Above: Bobby Akin, 2018 RRDC Bob Akin Award winner Jeff Zwart, Judy Stropus and Bobby Rahal.
RACER co-founder Jeff Zwart, a Pikes Peak International Hill Climb champion, commercial film director, racer, photographer, cameraman and author, was presented with the 2018 RRDC Bob Akin Award at the annual Road Racing Drivers Club members’ dinner prior to the running of the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
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 Judy Stropus, and approved by RRDC president Bobby Rahal.
Zwart, from Corona del Mar, California, is an eight-time Pikes Peak International Hill Climb champion across five different classes and has competed in 16 years of the historic event. Driving primarily Porsches, he currently holds three different records on the mountain.
He started racing Formula Fords on the West Coast in the early 1980s, went on to the U.S. Pro Rally Championship, was Open Class National Champion in 1990, and earned a class win at the Baja 1000 in 2004.
Zwart is currently running select vintage races and continuing his efforts at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb.
“Jeff Zwart started his racing like many in this room, in a Formula Ford,” said Akin. “He has competed here at Daytona and other classic road racing locations. However, Jeff tended to be most successful when there was a little dirt involved. After his first rally he was hooked. Then the mythic Pikes Peak got his attention and over the years he has amassed eight class wins at this legendary event. He also had a class win at the Baja 1000 and second overall in the Trans-Siberia Rally. No easy task.
“The other qualities an award winner needs to have is to be successful in his non-racing business and be a good person. Our winner has both covered.
“Jeff is arguably the most sought-after commercial director on the planet. Producing over 800 national commercials, he has won multiple Cannes and Cleo Advertising awards and his specialty — I know, shocking — is automotive. The latest project is working with Patrick Dempsey as the second unit director for the upcoming feature film, ‘The Art of Racing in the Rain.'”
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.
“This was a total honor and a total surprise when Bobby came to me a few months ago and said that I would be a part of this award,” said Zwart. “It’s actually a bit of a full circle moment. My parents — and probably a lot of people were inspired by the same thing — took me to the movie “Le Mans.” And seeing that movie, I thought, No. 1, I want to race, No. 2, this road racing thing is so cool. And, No. 3, maybe someday I could actually film something like that.
“It was something that was really special in the early ’80s when Road & Track came to me and asked me to do a story on Le Mans,” he continued. “The tricky part was I was going to travel to Le Mans with a team owner and a driver and he was going to write the article and I was going to photograph it. And that person was Bob Akin.
“Those were my first moments at Le Mans that I had only dreamed about. Basically, the curtain was pulled back by Bob Akin who showed me everything he knew about that track and even allowed me to put my camera in the car. This was not a Go-Pro era and it was a big old camera.”
Zwart had only brought two cameras and one was in the car, which had stopped on the Mulsanne Straight. In his attempt to retrieve the camera he hiked for an hour until he found the car, convinced the French organizers that he needed to get to the car, and collected it.
“The whole experience was so special to me, and the fact that Bob had trusted me to put a camera inside his car, he really did pull back the curtain and I ended up going another year with him for Road & Track,” he said. “We really had a good time and I loved the fact that I was getting to see a view that I only dreamed of as a kid in the movie theater with my family.
“Motorsport has given me so much and so many people in this room have been involved on some level in the things that I shoot. Not only has motorsport given me a great career on my film side, it’s motivated me to race and somehow be a part of this great room and to enjoy this evening.”
The primary award, etched with the names of the recipients, is displayed at the International Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen, New York. Each honoree receives a smaller replica.