JIM DOWNING RECEIVES 2008 BOB AKIN AWARD FROM ROAD RACING DRIVERS CLUB
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 4, 2009) - Jim Downing, a five-time IMSA championship, owner of Downing/Atlanta Racing, and principal in the development of the HANS Device, was named the recipient of the 2008 Bob Akin Award by the Road Racing Drivers Club at a dinner prior to the running of the 2009 Rolex 24 in Daytona Beach, Fla.
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 chairman Bobby Rahal.
Downing was presented the award by Urciuoli and Rahal.
"I am proud to say that Bob Akin was a great friend of mine and of many RRDC members," said Urciuoli. "When Bob was killed at Road Atlanta a number of years ago we got together and developed an award in his memory that the RRDC would present annually to a driver who embodies the qualities that made Bob such a great guy.
"The recipient is selected because he/she has a history of success in motor racing, but is not necessarily a professional. With this award we weren't necessarily aiming at the Michael Schumachers of the world but the people who we all know well who were great amateur/professional drivers of various sorts, who had a history of success but were also known for their sportsmanship and fair play. In other words, they were 'good guys' and they also had a record of contribution to the sport.
"Jim's got a spectacular resume. He started racing in SCCA back in the early '60s so I know he's slightly younger than I am," added Urciuoli, with a laugh. "He then switched over at some point in the '70s to IMSA (the American Le Mans Series today) and won a number of awards and had spectacular results at various tracks that we all know, like Daytona and the Nurburging, Sebring, etc., etc., He won several Camel Lights championships in the mid '80s, including 41 career victories and is still racing today in SCCA and Formula Atlantic.
"When you talk about contributions to the sport, Jim is a guy who played a major role in the development of the HANS device which many of us use and I think has saved many of us who have had incidents and, unfortunately, some of our fellow racers who haven't used them should have. Jim, thank you for your great contributions."
Downing was humble in his acceptance of the award. "I knew Bob through racing and I did a little bit of investigating the facts of his accident. In this business you often have to do that, and it was very sad. I've had a long career, and it's nice to be noticed by your peer group. There are a lot of guys here who deserve it a lot more than I do: guys like Amos Johnson, Roger Mandeville. That group that I came through all did as much or more than I did.
"It was a real surprise when Archie called me up and asked if I'd accept this. Well, sure I'll accept this. It's easy. It seems like I've been racing all my life. I started in Soap Box Derbies the very year that Bill Vukovich won his first Indy 500. I was working at my father's used-car lot doing what 11-year-olds can do at a car lot, which I think was painting tires with some sort of black stuff so that they looked a little bit newer. And you see where my background comes from.
"I was fortunate enough to start racing here (in Daytona Beach) in 1963 in an Elva Courier in my first regional race, and I was with SCCA for many years and then got very lucky one day. In 1973 I was looking around what to do next and I made a call to this International Motor Sports Association, or something like that, and this guy named John Bishop answered the phone. And I think we all know how persuasive John is. I joined up immediately. I didn't know what I was doing but I sent him 35 bucks for something and he said, I guarantee you you're going to get your entry back, Jim. And I thought, Great.
"John really gave me the opportunity to make a living in racing for the next 25 years. It was just amazing. It's been a great run for me and I am deeply honored to receive this award."
Downing helped develop the HANS Device with head and neck support for racing drivers of all disciplines with friend and GM engineer Bob Hubbard in the 1980s, and is celebrating his 20th year of marriage to public relations specialist Connie Goudinoff this year.
Past recipients of the Bob Akin Award have been Sam Posey, Charlie Gibson, John Fitch, Jim Haynes and Cameron Argetsinger.
The permanent trophy, listing annual winners, is on display at the International Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen, N.Y. The recipients receive a smaller, engraved version of the award.
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 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.
The Road Racing Drivers Club was formed in 1952 to promote road racing and driver safety. The RRDC today continues to recognize, promote and mentor road-racing drivers. Along with the Bob Akin Motorsports Award, the RRDC presents the Phil Hill Award (annually to a driver, sponsor or sanctioning official who makes outstanding contributions to road racing), and the Mark Donohue Award (annually to an outstanding driver at the SCCA National Runoffs).
Membership in the RRDC is by invitation only.
Additional information on the RRDC may be found on www.rrdc.org.