Just minutes after Saturday night racing at Riverhead Raceway was canceled due to weather, the Long Island racing family was rocked with the news of the passing of “TK” Tom Kraft, 64. Kraft passed away Saturday morning, complications from a heart episode suffered on Monday.
By Bob Finan
With a simple Facebook post Saturday, Freddie Kraft shared the sad news, “It’s with great sadness that we have to share that our father, Tom Kraft passed away this morning. We know everyone would like to help anyway they can, at this time we just need some time to wrap our heads around this heartbreaking news”. He also noted final arrangements were pending. Freddie remained on Long Island to be with his mother Kathy and siblings, Thomas, John, Joan and Erin and their spouses, missing the NASCAR Cup race spotting for Bubba Wallace in Richmond, Virginia Sunday.
A stunned Riverhead Raceway GM John Ellwood reflected, “I am having a hard time with the loss of my friend, so much to say, with so many lost words”. John recalled how he counted on “TK”, “a supporter, coach, a go-to on all accounts and most importantly encouragement. Tommy had a lot of influence on me, an everyday phone call could last for hours”.
During his driving career Tom Kraft was simply one of the best to ever strap into a Figure Eight car at Riverhead. Three track championships, 1986, 1998 and 2006 captured on the strength of 29 career wins, 5th on the track win list. Tommy is enshrined on the Cromarty Wall of Champions in turn three at Riverhead Raceway, as well an inductee to the Suffolk Association of Figure Eight Racing Hall of Fame.
After his driving career ended it wasn’t long before track management tapped into Tommy’s vast experience making him part of the NASCAR officiating team. Kraft was a fixture at the turn four entrance gate, his NASCAR radio slightly askew on his head. Many a time when Kraft felt a driver returning to the track after a skirmish might have revenge on their minds, he’d simply lean into their window advising otherwise Usually that advice was well taken.
Recently retired track announcer Bob Finan pointed out there were more layers to Tom Kraft than just his racing exploits, “Tommy knew the automotive business inside out, buying cars, selling cars, managing repair shops was his forte. He had a way with people”. However, Bob felt there was one quality to Tommy that stood out most, “Tommy was the most unselfish person I know, he’d always do for others before he did for himself, aside from racing I really believe that is his legacy”.
Saturday night the Figure Eights will be part of the Riverhead Raceway Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series program, while the light may be dimmer at the “X” with his passing, Tom Kraft will still be watching over his beloved racers. Rest easy “TK” Tom Kraft, thank you for a lifetime of dedication and memories.
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