It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of racing legend John Fitch. How do you summarize John Cooper Fitch? He was a decorated WWII air corps pilot and POW, Purple Heart medal winner, SCCA and LeMans champion, team manager, racing and auto safety pioneer. These titles all apply.
John Fitch was born on August 4th, 1917 and from an early age was introduced to car racing. He was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. His stepfather was an executive for Stuz and introduced him to racing, but he was not initially impressed with it. It wasn't until he returned from WWII that he fell in to car racing as many did. During the war, Fitch was a decorated pilot in the Army Air Corps who was shot down and captured by German troops and locked in a POW camp.
After the war he began racing cars, only sports car racing rather than the typical oval track racing he witnessed at Indy. And Fitch was good, better yet great. During the early 50s, Fitch raced for driver and car designer Briggs Cunningham. He later became the only American to race for Mercedes Benz in their racing efforts. In 1955, the crash at the 24 Hours of LeMans greatly affected Fitch. He would go on to develop the Fitch Inertial Crash Barrier. Yellow barrels filled with sand that are still seen on racetracks and highways to this day.
After Mercedes, Fitch was approached by Chevrolet to help develop and manage their Corvette racing efforts and to make the Corvette a true race car. The eventually led to Fitch driving a Corvette at LeMans in 1960, and winning with co-driver Bob Grossman. Fitch would retire from professional driving in 1966. However, he did do some further driving for others, including a failed attempt at a land speed record in a 300 SL gullwing Mercedes owned by Bob Sirna. He was also re-united with his LeMans winning 1960 Corvette at LeMans in 2010. That car is now owned by Lance Miller, a friend of ours and owner of Carlisle Events.
Fitch had a great passion for inventing and a prime example were the Fitch Barriers mentioned above. He also developed many performance and appearance products for the Chevrolet Corvair. And there was the Fitch Phoenix, a Corvair bassed sports car.
Even until earlier this year, Fitch was a staple at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut. Where he also had served as manager.
God Speed John Fitch. You will be greatly missed.