The April 13 RRDC Evening with Jacky Ickx Presented by Firestone was filled with amusing racing stories, heartfelt emotions, mutual respect and even a few manly hugs as the Belgian driver who’s won six times at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and eight times on the Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit was honored by the Road Racing Drivers Club.
In front of a capacity crowd of auto racing dignitaries, corporate executives and champion racecar drivers, the 13th annual banquet celebrating the legends of motorsport was held at the Long Beach Hilton Hotel prior to the running of the 48th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
In attendance were representatives from the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship and other vintage, amateur and semi-professional series.
The event honors auto racing’s most influential leaders, which have included Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Roger Penske, Jim Hall, Brian Redman, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, George Follmer, Emerson Fittipaldi, Johnny Rutherford, David Hobbs and Rick Mears.
Andretti, who co-drove with Ickx to four sports-car racing wins, was in attendance to help recognize the newest member of this elite group. Derek Bell, who shared three 24 Hours of Le Mans victories with Ickx, took the stage alongside Ickx to honor his former teammate.
RRDC President Bobby Rahal recognized event sponsors Firestone, Lexus Racing, Doug Mockett & Company, Jimmy Vasser’s V12 Vineyards, Jeff O’Neill’s O’Neill Wines, and Chris Locke’s Checkered Past Productions.
Representing Firestone Racing, which has been the presenting sponsor of the RRDC “Evenings” for 12 years, Lisa Boggs, Director, Bridgestone Americas Motorsports, said, “On behalf of all of us at Bridgestone-Firestone, my wonderful group of teammates and colleagues here, we’re honored to be continuing to sponsor this event. We don’t take this lightly. This is an incredibly successful event, thanks to Bobby, and Jeremy Shaw and Tamy Valkosky, who put in countless hours of work to make sure that this is the don’t-miss event of the season.
“What an honor it is this year to honor Jacky Ickx, the legendary driver. When it comes to Firestone still being in motorsports, it’s because of legendary, versatile drivers like Jacky. That’s the reason that we’re still here and so glad to still see our name on race cars. Congratulations.”
Bob and Pam Funari, local car enthusiasts and members of the Grand Prix Foundation, displayed in front of the hotel a recreation of the Ford GT40 with which Ickx claimed his first Le Mans victory in 1969.
A short video written and voiced by NBC Sports TV commentator Leigh Diffey chronicled Ickx’s career, saying, “His six overall victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans stood as a beacon of greatness for a quarter of a century, a mark seemingly unachievable. Three of those wins came with his RRDC teammate Derek Bell. These two were like the Batman and Robin of sports-car racing.”
In another video, Ickx’s fellow racer Brian Redman recalled the challenging yet humorous adventures of competing with and against each other.
Rahal then attempted to interview Ickx in the style of “Late Night with David Letterman,” but Ickx opted to stand alone to present his own stirring, touching and inspiring soliloquy on the mindset of a champion driver.
Bell was then invited to share the stage and stories of his and Ickx’s dynamic co-driving stints during their three 24 Hours of Le Mans wins. Ickx playfully sat on the arm of Bell’s chair and hugged his friend and colleague, to everyone’s enjoyment. This was not your ordinary interview.
“When Jackie agreed to come tonight, I have to tell you, I was thrilled,” said Rahal. “because as a kid, a teenager in the ’60s this guy was the guy. He was the man, and he was so young at the time. He is truly one of auto racing’s all-time great all-rounders. Welcome, Jacky, and thank you for traveling all this way from Europe to join us.”
Said Bell, “Jacky made a great impression on my life. I wouldn’t say that I’m in any way similar to what he was but he certainly taught me a lot of things. It was like having a mentor to guide you and I think a lot of other drivers as well.
At the end of the evening, Andretti added, “You could see the reaction [of the audience]. It was fantastic. It’s all a big family, isn’t it? The world is small when it comes to motorsports. Jacky is one of us, of course. He deserves this type of recognition, no question, and you can see how much he appreciates it.”
Ickx was clearly humbled by the accolades. “First of all, I am touched, very touched. It is very emotional. But it’s even more emotional when you think that this honor is also honoring the people that make racing possible. They are part of it. Not only those who get the light [shining] on top of them.”
A “live” painting created in the first two hours of the evening by renowned artist Bill Patterson depicting Ickx’s first Le Mans victory in 1969, and signed by Ickx, Bell and Andretti, was auctioned off, fetching $7500. A silent auction also included a copy of Jon Saltinstall’s “JACKY ICKX: His Authorised Competition History,” signed by Ickx, Bell and Andretti, which sold for over $800.
The dinner’s proceeds help support the RRDC’s young driver initiatives, including its groundbreaking SAFEisFAST.com program, and the Team USA Scholarship, which the RRDC has backed since 1997.