Exhibit of John Fitch Artifacts Opens May 6
An exhibit highlighting the extraordinary career of racer, engineer and innovator John C. Fitch opens May 6 at the International Motor Racing Research Center.
The exhibit, curated by IMRRC Head Archivist Jenny Ambrose, extends throughout the facility at 610 S. Decatur St., Watkins Glen. It comprises diverse materials, including advertisements for Fitch’s automotive safety equipment, photographs, racing trophies, models of cars from his long career and his racing helmet and goggles.
“The Center’s collection contains a rich wealth of material documenting Fitch’s career as a driver, safety equipment inventor and car designer. Drawing on the strengths in our holdings, the exhibition focuses on these three aspects of his long, remarkable career,” Ambrose said.
“Like his prototype Phoenix, John Fitch is truly unique. The more I learn about him, the more fascinated I am by his adventurous spirit, inventive mind and persistent advocacy,” she said.
The Phoenix, a Corvair-based sports car prototype that never went into production, has been loaned for display through early June. It is owned by Charles Mallory of Connecticut.
The exhibit will be in place for the 2017 race season. Center hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Admission is free.
A Center Conversations talk about Fitch’s career and accomplishments will launch the exhibit at 1 p.m. on May 6. Fitch historian and archivist Lawrence W. Berman, Fitch friend Bob Sirna and motorsports author Carl Goodwin are the speakers.
The talk is open to the public. It also will be live-streamed on the IMRRC’s You Tube channel at www.youtube.com/user/IMRRC/live.
Fitch established his collection at the IMRRC in 1999 with the donation of papers relating to his engineering career as a safety designer and consultant, with particular emphasis on the Fitch Inertial Barrier and the displaceable guardrail.
His sons, John, Christopher and Stephen, enriched the collection with Fitch’s personal archives in 2016. Fitch died on Oct. 31, 2012, at the age of 95.
Other donors have added to the Fitch materials over the years.
Fitch became the first Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) National Champion in 1951, claimed a victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1953, won his class in the Mille Miglia in Italy in 1955 and was awarded a Golden Jubilee Tourist Trophy at Dundrod in Northern Ireland the same year. He won five major international road races, including the first Buenos Aires Grand Prix in Argentina in 1951.
He participated in almost 140 races on three continents, from the first post-World War II road race at Bridgehampton in 1949 to his last professional race at Sebring in 1966.
Fitch’s work as an inventor was extensive. His most well-known innovations include the inertial barriers, barrels that protect drivers from dangerous hazards at exit ramps and bridge abutments; the Driver Safety Capsule, a compartment in a race car that surrounds and protects drivers in the event of a collision; and his devices and treatments for improving fuel economy in cars and ships.