Menu

More Sports

Controversy Begins to Swirl Over Death of Teen Racer

The motorcycle racing community is mourning the death of a promising 13-year-old rider in a crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway while defending the youth circuit that allows teens to drive vehicles that can top 120 mph. Now controversy is swirling if these kids are too young to race in such a dangerous sport.

Peter Lenz of Vancouver, Wash., fell off his bike during the warmup lap for Sunday's first race at Indianapolis and was run over by another motorcycle, driven by a 12-year-old. Medical workers immediately placed Lenz in a neck brace, put him on a stretcher and began chest compressions while taking him to a hospital. He died several hours later.

The Marion County coroner's office said Lenz died from blunt force trauma. More details could be released Monday following an autopsy on the youngest driver or rider ever killed at the 101-year-old speedway.

Wes Siler, editor of online motorcycle magazine Hell for Leather, says the track takes every precaution to ensure the safety of these young racers.

"Despite the high speeds, motorcycle racing is actually less dangerous than it looks. Statistically, people are far more likely to be killed while swimming (2,900 deaths in 2004), snowboarding (45 deaths in 2004) and participating in most other sports than they are while lapping a racetrack on two wheels," Siler said in a statement to FoxNews.com.

"It was a freak accident. Peter was riding a motorcycle with limited performance and crashed during a warmup lap while riding relatively slowly."

It was the first death at the track since IndyCar driver Tony Renna was killed in testing in October 2003.

A posting on Lenz's Facebook page signed "Dad" said, "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 posting said. "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."

Lenz had emerged as one of America's youngest rising stars.

At age 11, he earned the "expert" license from the American Federation of Motorcyclists, and in March 2009, Lenz became the youngest rider ever to win an AFM race. This year, competing in the U.S. Grand Prix Racers Union series, Lenz had four wins, five podium finishes and was leading the MD250H classification in points. He had already won 135 races.

The grown-up resume just didn't match his appearance. Listed at 4-foot-11 and 81 pounds, the baby-faced Lenz described his profession as "kid."

"Our hearts go out to the parents, family and friends of Peter Lenz," speedway CEO Jeff Belskus said in a statement. "Words cannot adequately express the sadness of our company and our employees about this tragic incident, and Peter is in our thoughts and prayers."

The U.S. Grand Prix Racers Union says does not plan to hold a formal investigation into the death of 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..

It wasn't the first time Lenz was involved in a serious crash.

A mechanical failure last season left Lenz with four broken bones and a severed radial nerve -- all of which required surgery. By November, Lenz was healthy again and by spring, he was back in Victory Lane.

The USGPRU sanctions races across the nation, billing itself as a development circuit for motorcycle racers from ages 12 to 18. The hope is these riders eventually will compete in a world-class series.

Lenz seemed to be on his way to the top before the accident. He was struck by 12-year-old Xavier Zayat, of Flushing, N.Y., who escaped injury and did not race after the crash.

"We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss, but know that Peter is racing even faster in the sky," the Lenz family said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are now with the other racer and his family, who were also involved in this tragedy."

Racers insist age has never been the issue.

American Colin Edwards was running 250cc bikes at age 17, and Indy MotoGP runner-up Ben Spies was competing on the 125cc circuit at age 12.

"That's not like a bike too big for him, you know, I mean this is our sport, we chose to do it," said American Nicky Hayden, the 2006 world champ who called the death "terrible."

"I mean, sure, we know going in the consequences."

But are new rules needed?

Those in racing circles say no, comparing the sport to other potentially dangerous sports such as football and gymnastics. When asked about running at Indy, speedway officials pointed out that the series has stops at potentially more dangerous tracks.

USGPRU officials said this was the first fatality in the series in nine years.

Still, racing conditions were not ideal this weekend at Indy.

Hot, dry weather turned the bumpy, 2.621-mile course into a slick track that tested the world's best riders.

Reigning world champ Valentino Rossi fell four times, including a spill Sunday morning during a 20-minute warmup session. Sunday's Moto2 race was shortened after a big wreck on the first lap took out four drivers.

"This was the most difficult race for everyone," MotoGP winner Dani Pedrosa said. "The conditions were very hard because of the heat and the asphalt was very greasy."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.