Sports car racing has lost one of its brightest lights with the passing of Chris Syfert, whose battle against pancreatic cancer came to an end on July 8.
Having recently celebrated her 70th birthday, Syfert spent decades as a fixture in the sport before retiring to Florida earlier in the year. A graduate of Bucknell University, with further education achieved in accounting and business administration, Syfert put her numerical expertise to work for racing teams and series where she provided timing and scoring services.
Introduced to the sport through her late husband Greg, an integral part of Team Penske’s formative years while working with Mark Donohue, Syfert would go on to make her own mark in racing. Through long timing and scoring stints with the American Le Mans Series and IMSA, Syfert also made hundreds of lasting friendships.
As a team member with a variety of top-tier operations, including Tom Walkinshaw Racing’s Jaguar IMSA GTP program, Panoz Motor Sport’s LMP1 effort, Dick Barbour’s Porsche GT outfit, and Tafel Racing’s Ferrari team, Syfert was a central presence on pit lane who earned numerous victories at major endurance racing events.
In addition to her professional accomplishments in the sport, Syfert will be remembered for her uplifting personality, which impacted those who were fortunate to spend time in her company.
“I remember Chris Syfert because she always had a smile on her face,” said Roger Penske. “Her husband, Greg, was a key player with us in the early days. Chris was involved in motorsports for more than 40 years and certainly was a part of our team. She was a friend of everyone’s and someone that from my perspective, gave a lot back. She’ll certainly be missed.”
Syfert’s fascinating career included two decades spent with specialist race engine manufacturer Ilmor Engineering in Michigan, where she served as an accountant, and in another nod to her giving ways, Syfert contributed three decades of her life as a volunteer with the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
“The entire IMSA family is shocked and deeply saddened to learn of Chris’ sudden passing,” said IMSA president, John Doonan. “She has left us far too soon. Whether it was the many decades of IMSA weekends where she served on our team, other major motorsports race weekends, major auto shows, or in working with her through the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, Chris exemplified the spirit, enthusiasm, and passion for our sport that we should all exhibit.
“Her constant smile, her ability to always finding the positive in any situation, and her love of our sport was certainly contagious. It is in that same spirit that I want to operate going forward and it is a perfect example of the culture we want in the IMSA community. I believe we can all take a page out of Chris’ page book in how we approach the sport that we love and to life in general. God’s Speed, Chris Syfert, you will be greatly missed.”
Le Mans winner David Brabham was fortunate to work and win with Syfert in multiple teams run by Tony Dowe, who insisted upon hiring her to manage timing and scoring where quite often — well prior to today’s fully automated systems — the arduous job was performed manually.
“When I think of Chris my heart grows warmer and warmer as I remember her joyful smile and huge warm hugs when we met at the racetracks,” Brabham said. “Her enthusiasm for the sport and its people just poured out of her; it was infectious in such a wonderful way. I first worked with Chris at TWR when I drove for Jaguar and she made me feel so welcome as I entered a new team and championship. She seemed to know everyone, and it’s not surprising as she had been part of the U.S. racing fabric for many years. Her timing and scoring skills were something else, I had no idea how she was able to manage it all, only a few did it well, and Chris was one of the best.
“I was delighted when she joined us at Panoz — we had a really good close-knit team that took on and beat the mighty Audi and BMW factory teams. She really understood racing, the tactics and her contribution was a special ingredient that helped keep their teams ahead of the pack. Some of the best memories are just sitting in the hospitality tent and chatting over a coffee. We discussed all sorts of things and I do miss those times greatly. There will be so many people in and out of the racing world who will feel the same way, will all miss her so much. We can only be grateful that she was able to touch our lives in a very special way. Rest in peace my friend.”