"Shoya was the sort of person that when you met him a little piece of you fell in love with him. His energy and enthusiasm was deeply infectious" (Azi Farni)「祥也は、出会った瞬間に大好きになってしまうような人だった。彼のエネルギーと情熱はとても伝わりやすいものだった。」
Shoya était le genre de personnage qui lorsque vous l'aviez rencontré il y avait quelque chose en vous qui tombait amoureux de lui. Son énergie et son enthousiasme était profondément contagieux (Azi Farni)
Without a poem by Dennis Noyes
by Dennis Noyes journalist and moto2 rider Kenny Noyes's father
This is a personal reflection on these last two Grands Prix and on the dark side of this sport we all love.
It was just last Sunday that Shoya Tomizawa (19) died during the Moto2 race at Misano and just two Sundays ago that Peter Lenz (13) lost his life under very similar circumstances (struck by a following rider) during the warm-up lap for the USGPRU Moriwaki MD250H support race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
I just read the provisional results of a poll by the Italian newspaper Gazetta dello Sport where over 70 percent of nearly 1100 fans say that they believe that the MotoGP race should not have been run out of respect to the memory of Tomizawa.
But the time of death given by the hospital at Riccioni was after the MotoGP race had already begun.
If you read Italian, you can read a lot about a controversy concerning the true time of death, and a lot about whether the race should have been held, and also about whether the Indianapolis GP should have been stopped.
Emotions Are High
I have not written anything until now because I just didn’t know what to say and because I wasn’t in Misano. I am allowed to miss a couple of races a season and Misano is always one that I miss. Italy is a great racing country, but I don’t like going to Misano simply because that was where Wayne Rainey’s accident happened in 1993. It wasn’t the track’s fault. It wasn’t anybody’s fault, but I have only gone back to Misano once since 1993 and that was because I couldn’t get out of it. I was contracted to cover World Superbike then.
So I watched that Moto2 race on my computer and it was obvious to me as soon as I saw the first replay that this was a fatality. Another one just seven days after Indy. I kept watching, but if my son had not been in that race I might have turned it off.
We just don’t have to deal with fatalities much any more in GP racing. Those of us who covered the GPs back in the bad old days when the Isle of Man was a points race and when the naked guard rails of the old Nurburgring were unprotected even by hay bales in some corners can be seen as callous when we observe that both these deaths are racing incidents, and that the fact that they took place on consecutive weekends is nothing more than coincidence.
Likewise, younger GP journalists who have only been around a few years seem innocently naïve when they suggest that the races, both of them, should have been abandoned as soon as the news of the fatal incidents were confirmed.
The Bad Old Days
I used to be like that. I remember travelling to the Isle of Man on a BSA 650 Thunderbolt in 1970 to see the TT races, but more importantly to see Santiago Herrero, the young Spaniard from the working class barrio of Vallecas who was riding the monocoque OSSA 250 single. Herrero had battled for the World 250 title the year before but had lost out to Kel Carruthers on the Benelli, a green four-cylinder four-stroke. He was racing injured, as so many riders always were back then, in the final race of the 1969 season and was leading the championship by a single point. He led from the start but crashed out and dropped to third in points behind Carruthers and Kent Andersson from Sweden on a Yamaha twin.
But 1970 was a new year and the OSSA and Herrero were back. Herrero was a hero to all of us in Spain, as was Angel Nieto who had become Spain’s first FIM World Champion in ‘69 in the 50cc class.
I was working in Spain then as an English teacher, but the racing bug had bit, although I still didn’t know it. I thought I was just a fan when I set out on the black BSA with tent and sleeping bag to make the run from Barcelona to Windy Corner where I made camp.
The night before the 250 race I saw Herrero in Douglas. Everyone recognized him. Insiders (who I hadn’t met yet) like Chris Carter, Mick Woollett, Carlos Dominguez, etc. later told me that Herrero was close to signing a contract to ride for Benelli in 500—that he was considered then one of the best, maybe the best young star of those days.
What I remember about that night in Douglas was what Herrero did. He had a 250 OSSA sport with Barcelona plates. He and a friend set the little OSSA on the streetcar rail and Santi got on and rode about fifty yards…a tightrope trick on a motorcycle—then he hopped the bike off the track and rode away.
Later that evening several British riders and maybe a few tourists crashed their big street bikes trying to do the same trick.
I have never met anyone else who saw that. But a friend in OSSA later confirmed that, yes, he had done that. Why? Just for fun.
The next day Herrero was badly injured at the 13th Milestone. Maybe it was because of melting tar on that hot day. He died two days later.
I can’t really explain now how I felt. I thought everything should stop. I knew riders sometimes got killed, knew it in my head, but not in my heart, and I was a fan.
I sat out under a tree in the parking lot at the little Nobles Hospital. There was no press there. No statements. No hope either. Estaban, Santi’s mechanic, saw me out there and came down to tell me that there was no hope. To go back and watch the races. I didn’t even know the cause of death until this year when Carlos Giró, technical director of the OSSA factory, a Giró family concern whose main product was movie cameras and equipment, told me. He died of internal injuries. I always thought it had been because of head injuries.
I watched the rest of the races from Windy Corner. In 500 Agostini on the howling MV beat Peter Williams on his Matchless single by over five minutes. Bill Smith was third on Kawasaki triple two-stroke and Jack Findlay on a Seeley single was fourth. I can’t remember now if there were five or six riders killed at the 1970 TT Races.
Many years after I would work with Jack when he was FIM Technical Director and I was Dorna/FIM Press Officer. “There was nothing really much good about those ‘Good Old Days’ except we were younger,” he told me one day.
When I got back to Spain a couple of days after the death of Herrero the sports papers and even the big daily papers were still talking about it. There was a poem, a long poem that I have never been able to find again, on the front page of one of the big papers, maybe the Vanguardia.
There was not a single Spanish journalist on the Island; budgets were small then. But there were articles calling for an end to the TT. Passionate articles. And the Spanish Federation acted. They banned all holders of Spanish licenses from ever racing at the Island again. (Some have in recent years but with licenses granted by other countries.)
Me, I thought first of selling the BSA and forgetting about all this motorcycle madness. I remember I was angry when Herrero was killed, but the poem helped and the ban of racing at the Island seemed to help too.
There, I thought, we fixed that. No more Isle of Man, and a beautiful poem. (I will see if I can find it in the archives of the Vanguardia when I go back to Spain next week for the Grand Prix at Aragon—all I can remember is that there was a line that went, in Spanish, “Death was watching and she chose the swiftest…”)
But, for some reason, I decided to start racing. It seemed like a logical thing to do because I had discovered just how much I loved it, in spite of the worst.
I didn’t know Santi Herrero, but over the years I have known other riders who died in racing. Probably the death that most affected me was that of young Toby Jorgeson, a friend of the family, the Lodi Cycle Bowl family that, for a time, I felt a part of when my son was racing there so often.
But I knew Ivan Palazzese too. And Tommy Herron. And a few others. And every time there is a death you want to do something—write a poem or ban a track. And I am glad that young fans and young journalists still feel that way, but the truth is that today racing is probably about as safe as we know how to make it.
We don’t race the old “circuitos de mala muerte” (circuits of bad death, we say in Spanish) anymore.
Chicho Lorenzo, the father of MotoGP leader Jorge Lorenzo, wrote after the death of Peter Lenz that these ‘pre-GP’ bikes might just be too fast for young riders, but there is no question that the young American who was killed at Indianapolis was skillful and experienced, so what is called to question is the whole matter of how old riders should be in order to ride 120 mph machines.
I don’t know. Do you?
What I remember about Tomizawa is what most folks recall: His smile and his ability to exteriorize his joy—his love of racing and how very good he was at it. After he won in Qatar we congratulated him and he put his left hand over his eyes and held his right hand high making the gesture of holding the throttle wide open and he laughed.
I didn’t know Peter Lenz either, but I had heard about him. From all I heard he was fast, really fast and he had already battled back from injury, meaning he had a racer’s heart. Until you have to come back from injury you really don’t know if you can…
When riders die, whether young or old, or in between, it seems like we need to do something. Write a poem, get mad, ban something, blame somebody.
No One To Blame
Both at Indianapolis and at Misano there is no one to blame. Racing is to blame, so there is not much any of us can say, except that I completely disagree that the racing should have been stopped at either race regardless of when it was fully known that a fatality had taken place. (The fact that the race was not red flagged, which would have been a temporary interruption, was due, it seems, to radioed information from trackside that informed the race director that the track was clear. While I understand the rush in getting Tomizawa to the life-sustaining emergency equipment on board the ambulance at trackside, it seemed to many that Scott Redding was carried off too quickly considering the possibility—fortunately not the case—of spinal injury.)
I remember back in 1986 we were racing the 24 Hours of Montjuic on that Armco-rimmed beautiful and lethal Barcelona circuit. When I came in from one of my night stints there was a race official waiting for me. My teammate went out, but I was taken to race control where a meeting was in progress and where several other riders were seated, all in their leathers having been brought in straight from their bikes. They had selected representatives from the six best-placed teams at that time, just before dawn—just to get a representative opinion, to help them decide.
The race director and some federation officials were there and the purpose of the meeting was to decide whether the race would be stopped because of the death of Mingo Parés, who had gone down with another rider and had hit the stone fountain just before the climb up the Sant Jordi “mountain.”
It was the first we knew officially, but, riding by the area of the incident, we all sort of knew. We rode under yellow behind a pace car while the area was cleared and I remember seeing in the eyes of a friend on a Guzzi who was at my side on the neutralized laps that he knew too.
People reacted different ways when they told us officially at that meeting in Race Control. One rider, a close friend of Mingo, cried. But we all said the same thing: we have to keep racing. We have to finish this for Mingo. Not one person doubted that that is what Mingo would have wanted. We did race, and then the old Montjuic course, too dangerous for modern racing, was banned—that was the last time any race was ever held there.
And although 70% of Italian fans in that poll and maybe even a similar number of fans around the world might react by saying the races should have been stopped, could anyone doubt that Peter Lenz and Shoya Tomizawa would have wanted the races to have continued?
Next race is the new Motorland Circuit of Aragón, in Spain, where the brotherhood of racing will stand briefly in silence to pay respects for Shoya Tomizawa just as was done when the racing program at Misano began with a minute of silence to honor Peter Lenz.
There is one thing that commentators sometimes say and that bike journalists sometimes write, a stupid sentence that is sometimes used when speaking of a rider who is taking big chances but is out of the points race, or is riding in a non-championship race. I have never said or written it and never will. The sentence is, “He has nothing to lose.” There is so much to win in racing but we all know what there is to lose.
The journalist who wrote for the Indianapolis Star said “normal people cannot understand” and he could not understand why Ben Spies was annoyed (but not “seething” as the journalist wrote) when he was asked over and over again questions about the death of Peter Lenz in the MotoGP press conference, fishing, I thought, for a headline—but really just being a “normal” journalist. Maybe there is an “us and them” in racing, with “us” being racers, ex-racers, parents of racers, and racing people, and “them” being everyone else.
I think I know what the parents and family of Peter feel and what the parents and family of Shoya-san feel. I am so sorry. We are all so sorry.
When someone says, “That’s racing,” it is not cold, not callous, not dismissive. It is just true. We are all angry and we are all sad. We want to blame someone and we want to ban something, but this time there is no naked guard rail, no stone fountain at the base of the mountain to eliminate or protect, no “circuit de mala muerte” to ban. Now we have a minute of silence, we write these articles, and maybe someone writes a poem.
There is nothing else we can do.