Peter (Lenz) 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
-- A Facebook entry from Michael Lenz, the father of fatally injured 13-year-old motorcycle rider Peter Lenz, posted at 2:02 p.m. Sunday.
In the benumbed hours that followed, people were trying to make sense of the nonsensical.
They asked whether the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, which the experienced MotoGP riders called bumpy and slick, was too much for these pint-sized prodigies who were competing in an entry-level series that showcases young talent.
They asked whether kids who aren't old enough to drive legally should be screaming around a perilous course at 125 mph. They asked whether the race should have been canceled, though at race time, officials were not apprised of Peter's condition beyond word he'd suffered traumatic injuries.
The questions were understandable and necessary, but missed the essential point.
To understand how motor-sports competitors think, to get inside minds that most of us can't begin to fathom, consider the favorite quotation on the Facebook page of the young man, Garrett Gerloff, who won the U.S. Grand Prix Riders Union race in which Peter was killed: "Dream as if you'll live forever; live as if you'll die today."
Sure, Peter was 13, and Xavier Zayat, the rider who ran Peter over after he crashed on the warm-up lap, is just 12. (Xavier was not injured.) But they are old enough to understand that their passions are not without risks. Their parents understand, too.
There were hysterical comments accompanying Sunday's IndyStar.com story about Peter's death, readers screaming "child abuse," yelling that these pre-pubescent boys shouldn't be allowed to take such chances with their lives.
Here's what they don't get: Young people get hurt, or even worse, playing football, playing hockey, playing any sport. Some of the most devastating injuries come in cheer-leading. In motor sports, virtually every driver at the IndyCar, NASCAR and F-1 levels began driving before they turned 10 years old.
According to the United States Grand Prix Riders Union, this is the first fatality at this level in the nine years of the sanctioning body's existence.
We want to protect them, never let them cross the street, but in the end, we can't expunge the risks, and we snatch away their dreams at our peril.
After the MotoGP race, I cornered the mother of second-place finisher Ben Spies -- "just call me 'Momma,' " she said -- and asked about watching her son live on the edge week after week.
"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. "But I understand that this is his dream, and I'm sure (Michael Lenz) knew his son wanted this more than anything.
"This was his whole life."
Ben Spies was 14 years old when he lost a good friend in a motorcycle wreck.
"For about two days, I thought, 'What am I doing? Should I be doing this?' " Spies said. "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. It's your choice.' I kind of think she wanted me to stop.
"But not a day goes by now when I regret staying with it."
Momma Spies tried again four years later.
"Ben had a bad wreck in Daytona when he was 18," she said, "and when we got home, I went to him and he said, 'I can see it in your face. Don't go there. Be my friend and be supportive. I'm not going to stop racing.' "
Before the MotoGP race, former MotoGP champion and current team co-owner and instructor Kevin Schwantz stood inside racer Nicky Hayden's garage, feverishly attempting to reach Michael Lenz on his cell phone.
Just a day earlier, Schwantz spoke with the young riders in their little area behind the Hall of Fame. Peter, Vancouver, Wash., was in that group. And now he was gone.
"I just came from talking to (fellow rider) Justin Morman," he said, shaking his head. "He was bawling his eyes out."
As word filtered out, dropping a dark cloud on the races that followed, the race community grieved in a very 21st-century way: They went to Facebook, the place where Michael Lenz had announced his son's passing.
There were people who knew Peter personally, knew him as one of the up-and-coming young motorcycle racers, a kid with the chops to someday ride on the MotoGP circuit.
There were people who didn't know him, who heard the soul-crushing news that a young teen had died Sunday morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "I just fell over Peter on the Internet," Danish fan Allen Thomsen wrote me.
It's hard for most of us to come to terms with this because mothers and fathers are not supposed to bury their children. But it makes twisted sense to those who've dedicated their lives to the rush of adrenaline and competition.
During his post-race news conference, Spies was asked whether 13-year-olds should really be taking it to the limit on motorcycles, especially on a tough track like the Speedway.
It was a legitimate question, but moments later, after he had left the podium, Spies was seething.
"I found that question really, really aggravating," he told me later. "Just not a cool thing to ask."
We don't understand. We can't understand. But they will get on their bikes again, and they will test the limits again, and they will do it with the uncomfortable knowledge that there's a chance, just a chance, they might be next.