John Cooper Fitch was a true racing legend, a fighter pilot and a pillar of the automotive community. When combined, these accolades represent the accomplishments of a man who has lived more in one life than most others care to dream. Whether you know the name John Fitch or not, he has undoubtedly affected your life through safety innovations such as the Fitch Barrier, which are those yellow barrels filled with sand or water that are found everywhere on highways. Those familiar with auto racing know that his legacy stretches far beyond that.
Fitch was born in Indiana in 1917 and witnessed auto racing from his youth, as his step-father was an executive at the Stutz car company. During World War II, Fitch was a US fighter pilot at the helm of a P-51 Mustang. He was one of the first Americans to shoot down a German jet plane, and was later shot down himself, becoming a POW.
After WWII, Fitch raced for Mercedes-Benz, becoming the first American to successfully compete in Europe after the War. His storied race career included campaigns with Briggs-Cunningham and Aston Martin, among other teams. He competed in the Mille Miglia, Tourist Trophy, and other races that are now the stuff of motorsport lore. He was the first manager for the Corvette race team, as well as the first general manager of his beloved Lime Rock Park, where he routinely attended vintage races into his older years.
Two cars with his name affixed to them are the Fitch Phoenix and the Fitch-Whitmore Special. The former was an attractive sportscar based on the Corvair, while the latter was a custom Le Mans racer based on the Jaguar XK-120. It is arguably one of the most stunning race cars from its era.
Throughout his life, Fitch remained a strong voice for vehicle safety and was a shining example of our Greatest Generation. He will be missed by his family, as well as the automotive community at large.