Death at the Speedway

Dateline: Tue 31 Aug 2010

First there was the jingoistic story in Saturday's Indianapolis Star, with the egregious lead: "It's going to be a super Sunday for Indianapolis hotels and Downtown merchants."

Talk about iniviting disaster...

Woe to the reporter (Tom Spalding) and woe to the editor (unknown) who allowed this mush to pass muster; it's a horrible lead, on so many levels, that it should heretofore go down on the books as trampling on about as many toes as one can imagine.

Focusing on the financial aspect of a weekend expected to be crowded with tourists is entirely a different matter than slapping together what is essentially a PR piece. Spalding, obviously,chose the latter.

Alas, it turned out NOT to be a super weekend, in the sense that a 13-year-old child was killed competing in a motorcycle race at the Speedway. One can presume that some of the parents of other children, and fans of this sport, were staying at Downtown hotels, and in fact did not enjoy a "super Sunday." What a foolish, foolish approach the Star took to their banner story Saturday....

But on to the more important topic: the young person's death.

Sports columnist Bob Kravitz subtly nailed this issue Monday when he quoted "Momma" and her offspring in his column on Page 1A (same placement as Spalding's); "Momma" is the mother of another young motorcycle competitor in the MotoGP race. Says Momma: "He's been doing this since he was 8 years old, and every time the inside of my mouth is bloody from biting my cheek," she said, which should tell her something. Then "Momma" is quoted about how this is the kid's dream, etc.

Kravitz quotes the young man himself, Ben Spies, who, at age 14, lost a friend in motorcycle wreck.

"For about two days, I thought, 'What am I doing? Should I be doing this?'" Kravitz quotes Spies.

"And my mom told me, 'If you want to quit, don't worry about us being in debt. You go ahead and quit and we'll survive...."

Wow. Talk about the money quote.The guilt trip. The whole megillah.

Bob Collins, the late great but very alcoholic sports columnist, who also covered motorsports, once explained why he never used a notebook; it intimidated some of the drivers, who tended to clam up at its sight, and plus, when you hear a great line, you won't forget it.

Kravitz got the great line; this should be fuel for all sorts of discussions about the safety of these sports, and the sanity (and greed?) of parents who permit and encourage young kids to participate and compete. What, exactly, is the motivation? Who is calling the shots?

Admittedly, Kravitz took a different tone in his column; he made it all about the passion felt by Peter Lenz, 13, who was killed. At least, he gave us something to think about. Which is what a newspaper should do.



Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Incredible. Thanks.

Cyberhugs to the family of this young man. Not just because they lost a family member. But also because they obviously need some, uh....counseling.

It's the beauty-pageant mom on steroids. So sad and completely senseless. Kids are supposed to be kids for Christ's sake.

But you see nearly the same level of vitriol and testosterone on hundreds of gym floors and at football stadiums around the country every weekend.

2010-08-31 09:26:43

hendy [Member] said:

Carl Hiassen's new book, _Star Island_, is a lampoon at contrived star culture, parental capitulation to fame and fortune on the backs of their children, and the tawdry madness of it all. Recommended, rated R.

There's a kid with a great future that gets buried. But it proves once again that the greed culture is such a powerful motivator. Instill fear into that greed, and you get....

2010-08-31 11:52:35

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

Let's call this what it is: insanity.

A child who is age 13 does not have the capacity to discern the danger that is involved in racing a motorcyle - which leaves him completely unprotected - around a racetrack.

The parents of a 13-year-old child DO have the capacity to discern that danger.

Hendy, you are right on about the "greed culture."

Commentary in The Star should have pounded across the points:

1. This is insane.

2. It should be stopped. Now. Before more children are killed.

2010-08-31 12:58:24

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

"But you see nearly the same level of vitriol and testosterone on hundreds of gym floors and at football stadiums around the country every weekend."

And, 13 year olds die playing football.

I don't fault parents for letting their kids take risks. I do fault them if they think these risks are going to pay off big, though.

First, a life without risk is pablum. I drove racecars, worked in the New York ad business and remarried my wife, so I know all about risk.

Second, kids are being helicoptered to death by their parents, who drain the juice out of every activity. Helmets and pads are de rigeur for everything from the monkey bars to the sandbox. Kids don't get dirty and scraped anymore because they do not play outside- they lounge around inside, watching a tube of one kind or another.

The young bike racer will have the tragic distinction of being the youngest competitor to die at the IMS, likely forever.

But I also think it likely that a snowboarder or skiier or skateboarder or hang glider or kart racer or surfer or diver of similar age will meet his or her end this year, by accident, and the parents will not be so reproved as the parents of young bike racers.

2010-08-31 15:42:05

Quixmundi [unverified] said:

Every artice I read about the MotoGP death continues my ongoing shock over the seemingly senseless death of a 13-year old boy participating in a "sport" that calls for 125mph speeds on a racing motorcycle.

Try as I have, I cannot rationalize the "this is what he wanted to do" epitaph by his father. And while I anticipated those who argue "A life without risk, etc",I keep asking at what age are we mature enough to assess risk and reward? Is it 13 years? Is it 8 years like Momma's son?

To me, the real question is where ARE the parents in this decision process? What is the overiding vicarious conceit of any parent who allows a son or daughter to "follow their dream" even though it involves life threatening action at every turn?

I agree that there are other activities - snowboarding, skateboarding, skiing and others - where young people can lose their lives by a tragic accident or a case of trying too hard too soon.

But I don't think I'll ever be able to understand the thought process of a parent that supports and funds a child to race at speeds of 125mph on two wheels.

2010-08-31 17:16:31

hendy [Member] said:

Many of us push others to be killed in sports. Open wheel, NASCAR, and other sports all have their bloodlust fans, who choose seats with watching accidents in mind. It's because someone else will get the prize by risking life and limb. Of course, there are fans, like the ones in California, who died when a 4x4 flipped onto them.

Years ago, '74, I think, I watched a 4th turn wreck at a delayed 500-- then the firetruck raced the wrong way up through the pits and knocked a guy thru the air to his death-- who was on his way to assist in the wreck.

Do you get anywhere by NOT risking life and limb? Ask the people that sank in the ocean in the shuttle Columbia, or the Endeavor. Should NASA be prosecuted? In my opinion, yes. They dropped more spacecraft in the drink than anyone else, costing you and I billions of dollars-- not to mention the lives lost in two shuttle disasters. There's a design engineer or two that should have fallen on his/her sword.

Is letting a 13yo kid race at that speed called child neglect? What should it be called?

2010-08-31 17:26:55

Whitebeard [unverified] said:



Neglect. Stupidity.

2010-08-31 20:26:28

guy77money [unverified] said:

What everyone is missing is the number of kids that have feet,legs backs,etc messed up by participating in racing. Throw in the extreme sports that ESPN sponsors and just how many of them will be in pain and limping around before they hit the age of 30. I would be curious to find out if they still say it's worth it when it's painful just to get out of bed in the morning.

2010-08-31 23:31:31

hendy [Member] said:

Aren't there child labor laws? I wonder if such chicanery violates them.

2010-08-31 23:56:35

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

Cheerleading is now the most injury-causing activity in team sports. Make the popsies stand down!

The kid racer was killed not so much because of his youthful misjudgement- he went down near the front fo the pack-- but because he did a responsible thing, and stood up to warn other riders, whereupon he was hit by a 12 year old. It was at the slowest part of the track: "speed" was not the precipitate cause.

I don't like parents who push their kids because they think the kid will hit it big in the NBA or NFL or XGames or MLB or even college (which is likely most of them). Parents are the problem in LL, soccer, kart racing, Pop Warner-- most team sports. They act like a******s.

My young neighbor's son just earned his Black Belt, at age 8! The boy is smart, disciplined, and accomplished. He is better for having this experience. He's also learned to take a hit at an early age, a life experince good for anyone.

2010-09-01 07:15:19

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

"Many of us push others to be killed in sports. Open wheel, NASCAR, and other sports all have their bloodlust fans, who choose seats with watching accidents in mind. It's because someone else will get the prize by risking life and limb."

Ahh, that old canard, long refuted by research and common sense. People go to races to see racing, not blood. The aesthetic of racing involves color, sound, smells, motion, challenge. Speed per se is a minor contibutor.

A racing accident without injury does of course add to the interest, but I have never known anyone who wanted to see a racer's blood.

Of course risking life and limb makes the propositon more exciting; otherwise you could do it all with big slot cars.

Hemmingway overstated the case a little when he said there are only 3 sports worth pursuing: bull fighting, mountain climbing and motor racing. Bull fighting is repugnant, and mountain climbing is scary because of the heights. Motor racing is enormously satisfying, whether in a car, on a bike, in a boat.

2010-09-01 07:26:52

BigPoppa [Member] said:

While this accident was tragic, I have to disagree with those of you taking the parents of this young rider to task. Injuries are a part of any sport or activity, including severe injuries resulting in death. IT happens on the race track, on the baseball diamond, on the football field, and it could even happen on the school playground monkey bars. That doesn't mean we should all lock up our children in the house to keep them from getting hurt.

From what I've read, this rider had achieved the expert license status. Among the youngest to ever do so. That in itself is no small feat and shows just how talented of a rider he was. It's not as if the parents just took the training wheels off his bike and slapped him on a motorcycle in full leathers over the weekend. He had been riding since age 5.

Professional athletes have to start early in all sports if they want to achieve and compete at the highest levels. Kids are no longer competing against kids in the United States, but against other kids from all over the world. This is true in every sport, including motorsports.

For those of you blaming the parents of this rider or parents in general, citing greed and neglect when they get hurt, yes there is a line that some parents cross. Who's to say that this rider's parents crossed that line? If a child has the drive, determination and talent to compete at the highest level and the parents have the resources to support that dream, then how can they be at fault?

2010-09-01 07:45:48

hendy [Member] said:

I'm to say the parents crossed the line. Expert driver's license at 13. But not only his-- others, including those that validate a 13yo child for an expert license. At 13 you don't have a bucket of sense. With six kids in my portfolio, I know this.

He was sacrificed for somebody's thrill. I have drive and determination and admire that in youth. A motorsport where dangerous stuff is the norm, coupled to competitive pressure, is something we should very carefully examine. The danger, whether death on the ball field, court, etc., is indeed real. High school football should be feared, because the injuries are real. I had them and they dog me to this day.

An experienced rider from age 5 is an abnormal individual. Now dead. As in forever. Parents don't subject their minor children to such dangers. Responsible ones, anyway.

2010-09-01 09:32:57

BigPoppa [Member] said:

I'd be willing to bet that more children (under 16, normal license age) died in the last 12 months riding bicycles than riding/driving in organized motorsports in this country. So, am I not a responsible parent because I let my son ride his bike? Yes, at 7 we ride on the street and he's been taught the rules of the road so he can ride with me.

It's called an accident. Accidents happen. I'm sure the parents feel terrible enough without all the Sideline Steves and Sideline Sallys raking them over the coals.

2010-09-01 12:08:39

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:

Who put that kid on a motorcycle at the age of 5?

What morons did he have for parents?

2010-09-01 12:58:05

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

It would have been three years before this CHILD would have been old enough to drive a car at 30 mph to get a hamburger.

My son was in 7th grade at age 13. He played sports (sane sports) and the worst injury I ever saw at one of his games was a kid getting stung by a bee.

The analogy...."well, kids get hurt playing marbles" leads to nowhere logical.

I suppose hundreds of 13-year-old kids get injured getting out of the shower every year and stastistics can surely be located somewhere for that.

But we're talking a 7th grader on a 2-wheel vehicle going 125 MPH on a (slick) race track.

My concern isn't to see the parents punished - they're going to have to find a way to live with this for the rest of their lives - but to contend that this practice should be stopped because it is insane.

2010-09-01 13:05:34

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