Indianapolis - The death of a 13-year-old motorcycle racer at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is getting nationwide attention.
Peter Lenz of Vancouver, Washington, was a rising star in the sport. Along with admiration for his accomplishments, there are questions as to whether someone so young should be in a sport so fast and dangerous.
At nine years old, Peter Lenz was already on the winners' stand, looking barely big enough to ride a bicycle. But on the race track he was fast and fierce, setting track records at 90 miles an hour at age ten. He had 18 national and regional championships by the age of 13.
Lenz died Sunday after falling during a warm-up lap and being struck by another rider. It was the first death at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in seven years. The boy who struck him, 12-year-old Xavier Zayat of Flushing, N.Y., was not hurt.
Professional MotoGP racer Nicky Hayden had seen the much younger rising star.
"This is our sport. He chose to do it. He knew the consequences," said Hayden.
But should someone so young be allowed to compete in a sport where the consequences are so high? It's debatable, says rider, collector and fan Dan Lampman.
"Where does the cut-off occur? Maturity and decision-making is different with everybody," said Lampman.
Youngsters racing motorcycles and a 14-year-old Dutch girl sailing alone around the world are extreme examples of sports where parents and coaches expect more from children at younger ages.
"It's subjecting our kids to things like concussions in football, too much training in sports like swimming and track, it all comes into play," said Dr. Douglas McKeag, IU Center for Sports Medicine director.
Dr. McKeag says that overall, today's child athletes are better off than their parents were because of better rules and equipment protecting them.
"They are safe; more people watching them and the level of sophistication surrounding kids sports is much higher than it's ever been," said McKeag.
Yet in all kids' sports, the doctor says most all deaths are caused by unfortunate incidents for which there is no protection. Overheating is another factor leading to athlete deaths.
Sadly, Peter Lenz perished in an accident that witnesses say neither he or his fellow racers could avoid.
"Our children today are maturing earlier. They're bigger; obviously, unfortunately, they're also fatter. So in sports where size is a priority, they are being exposed to forces that we weren't exposed to when we were kids," said Dr. McKeag.
No formal investigation
The US Grand Prix Racers Union does not plan to hold a formal investigation into the death of Peter Lenz.
Stewart Aitken-Cade, a spokesman for the sanctioning body, says the union will discuss ways to make the sport safer. He also says safety measures will be reviewed.
Aitken-Cade says teen riders must have two years of racing experience, verified by the league, and older riders help mentor the younger ones.
Lenz's father sent out a message to fans on his son's Facebook page saying Peter "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."
Witnesses say Peter Lenz was waving his arms to warn other riders he was down when he was hit by another rider.
Emergency crews attempted CPR on Lenz at the track. He was taken to Methodist where he was pronounced dead.
"He was one of my really good friends, yeah, Peter Lenz he was. I have know him for the last few years and he has been in my motor home all weekend chit-chattin' about the track," said Colin Edwards, MotoGP rider.
Statement from Janice Logan, Oregon Motorcycle Road Racing Association:
"Peter Lenz began racing with the Oregon Motorcycle Road Racing Association in 2005, at the age of 8. He raced "Pocketbikes" at the beginning. These are the little mini motorcycles that were so popular around the time. The main difference between those for sale at local car parts stores and the ones that were raced at PIR, was the ones at PIR were built very specifically for racing, and very technical and mechanically impressive.
Peter currently holds Expert License #46 with the Oregon Motorcycle Road Racing Association. In 2009, Peter raced with OMRRA as part of the USGPRU National series. Peter raced last Sunday, on August 22nd at Portland International Raceway, as part of the West Coast series of the USGPRU racing series. He finished 2nd in the MD250 race, and 3rd in the Moto 3 race.
Peter was a very well liked, and extremely skilled racer. Our Association sends its very deepest condolences to the Lenz family, and all of his racing friends and fans."