turn seemed to notice the same. I'm not sure it would have mattered, but I was just very surprised by the response if I saw things right.

Brian Surtees
Arlington, Virginia


Vie a-mail:

I just wanted to say your Op/Ed was spectacular using the Mass Media's logic, our World Level Pros did a far worse job staying on two wheels than tomorrow's Stars did in the MD250 race.

I've been amazed at the attention this tragedy is getting, and I will always appreciate your voice in these matters. Thanks for your efforts over the years to do what you thought best at keeping all of us riders safe.

Greg Avello
Milwaukee, Wisconsin


Via e-mail:

I have not heard any mention of this, but I was in the Turn 1 "Penthouse" at IMS on Sunday and I saw something that I believe needs looking into. I saw the pileup during the warm-up lap for the USGPRU race that took Peter Lenz's life. I had no idea someone was gravely injured until after the race.

During the incident, without this knowledge, I was shocked to see the ambulance roll up to the scene about 5 minutes after it happened. I was really shocked once I learned Peter suffered grave injuries. If there is a log recording the times of the red flag, and times of the dispatch of the ambulance, I think they are worth reviewing.

Maybe it would have made no difference, perhaps there were EMTs amongst the cornerworker crew that were there immediately. I don't know, but I do know it took a very long while before an ambulance showed up.

Michael Tiberio
Arlington, Virginia