One thinks of Michael Schumacher, or Stephen Hendry, Lance Armstrong or even Muhammad Ali, all of whom carried on far too long in the domains they had once graced.
Perhaps we should be glad, therefore, that Scotland's Allan McNish, one of the doughtiest and most driven individuals to have participated in international motor racing, has not fallen victim to the belief that he can beat the clock forever.
Instead, the 44-year-old from Dumfries, who triumphed on three occasions at Le Mans - 1998, 2008 and 2013 - and is leaving the scene as the reigning FIA World Endurance Champion, has heeded the example of his compatriot, Jackie Stewart, who didn't overstay his welcome in the pit and paddock.
"I've had a fantastically successful time with Audi, but I feel it is the right time to step back from sports-prototype racing and look at other opportunities," said McNish, who has already provided insightful punditry for the BBC. He is one of life's genuine personalities, as articulate in front of a microphone as he has been accomplished behind the wheel since he first began racing karts throughout his homeland.
"This year, especially, was mega successful after I teamed up with Loic [Duval] for the first time and [continued] my long-term partnership with Tom [Kristensen]. We have ticked all the boxes and I ticked my personal ones too, but now is the right time to hand over to the young guys. My mentor, Jackie Stewart, knew when to get into things, but he also knew when to get out and he has taught me that lesson."
In anybody's terms, McNish has established a formidable record in his realm and can depart with his head held high following decades of blemish-free competition, where he pushed to the max without straying into dangerous driving.
In the process, since he made his Audi sportscar debut in 2000, he has contested in 89 races and amassed 66 top-three podium finishes - it is a remarkable record in such a glitch-littered vocation - as well as accumulating 29 outright wins. That means he has taken the checquered flag in almost one time in every three outings for his employers, which is the sort of statistic which the majority of motor sport specialists can only dream about. Better still, for those who had regular dealings with this little fellow, he has attained these prizes without having his head turned by the trappings of fame. When I went to Le Mans in 2009, he was the first to greet me and ask whether I fancied a coffee and a quick chat, despite being involved in a marathon battle with his Peugeot rivals, which he eventually lost on that occasion.
It summed up the mixture of nonchalant ebullience and nerveless excellence which he brought to his profession and explains why he has managed to become one of the most respected individuals in an environment where egos often run rampant.
His experience will not be lost to Audi. Nor to the next generation of Scottish performers, several of whom have benefited from his tutelage. But there is still some sense of this being the end of an era.
It was only last month that Dario Franchitti, one of the myriad stars to emerge in the late 1980s, was forced into retirement with a serious injury on the IndyCar circuit, while Force India's ditching of Paul Di Resta last week illustrated how ruthless life can be for those who dwell in the fast lane.
McNish, in contrast, has transcended any difficulties and turned adversity to his advantage during his illustrious career. He has enhanced his calling and deserves every plaudit heading in his direction.