Last week, Tom Kristensen announced his retirement from professional racing. Like Alan McNish (one of his teammates) last year, another of my motor sport heroes has hung up his helmet. I’m sad that he’s decided to retire but I respect and understand his decision. With his retirement, one of motor sport’s greats has decided to step aside. Kristensen has been a great racer on the track and a great man off of the track; we’ll likely not see another like him for a long time.
Tom Kristensen is the consummate endurance racer. He mastered endurance racing and over his career has won in traditional gasoline prototypes such as the Porsche in 1997 and the Audi R-8 five times, diesel prototypes such as the Audi R10, and finally with the hybrid R18 E-tron. He’s not only won in a variety of equipment but with many different teammates as well, proving that he is not just a winning racer, but a great teammate. You can’t win endurance races without being a great teammate and Kristensen has proved that he is one nine times, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans a record nine times in his career, an accomplishment that if repeated, will be a long time coming. Kristensen isn’t just fast. He is fast in cars that were set up as compromise between multiple drivers. He is consistently fast in any condition, be it light or dark, dry or wet.
As great as Tom Kristensen is on the track, he is just as great off of the track. I have always been impressed by the way he has carried himself out of the car. He doesn’t call attention to himself and isn’t the kind of athlete always looking to get his highlight on Sportscenter (not that you’re going to get that in endurance racing anyway, but you know what I mean). He hasn’t had to, he lets his racing speak for itself. Behind closed doors he may have had a cross word or complaint, but you’ve never known it from the interviews he’s given. He has always been composed, gracious, and polite. He may not always be able to give the answer the interviewer is looking for, but he’s always seemed to tell the truth; you never get the impression you’re being blinded with bullcrap. It’s almost become a rarity in sport these days, but he acts like a gentleman; perhaps more professional athletes should look to him as a role model.
The word legend is thrown about carelessly these days and has almost lost its meaning, but Tom Kristensen is without a doubt a Legend. Regardless of what form of motor sport, or what form of sport, he will be remembered as Legend, and properly so. I am thankful that I am a fan of endurance racing and got to be witness to the career of one of history’s greatest racers.
Thank You, Tom – and good luck in your retirement.