Born March 6th, 1936, Akin´s love for the automobile, and especially for the speed associated with it, was formed at an early age (a driver´s license was years away) by the alluring imagery in Road and Track and Hot Rod magazines. But unlike most of us who simply dreamt as we turned the pages, the folios of photos helped spawn a stellar racing career that would encompass over six decades of competition–an accomplishment that was a source of great pride to Bob.
Competing in the world of outboard motorboat racing and the straight-line appeal of drag racing (in 1957 and ´58), Akin´s attention swiftly detoured to road racing and the acquisition of his amateur SCCA national racing license in 1959. With SCCA´s mandatory attendance of three competition schools, Akin completed his first course at Thompson Speedway, Connecticut, then wisely hired “Gentleman Racer”, John Fitch for $50 a day to teach him the racing line around Lime Rock (accepted as part two of the license requirement). Once the required third course was completed at the Montgomery track in New York, and armed with a newly stamped SCCA competition license in hand, Akin quickly drove an Alfa Veloce Spyder to his first win in only his third race at Bridgehampton.
Sequentially, a front engine Volpini Formula Junior was the “hot” car of choice in 1960 before Akin switched to what might have been considered an obsolete Ferrari 500 TRC for several races during the early part of the 1961 season. However, work and family obligations took priority and Bob retired in July of that year.
Fast forwarding 12 years, who would have predicted that an invitation from his friend, Sam Posey, to enjoy a few laps in Posey´s 300SL at the Vintage Sports Car Club of America´s (VSCCA) July 4th, 1973 Lime Rock Park, Connecticut gathering would become the surprising catalyst to jumpstart Akin back into racing. Within a month, he was piloting a Lotus 11, and a couple of years later, a 1959 Cooper-Monaco at vintage events--a machine that quickly became one of Bob´s favorites and one that he raced regularly ever since 1975, winning at least once at every major track.
A professional career ensued almost “by chance” when Bob purchased a Porsche RSR Carrera with the idea of just running it in the 1978 12-Hours of Sebring. “We thought it would be fun to do the 12 Hours of Sebring,” recalled Akin. “We actually ended up doing Daytona before Sebring and continued for the full season, including an assault at Le Mans with a 935 Turbo.”
Now a full time racer with IMSA, Akin began to compile an impressive laundry list of achievements highlighted by a 6-Hour win at Watkins Glen, two Sebring 12-Hour victories (1979 & 1986), two second-place finishes in the 24-Hours of Daytona (´81, ´82), six Le Mans appearances (fourth overall in ´84) and four top-10 finishes in IMSA endurance standings. An imposing catalog, especially when considering his pro career paralleled his “real” job as president of Hudson International Conductors and president of the Board of Trustees at the Hackley School in Tarrytown, N.Y.
Perhaps Akin´s most memorable battle came in 1979 during the 12 Hours of Sebring. His Cooper-Monaco beat out Stirling Moss' Maseratti ≴Birdcage” by a fender in the event's vintage shootout. The following day, he won the 12-Hour contest, co-driving a Porsche 935 with Rob McFarlane and Roy Woods. “The only difference in the two venues is the length of the race”, noted Akin.
Akin officially concluded his professional career in 1991, but continued vintage competition to fill the racing void. And while Bob enjoyed the accolades of a very successful professional road-racing career, driving with the likes of Derek Bell, Hans Stuck, Paul Newman, the late Craig Seibert, and more recently, Brian Redman, to mention a few, his humble presence made him one of the most approachable, respected and true gentlemen of the sport. It´s these traits and the generosity of his time that earned him the admiration of everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him. On Monday, April 29th, 2002, Bob Akin, veteran road racer, vintage racing enthusiast, consummate friend and inspirational teacher to countless racers, succumbed to injuries he sustained on Thursday, April 25th during a testing accident at the Walter Mitty Challenge at Road Atlanta.
Only two weeks prior to the tragedy, Mark Palmer of Vintage Sports Car Club of America (VSCCA) had the honor of working with Bob again as co-instructor for the VSCCA´s driving school at Lime Rock for (mostly) rank novices. “What always impressed me about Bob Akin, was that he continued to serve as a driving instructor at the VSCCA driving school every year to help a bunch of neophytes learn to drive vintage sports cars. He was an entertaining teacher, never condescending, and always patient, even when a student asked, uh, what´s an apex,” recalls, Palmer, who by the way, was quick to add that Bob was a great inspiration to him as well.
Bob Akin was an extraordinary driver, an educated and intelligent businessman, great outdoorsman–enjoying boating, fishing and occasionally hanging ten when the surf was up, but most of all, Bob Akin was a devoted husband of 42 years to Ellen, a father to Susan, Robert, and Joanna, a brother and grandfather. His love for his family was paramount, his devotion to his friends unwavering and a passion for racing etched in his soul ever since the early days of watching John Fitch, Briggs Cunningham, Phil Hill, and others from the sandy seats at Bridgehampton or the hills of Lime Rock.
Time will undoubtedly dilute the pain of Bob Akin´s untimely demise, but it will never fade the encouragement and confidence he transplanted into hundreds of faces over the years. Bob Akin´s life was always at full throttle, and he died doing what he loved best. We will miss his advice, camaraderie and boyish smile, and be forever grateful for having had the privilege of knowing him......Walter Pietrowicz
“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.” - Albert Pike