Take care of the babies. —Thomas D. Murray
This story is my dad's meat. But he's not around anymore, so I feel obligated to say: There is something wrong with the parents of Peter Lenz, the 13-year-old boy who died at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway yesterday, and with all the parents of the 12-16 year-old boys who are part of bigtime motorcycle racing's "development system."
A friend of mine had a front-row seat to yesterday's crash:
It was awful, there was a huge pack coming out of a series of "s" turns, this leading to a straightened section. He dumped his bike, and after sliding along positioned himself upright and appeared to be okay waving arms to signal he was there, basically sitting up right in the middle of the track and bikes were scrambling to move out of the way, one bike could not move out of the way and hit him what would normally be a section of the track where a rider would be accellerating. It was a horrible sight to see, and the aftermath that followed got worse. CPR, huge pool of blood on the track. Did not hear his fate until we go home last night, but had already assumed the worst based on what we had seen.
The boy's father wrote on Peter's Facebook page,
Peter passed away early this morning when he was apparently struck by another rider. 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. Miss you kiddo. – Dad
I won't berate a father who has lost a son. But to fathers and mothers everywhere, I dare you to challenge this claim: A parent's responsibility is to introduce a child to as much of the world as possible while keeping the child alive long enough to sort out its many splendors. Such splendors include: novel-reading and sonnet-writing, sailing, cooking, snorkeling, kissing, going to church, staying up all night, piano-playing and yes, going fast.
If your 13-year-old son dies while going fast and you say he died "doing what he loved," you are accountable to the questioner who asks, "Did you first introduce him to everything else that he might also have loved?"
One of the best things my dad ever wrote was a Wall Street Journal op/ed about Jessica Dubroff, a seven-year-old girl who died in 1996 trying, with her parents' imbecilic encouragement, to be the youngest person to fly across the U.S.
I don't have my hands on the piece, but I remember its conclusion, which recounted a family dinner table conversation in 1940, when my dad was 17. It was before the U.S. entered WWII, and many young Americans were going to Canada to learn to fly for the R.A.F. They were all getting killed over the English channel, of course, but that didn't enter my dad's then young, romantic mind.
The family sat patiently while he made a long, well-rehearsed, impassioned proposal. At the end, when he finished, there was silence. Until his dad picked up his fork, dug it into his potatoes and without looking up, quietly said:
"Eat your dinner, Bud."
Robert J Holland, ABC says
Amen. Too many parents try to live out their own childhood fantasies through their children. Or they attempt to indulge the kid’s every whimsy. Neither is a responsible act. It seems we’ve lost one of the most powerful words in a parent’s vocabulary: “No.” Followed by: “And I’m doing this for your own good.”
In Dead Poets Society, Mr. Keating cautions one student: “‘Sucking the marrow out of life’ doesn’t mean choking on the bone.” I think that applies here.
David Murray says
I think you are jumping to a lot of conclusions here. This may be exactly what he loved most in the world. It may have nothing to do with his parents. We know a lot about what we love by the time we are 13. Is it a dangerous sport? Yes. Was it a freak accident? Yes. You do potentially dangerous things with Scout everyday. (not this dangerous I’ll admit, mostly cause i wouldn’t allow it)I didn’t know you were so conservative.
David Murray says
What kids mostly “love to do” is please their parents.
Here’s Peter’s bio, from the website:
“Peter began riding on a PW50 when he was 5 and started racing it shortly thereafter. He moved on to pocketbikes from a solid motocross background off a KTM Pro Senior 50. At age 7 he moved to pocketbikes for the next 2 years finishing with an undefeated season. Peter then advanced to racing 3 years of minis with a variety of bikes including: NSR50, KTM65 roadracer, Metrakit 50 and 80 and Honda RS150R.”
Are we to believe Peter’s parents are professional chess players, but the tot asked Santa for a motorcycle when he was five … and what could they do? They just “had to let him do what he loved ….”?
No. They introduced him to the dangerous sport THEY loved.
As for the dangerous things I do with Scout, they top off at: letting her ride a bicycle in the city, though we are thinking of doing something at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend.
Matt Warburton says
In a world where most kids spend hours and hours glued to a video screens killing and maiming for “fun” this kid was living a “real” life. Kudos to him for having the maturity and confidence to compete at the level he achieved. And kudos to his parents for facilitating that pursuit. MotoGP racer Ben Spies dedicated his 2nd place finish (best so far in his rookie year after winning the World Superbike Championship last year) in the main race on Sunday to young Peter Lenz. This kid was no different than a child who plays hockey from the age of 2 or 3, or any other sport. Peter truly was a professional, and more mature than many of the bleeding hearts who would deny him the opportunity and life as a racer he enjoyed.
David Murray says
Matt, no offense, but you seem to be a little close to the track. Which is just the problem. There’s a whole world out there, one that has never heard of Ben Spies, one that doesn’t want or expect 13-year-olds to be “professionals,” one that’s full of pursuits more active than video games but safer and than motorcycle racing.
I wish Peter Lenz had had a chance to see it, that’s all.
It’s been a while since I commented here (probably since I got laid off from my writing job last year) but I want to say that David, I completely agree with you on this issue. I don’t feel the need to rehash everything you’ve said (and that certainly won’t bring Peter back), but I agree with everything you’ve said.
David Murray says
Bruce Bever says
I’m torn. I’m a new dad and would have a hard time not ending my own life had I just witnessed the death of my daughter. Frankly I don’t know how the dad managed to accomplish anything other than taking a handful of percodan and a bottle of vodka.
That said, I am also a motocross rider (whose few competitive days are long past), and I’ve heard countless tales of similar end. In a sport where 90% of pro’s retire before 30, ALL bad accidents involve a young, naive man who deserved, even needed, to experience far more in life before ending up dead or paralyzed in a heap on the face of a jump. This from 2 weeks ago:
But I’ve known the rush personally- since age 9- and while I don’t ride very fast 31 years later, I still know the thrill that young men get from doing so, and I can tell you that that boy more-than-likely did die doing his favorite thing in the world. I can almost assure you, the fact that he never read Tom Sawyer, went to prom, made love to his girl, or drove a car, never entered his mind. Personally I’m comfortable with the fact that he died happy.
I’m absolutely racked for his parents.