Peter “PK” Kaczmar, on a pre-race Saturday morning, in uniform, headset on, ready to race, with the ever present quicktie ready for use. (photo by Regis Lefebure).
Transitions: Peter Kaczmar (1955-2015) On Sunday, August 22nd, 2015, former Risi Competizione Chief Mechanic (more on that later) Peter “PK” Kaczmar died. PK was living in Danville, Virginia—also the home of Virginia International Raceway. Ironically, that same weekend, Risi Comp was racing at VIR (a track at which the team has had notable success). Dave “Beaky” Sims, the Risi Comp Team Manager found out that PK was sick when he called him on the Wednesday preceding the race to invite him out to the track (as we always did when we raced there) and to visit the team. The news Dave got about PK was not good and on Thursday night—late—Dave called to tell me that PK was in critical condition and would probably not survive the weekend. This was news to me and to Dave. The cause of PK’s illness was immaterial—it doesn’t really matter unless it is something that can be cured and, in PK’s case, there was zero to little hope. By the time the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship race was finished at VIR on Sunday, PK had exited this life. When Beaky called to give me the race results (3rd), the second thing he told me was that PK had died. It was a sobering moment. Pete was sixty.
For over a decade, Pete Kaczmar was Chief Mechanic for Risi Competizione. He had the role of Chief Mechanic, but he, typically, did not want the title or the paperwork responsibility or the human management. He just wanted to be “Number 1” on the car. And he was. Before he came to Risi Comp, he had an impressive body of work in Motorsports. He worked for John Macdonald in the early Eighties in Formula One. Then he moved to Electromotive in the Mid 80s, prepping the Nissan GTP Car. In the late Eighties and into the early 1990s, he was with Tony Dowe on the Jaguar XJR12. For Risi Competizione, he ran the 333SP that won it’s class at Le Mans, won the first Petit Le Mans, and also the World Sportscar Racing championship. Risi Comp’s success with the 333SP was considered one of the reasons that particular model enjoyed a late-model-run resurgence. When Risi Comp retired the 333SP after running one last race at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2002, PK became our chief mechanic on the Ferrari 360 (the predecessor to the 430 and 458) that finally broke Porsche’s stranglehold on the ALMS series. In 2005, PK was assigned to work on the Maserati MC12 project, working with Risi Comp as support for Maserati’s North American ALMS efforts. One year later, PK was prepping the Ferrari 430, the factory’s new GT entry. With Jaime Melo and Mika Salo driving, the Risi Comp F430 dominated the ALMS GT racing class in 2006 and 2007, winning Sebring, Le Mans, and the Petit Le Mans. In 2007 the team won the ALMS GT Class Championship, Driver’s Championship, Team Championship, and Manufacturer’s Championship, winning 9 out of 11 races. PK was awarded the “Mechanic of the Year” prize for ALMS that season, receiving a $10,000 gift. He shared it with the other techs on the team. PK left the team in 2008, spent some time with Tafel Racing (who also ran a Ferrari 430 before edging into bankruptcy) and then was selected to join the Edison 2 Project, an enterprise created to win the $1.0 million dollar prize for designing, building and developing a car capable of obtaining 100 MPG performance. With Edison, PK was stretched—he had to build and prep the whole car. Not surprising to those who knew him, the Edison 2 team won the competition. Edison 2 was located in Danville and that was how PK came to that small city—once a major textile town—located in the foothills of Virginia. He had two brothers, one who predeceased him and one still alive, and a daughter. Peter was English by birth (Ukrainian parents), Italian by temperament, American in aspiration.
Peter Kaczmar was intense. He was irascible. He could be irritable, intimidating, prickly, difficult. He had a volcanic temper. He was intelligent and skeptical and did not suffer fools gladly. He was perfectionist (a very good trait to have in endurance racing where the smallest thing could cause the biggest problems) and was legendary for shooing other techs away from the car when he was intensely involved in fixing, prepping, or repairing something. He had his opinions and he would defend them. His disagreements with Team Engineers were combustible. The PK “interface” could be difficult, but when one looked deep into the man and his psyche, it was very obvious that PK only demanded of others what he demanded of himself. He pushed himself very, very hard and he expected—always—the right outcome. Regis Lefebure, our Risi Comp team photographer, told me that he once saw PK repair one of the Risi Comp cars by himself after an accident on the track; he kept everyone else away from working on the car because he thought he could do it quicker and with more certainty. He got in the “zone” when he worked and he didn’t want any interference. The other techs let him be. The car was repaired in time to race. It was how he worked.
PK was not an easy person to know. He was intensely private (hence the very abbreviated history of his time in racing noted above) and if you wanted to build a friendship with him, it was something that was done over time, not over a weekend or a couple of days. Over the years that he and I were both at Risi Comp, I became friends with PK. It took time. He was sincere in his friendships and he was entertaining and good company. PK loved cars, BMW motorcycles, music (he had a professional grade stereo system) and mechanical things. Nothing was too small for extra attention. When he bought a new toolbox to hold all of his tools, he immediately set about to customize it so that it was configured precisely for the way he worked. That was PK. If he was doing it, it was going to be done right. One of the Risi Comp techs I talked to after PK’s death said that his “cars always finished..when he put them together, they stayed together.”
I talked with him a few times a year after he left Risi Comp. In one of those conversations, after he had joined the Edison 2 team, I asked him if he missed racing. The drama, tension, intensity of racing seemed to suit him so well and he said that “No, I don’t. For almost 20 years, I have devoted my time and life and weekends to racing. It’s a nice break. I did it. It was good. But I like this project a lot.”
It is hard to lose any team member in any sport. Even though PK had been gone from Risi Competizione for 7 years when he died, he was a team member. He will always be considered a team member. He made major contributions to Risi Comp’s racing history, winning World Championships and Sebring and Le Mans and Petit Le Mans. He was here, he did very good work, he won and then he was gone. Because he was so intensely private, I wondered if anyone would give him the sendoff that he deserved and when I asked Team Managing Partner Giuseppe Risi if I could do it, he immediately said yes, because PK was one of us. We want to recognize him, one more time, for his contributions and work.
It’s been good to remember PK, to highlight his life’s achievements, his highs and lows, and to be, again, thankful, for the gift of his friendship. His exit makes another point, however, and this is one that everyone should remember: it is important to let the people who are in your life know the impact they have on you and to do it while they (or you) are still here. Don’t let the thanks go unsaid, the apologies never delivered, the appreciation unnoticed. Do it and do it now. Time will run out. Let the people who are important to you, know they are important to you, before they (or you) run out of time.