John Fitch

Full Name:
John Cooper Fitch
Born:
4th August 1917
Indianapolis, Indiana
Died:
31st October 2012 (Aged 95)
Lime Rock, Connecticut
Nationality:
American
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

One of America’s leading drivers in Europe during the 1950s, the young John Fitch was introduced to the sport by his stepfather George Spinder who worked as Sales Manager at Stutz. Any wish to race had to wait until after World War II during which Fitch served in the United States Air Force with distinction but he ended the conflict as a Prisoner of War.

Early sports car success

Fitch opened a garage in upstate New York after the war and started racing in June 1949. A winner on Elkhart Lake’s road course in 1950 and 1951, his Allard-Cadillac also won the General Perón sports car race in Buenos Aires that latter year. He was invited to join Briggs Cunningham’s team for the 1951 Le Mans 24 Hours when paired with Phil Walters. Their Cunningham C2R-Chrysler ran second before being delayed by engine trouble.

He ended the season as SCCA National Sportscar Champion and by testing for Mercedes-Benz for whom he raced in the 1952 Carrera Panamericana. Fourth on the road and winner of the final stage, he was disqualified after receiving outside assistance on the last day.

Continuing with Cunningham’s mighty Chrysler-powered sports cars in 1953, he won the Sebring 12 Hours with Walters in what was the opening round of the inaugural World Sportscar Championship. They were also third overall at Le Mans that year to win the 8000cc class in the process. Fitch’s Grand Prix career almost seems an afterthought but he made the first of his two appearances in the 1953 Italian GP but his works HWM-Alta retired.

1955 Le Mans 24 Hours

Fitch worked as Technical Director on the 1954 movie The Racer and rejoined Mercedes a year later as a member of its sports car team. His 300SL was fifth and a class winner on the 1955 Mille Miglia before Fitch partnered "Pierre Levegh" for the fateful Le Mans 24 Hours. His French co-driver started the race but was involved in the worst accident in motor racing history when he crashed into the crowd after 34 laps.

That tragedy would precipitate Mercedes’ withdrawal from the sport but not before Fitch and Stirling Moss won the Tourist Trophy at Dundrod. The American also finished ninth in the Italian GP in Moss’ Maserati 250F but his next move was into team management.

He ran the Corvette team for the next two seasons and made a final Le Mans start as a driver in 1960. Now manager of the Lime Rock road course in Connecticut, he raced for the last time in 1964. Fitch was instrumental in the building of St Jovite and later became a pioneer for road safety.