The tragic death of 13-year-old roadracer Peter Lenz at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past August created national headlines. At the MotoGP post-race press conference, local reporters hammered second-place-finisher Ben Spies for answers. One newsman suggested that the Speedway was “too difficult for someone 12 or 13 years old to navigate.” Appearing on Fox News, “children’s-rights advocate” Wendy Murphy called for an investigation.
“Honestly, the questions I was asked earlier were a bit aggravating,” Spies said after the press conference. “I’ve been racing since I was eight years old. When I was 14, I lost my best friend—my teammate. There was about two days where I thought, ‘What am I doing? Should I be doing this?’ My mom told me, ‘If you want to quit right now, even being $70,000 in debt, we’ll find a way to survive.’ There isn’t a day that goes past that I regret doing it. When you’re racing motorcycles, you know what can happen. Obviously, what happened today is unfortunate. But it’s racing. It’s life. He knew exactly what he was doing.”
Kevin Schwantz has made a career working with promising young riders like Lenz since he retired 15 years ago. The 1993 500cc world champion has helped steer Spies both on and off the track. Blake Young, a two-time AMA Pro American SuperBike race-winner this season, is another beneficiary of Schwantz’s experience. So, too, are up-and-coming teens Cameron Beaubier and JD Beach. Both are graduates of the Schwantz-led Red Bull Rookies Cup program run in conjunction with European MotoGP rounds. There are countless others.
Asked about all this, Schwantz replied, “Kids are going to race. Whether it’s Red Bull Rookies Cup or the USGPRU MD250H class, we’re doing everything we can to give them the safest equipment, from what they’re riding to what they’re wearing. Helmets, leathers, boots, gloves, back protectors—all the pieces of safety equipment that we wear—have changed a lot. Alpinestars, which makes the suits for Red Bull Rookies Cup, makes the kids wear a back and a chest protector.
“It’s when the kids don’t have series like Red Bull Rookies Cup or USGPRU, which take them to really good facilities, that they race at tracks with guardrails and concrete walls around the outside or telephone poles not far off the edge.
“Racing is inherently a dangerous sport. There are going to be injuries. Unfortunately, you can’t do anything to stop certain situations. We’ve got to be there for these kids. We’ve got to help them grow, to become, if they choose, better motorcycle racers, possibly the next Nicky Hayden or Valentino Rossi or Ben Spies.”