The Legendary John Fitch of the Army Air Corps


I had the pleasure of meeting John a few years back when a friend of mine Ianto and I drove down to Connecticut to visit Skip Barber at the Lime Rock Race Track. 

John was one of the early track designers and I couldn't believe my fortune to meet this guy.  John was a bomber pilot and P-51 Mustang pilot in WWII.  He is one of the three American pilots to shoot down a German jet during the war.  He said to me, "I cheated and shot him down when he was landing with no fuel!".

John was actually a POW for a few years, escaped and ended up working with a special agency (had to be the OSS and you will not find it in his bio) towards the end of the war. He ended up sneaking behind enemy lines to steal German aircraft, pilot them back, and land them ("often we crashed landed") so we could re-engineer the specs.

A classic underachiever, John went on to become a Mercedes Benz racing legend after the war. He was the principal inventor of the "Fitch" barrier (the yellow barrels with black lids we see all over the highway these days).  John said he was driven to make racing safer after seeing friends die in the 1955 Le Mans crash he witnessed as a driver.  His German team was leading the 24 hour race when one of the cars failed to see a signal, and ended up launching into the crowd triggering one of the worst crashes in racing history.  The accident killed 80 spectators (link below).

John is a legend, and I couldn't believe the stories and the pictures archived in his house. It was one of those experiences where you know that your are in the presence of greatness.  That brief moment in time has stuck with me through the years.  John Fitch, a true hero, great human being and WWII veteran.  Hit the like button in honor of John Fitch!  See you on the other side John. Sincerely, -Brandon

From Wikipedia

Fitch attended Kentucky Military Institute, then studied civil engineering at Lehigh University. In 1941 he volunteered for the US Army Air Corps. His service took him to North Africa, where he flew the A-20 Havoc and then on to England. By 1944, Captain Fitch was a P-51 Mustang pilot with the 4th Fighter Group, 335th Fighter Squadron, and is credited with shooting down a Messerschmitt Me 262 jet. Two months before the end of the war, he was shot down himself while making an ill-advised third strafing pass on an Axis train and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war.

Dog Fight over Germany by: Ken Hodges

In 1954, Fitch drove for Cunningham in a Cunningham C4R, and also Ferraris and again a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. In 1955, in addition to driving a Maserati 250F in the 1955 Italian Grand Prix, Fitch raced for the Mercedes-Benz sports car team along with Juan Manuel Fangio, Karl Kling, and Stirling Moss, arguably the most formidable racing team ever, dominating all levels of competition from Formula One to diesel-engined production cars. That year, Fitch won the production class at the Mille Miglia in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL, coming in fifth overall behind his teammates Moss and Fangio in their Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR racers.

For the 1955 24 Heures du Mans, Fitch was paired with Pierre Levegh in a 300 SLR; while it was Levegh driving at the time of the 1955 Le Mans disaster, the initial confusion had his family in the United States notified he had crashed, when it was Levegh; Fitch was in the pits awaiting his turn. The incident sparked his lifelong interest in safety innovations for racing and highways.

Fitch did, however, return to official automotive competition at 87 years of age in 2003 [2] and again in 2005 [3], when he was once again teamed up with a now 50 year old Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR owned by Bob Sirna, this time at Bonneville Salt Flats in an attempt to break the land speed record for the class, a novel venue for both car and driver. The attempts failed due to the fuel injection pump which limited the top speed to only 150 mph, but the team vowed to return the next year. With characteristic self-deprecating humor, Fitch noted that he had driven those cars faster than that in the rain, at night, on a road with 60 other cars. The extraordinary event is documented in a film Gullwing at Twilight: The Bonneville Ride of John Fitch, which is occasionally airing in HD on PBS.

WWII Pilot, Inventor and Racing Legend: John Fitch

Now that is living! His book, to the left, is linked to Amazon. To read more about John Fitch Click Here.

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