Steve Earle, creator and organizer of the Monterey (Calif.) Historic Automobile Races, was named the recipient of the 2009 Bob Akin Award by the Road Racing Drivers Club (RRDC) at a dinner prior to the running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the season opener of the 2010 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series.
Each recipient of this honor, considered the top award in motorsports for non-professional drivers, is selected by Akin’s son Bobby, RRDC members Brian Redman and Archie Urciuoli, and approved by RRDC president Bobby Rahal.
The distinctive trophy was conceived by the RRDC to honor the memory of long-time RRDC member and past president Bob Akin, who lost his life in a racing accident in 2002.
The trophy was designed by Steuben Glass in Corning, N.Y., and is given to an amateur, vintage/historic or semi-professional American road racer who best exemplifies the extraordinary qualities and characteristics that Akin represented, including a passion for motorsports and automobiles, a high level of sportsmanship and fair play, and who has contributed to the sport of motor racing.
Earle, who formed General Racing Ltd. In 1974 with a fresh concept of creating a public event to focus attention on the significance of old racing cars and the history of motorsports, was presented the award by Urciuoli, Akin and Rahal.
“Bob Akin represented so many great things and truly epitomized a true gentleman in the sport,” said Rahal.
“Basically, there are three qualifications for the award,” said Urciuoli, secretary of the executive committee of the RRDC. “One, you have a history of successful participation in racing; two, you have a high level of sportsmanship and fair play – in other words, you’re a good guy or gal – and, finally, you have a record of contributing back to the sport. Interestingly, it’s that third element that sometimes is the toughest one when trying to come up with a recipient.
“Steve has been a fan since he was basically in short pants in the late ’40s, and an entrant in some of the early races in the ’60s, such as the Times Grand Prix and Can-Am. After forming General Racing to run the first Monterey Historics race, at the invitation of a pal, he got his competition license. And it was especially meaningful that that pal was Bob Akin.”
Earle and Akin placed fifth in the 1977 overall IMSA FIA Championship Series and Earle went on to race multiple times at tracks such as Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. He organized other notable historic-racing events at venues around the country and “had driven any and all cars I could get my hands on from age 14 with good and bad results,” he said. Today he is a steward of the United States Grand Prix and a member of the FIA Historic Motorsports Commission.
“RRDC member Pete Brock, a great chronicler of all things racing, said that Steve basically invented historic racing in the United States,” added Urciuoli. “And another article said, ‘What Bill France did with NASCAR and John Bishop did with IMSA and Nick Craw did with the SCCA, Steve Earle did for historic racing.’ That’s a great tribute.”
Bobby Akin recalled the time, at 10 years old, when his dad loaded the family into “our Buick station wagon with a Lotus 1 on an open trailer and we towed that car to Monterey, California, to the second Monterey Historics event. Under Steve’s vision and passion it evolved into the preeminent event of its kind in the U.S. It is truly a magical event.”
“First of all,” said Earle, with a laugh, upon receiving the award. “I did not start historic racing in this country. I am not the father of any of this. There were people before me. Jim Haynes, for crying out loud, was at it long before I was. And Syd Silverman has done more for the sport than I can imagine.”
Earle, who was born in Los Angeles in 1940, recalled those days of racing with his friend Bob Akin in IMSA and at Le Mans with respect and humor. “It was really something. We had fun the whole time. Bob was a very, very special guy for me and to be able to come here and receive this award in his name is a huge honor. I wish more than anything it didn’t exist, but it does and I’m so proud to receive it and I thank you all so much.”
Past recipients of the Bob Akin Award have been Sam Posey, Charlie Gibson, John Fitch, Jim Haynes, Cameron Argetsinger and Jim Downing.
The permanent trophy, listing annual winners, is on display at the International Motor Racing Research Center (IMRRC) in Watkins Glen, N.Y. The recipients receive a smaller, engraved version of the award.