Murray Smith, longtime event promoter and collector and driver of historic race cars, was named the 2016 recipient of the RRDC Bob Akin Award. He was presented the award at the annual Road Racing Drivers Club members’ dinner on January 25, prior to the running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the season opener of the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Each recipient of this honor, considered the top award in motorsports for amateur, vintage/historic or semi-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 in 2003 to honor the memory of longtime RRDC member and past president Bob Akin, who lost his life in a racing accident in 2002.
It was designed by Steuben Glass in Corning, N.Y., and is given to a driver 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 and the community at large.
The primary award, etched with the names of the recipients, is displayed at the International Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen, N.Y. Each honoree receives a smaller replica.
Born in Ayrshire, Scotland, Smith became an automotive enthusiast at a young age. He graduated from the London School of Economics, then began a career with a prominent advertising agency, eventually heading all of its international operations.
He collected and drove historic racing cars and developed corporate support for automotive events. As a driver, he participated in the Acropolis Rally, Carrera Panamericana, and dozens of historic and vintage races, including Monaco, Le Mans, Silverstone, Monterey and Watkins Glen. Smith also competed in various cars in Historic Formula 1, Historic Group C, and at many Sports and GT events, including victories co-driving with Alain de Cadinet in the 1000 Kilometers of Silverstone and Monza in 1980.
His most significant contributions to amateur motorsports have been in the areas of event promotion. He has worked with Chrysler and Rolex supporting events at various U.S. and international tracks, and helped in the organization of the Louis Vuitton Classic at Rockefeller Center and the Lime Rock Historic Festival, now in its 35th year. He is one of our sport’s leading masters of ceremonies at various events honoring historically prominent race-car drivers.
Smith has also has served on the motorsports committee of Chrysler to develop the Viper GTSR, on the FIA Formula 1 Commission, and as Chairman of BMP, the organizer of the British Touring Car, Formula Three and Motorcycle Racing Championships.
He was presented the Bob Akin Award by Urciuoli, Bobby Akin and Rahal.
“The winner of this year’s award I’ve known pretty much all of my life,” said Akin. “I remember at an early age at Lime Rock asking my dad, Who’s that scrappy guy with the funny accent?
“One thing that scrappy guy had, I learned over many years, was a passion for motorsport, specifically for Le Mans, for sports cars, for historic racing and driving. Not to date him, but our winner has been driving at the top end of vintage and historic racing pretty much since the beginning of historic and vintage racing, or at least the ’70s.
“His passion and his gift for marketing and promotion came when he was a top executive at a massive advertising company, and he’s dedicated much of his life to bringing attention to road racing. He worked for many years with Steve Earle at the Monterey (Calif.) Historics, and at LIme Rock (Conn.), and that continues today. He helped guide Rolex, and Chrysler as part of the committee that brought the original Viper to road racing, and other world-class brands to see the value in road racing.
“He has played a big part in the growth of the sport that we all love and that he loves so much.”
Said Smith, “I learned at a very early age that, unlike many of the people here, my total ineptitude as a racing driver led me, if I wanted to be part of the sport that I love, to be doing other things. So I got involved with F1, the organization of stuff…and we did a fantastic event, which was undoubtedly the pinnacle of my career – the Louis Vuitton Classic at Rockefeller Center, where we had the most amazing group of cars in the middle of New York City.
“Since then, it’s now been 20 years with Rolex. Thank you very much for all the efforts and help that you’ve given me to help you to put things together.
“I love the RRDC which Brian Redman got me involved in, and my wife Susan has been incredible through all the weekends I’ve been away trying to make races and historic racing more popular. Thank you very much for this award.”
Past RRDC Bob Akin Award honorees:
2003 – Sam Posey
2004 – Charlie Gibson
2005 – John Fitch
2006 – Jim Haynes
2007 – Cameron Argetsinger
2008 – Jim Downing
2009 – Steven J. Earle
2010 – Augie Pabst
2011 – Don Knowles
2012 – Miles Collier
2013 – Peter Sachs
2014 – Bill Warner
2015 – Judy Stropus
About the RRDC:
The Road Racing Drivers Club was formed in 1952 as a way to give champion drivers a say in their sport, particularly in the areas of safety, and has evolved to serve the future of road racing by mentoring new drivers on both amateur and professional levels. The Club’s membership includes leading industry professionals, race officials and motorsports journalists, in addition to prominent racing names.
In 2011, the RRDC launched a free on-line training seminar – SAFEisFAST.com – featuring more than 30 RRDC members and other industry experts in high-quality videos covering subjects from physical and mental preparation to driving techniques, driver safety to car setup and sponsorship. The videos are updated regularly. Each week, a professional from the world of motor racing answers readers’ questions on the site in a feature called “Ask a Pro.”
Bobby Rahal is President, John Fergus is Vice President/Treasurer, and Tom Davey is Secretary.
The RRDC presents three annual awards: the Phil Hill Award, the Mark Donohue Award, and the Bob Akin Award, and supports the Team USA Scholarship, which has been assisting young Americans in the early stages of their careers since 1990. The RRDC also honors icons of the sport at its annual dinner at the Long Beach (Calif.) Grand Prix. Honorees have been Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Roger Penske, Jim Hall, Brian Redman, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser and George Follmer.
Membership in the RRDC is by invitation only. For more information, visit www.rrdc.org.
[Source: RRDC; photo: Brian Cleary]