Remembering John Fitch

Photography Credit: Terry Dunne/Courtesy Lime Rock Park

If you’ve seen yellow plastic barrels filled with sand along the shoulder of a highway, you know what a Fitch barrier is. What you may not know is the man behind the name of that safety item, John Fitch, and his impact on motorsports.

In a press release, Lime Rock Park describes the former director of the facility as “a true Renaissance man," that was more than just a race car driver, but also an aviator, sailor and inventor.

As far as an inventor, Fitch is noted for his work modifying Chevrolet Corvairs, which eventually lead to the Fitch Sprint and Fitch Phoenix.

As a driver, he was best known for his stints racing for Briggs Cunningham and Corvette. Fitch took the class win at both Le Mans and Sebring three times, including winning overall at Sebring in 1953. Fitch also finished first in his class at the Mille Miglia.

[The Porsche 904 Carrera that closed out Briggs Cunningham's racing career]

As the director at Lime Rock Park, he worked with Bill Milliken, head of Cornell University’s Aeronautical Library and a leader in highway safety engineering, to design the race course. It was a first, according to Fitch, to “scientifically design a race track.”

John Fitch stepped away from Lime Rock management in 1964. He passed away on October 31, 2012, at age 95.

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Jpsbgt New Reader
3/28/23 2:22 p.m.

In 1985/86 ? I was at Lime Rock for the IMSA race held during the Memorial Day weekend. My wife and I were just about to eat lunch during a break in the activities. We had our Keeshound Bandit with us. Out of the corner of my  eye I noticed an older gentleman approaching us. I immediately knew it was Mr Fitch, he had a unique appearance. He didn't say a word to us but went right up to Bandit and held out his palm. Bandit gave him a welcoming hello. I introduced myself and my wife to John and he asked us how we liked the track. After talking for a few moments he invited us to stop by his home. A few weeks later we took him up on his offer. What a gentleman and host. I have had the opportunities over the years to have met numerous high profile individuals, Mr Fitch was one of the most interesting and kind person I have ever had the pleasure to sit with and ask a few questions. The first one was how did you shoot down a jet engined flying bomb ? RIP Mr Fitch.

J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
3/29/23 7:52 p.m.

In reply to Jpsbgt :

Quite the story! Thanks for sharing!

DD New Reader
5/18/23 12:41 p.m.

I met John Fitch in the mid 1970's when I lived on Hilton Head Island and gave him golf lessons. John would come down and stay with his racing buddy Coby Whitmore to escape the cold weather.  John was unassuming so it wasn't until I attended the 24 hrs. at Daytona with him that I realized how well regarded he was in the motor sports world. I knew he had a relationship with Mercedes because we drove down in his brand new, factory direct, 6.9 L Mercedes 450 SEL. He graciously allowed me to take the wheel for the trip. 

On arrival, his stature became apparent when we went straight to the paddock where Sam Posey, Hurley Haywood and others warmly greeted him. Needless to say it was a memorable experience. By the end of the trip I had figured out that John was a Renaissance guy. I remember that he always had a small notepad with him that he would pull out and scribble notes on. 

As noted above, John raced with Briggs Cunningham. Ironically, many years later, after moving to Florida, I met and became friends with Brigg's grandson. 

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