John Fitch Passes
Legendary Racer Dies at 95
John’s legacy is one of a lifetime devoted to racing and making cars safer, both on track and off.
John was born in Indianapolis IN on August 4th, 1917. Located in the hometown of the “Great Race” didn’t endear John to driving fast in circles. Instead, while he was stationed in Britain as a pilot during the war, he observed road racing at Brooklands, which fed his thirst for driving fast, a typical characteristic of many pilots. Fitch was busy campaigning his MG when he caught the eye of wealthy racing enthusiast, Briggs Cunningham. With the help of Cunningham, Fitch was able to win the 1951 Gran Prix of Argentina and become the first-ever SCCA National Championship. The relationship between Fitch and Cunningham grew into a full-on assault of the famed French race at LeMans in 1952. The Cunningham C4-R withdrew from the race due to issues with the team being issued improper fuel from the sanctioning body.
John’s exposure on the world-famous circuit connected him with members of Mercedes-Benz and he was smitten with the then-new 300 SL. He would go on to pilot his SL to a class-win and fifth-overall in the Mille Miglia in 1955, his stone-stock entry staying right on the heels of other 300s piloted by Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio, who were driving full-on race versions of the car.
That same year, Fitch was waiting in the Mercedes pits for his turn to take the wheel of the factory-sponsored 300 SL from his teammate Pierre Levegh. The driver swap never happened, as shortly before John’s stint behind the wheel, a devastating crash between Levegh’s SL and a slower car hurled the Mercedes into the crowd, killing more than 80 people. The event greatly affected Fitch and he decided that something needed to be done to improve the safety of the automobile. The yellow, sand-filled “Fitch Inertia Crash Barriers” seen along many racetracks and highways is a direct result of John’s determination and insight.
In 1956, John Fitch began a strong relationship with GM exec Ed Cole and was asked to partake a main role in preparing the relatively new Corvette for the big race in Sebring Florida. Fitch had six weeks to prepare the cars for the race, a task that he performed with Class B and C Production wins, thereby securing the Team Prize as well. In 1960, John Fitch, along with co-driver Bob Grossman would give Corvette its first international win at LeMans.
John Fitch has constantly been involved in road racing throughout the rest of his lifetime. He was a common sight in the paddock at his local track of Lime Rock. While John effortlessly ran out ahead of all the other competitors, he couldn’t out-maneuver fate. He succumbed to a rare form of cancer on Wednesday, October 31, 2012. While the stories will remain legends and his barriers will continue on to save countless lives, the man who created them both now rests. He will be sorely missed by those who have come to love the man and endeared by those enthusiasts whom he has given so much. Those who had the opportunity to meet him will warmly carry those memories, reciting the time that one of the great ones walked among us.