May 6 Talk to Focus on Sports Car Racing Legend John Fitch
Sports car racing legend, engineer and innovator John Cooper Fitch will be the subject of a Center Conversations talk May 6 at the International Motor Racing Research Center.
Fitch’s 1966 Corvair-based Phoenix prototype will be on display for the talk. It is expected to arrive at the Center next week.
The talk is sponsored in part by the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce, and is open to all. The Racing Research Center is located at 610 S. Decatur St., Watkins Glen, N.Y.
A $5 donation for admission is requested to help defray costs.
The talk will be live-streamed at www.youtube.com/user/IMRRC/live or via the Center’s website at www.racingarchives.org/stream/. The talk also will be archived on the Center’s You Tube channel to watch in the future.
The Racing Research Center, a motorsports archival and research library, houses a significant collection of Fitch materials, including his own archives donated late last year by his sons, John, Christopher and Stephen Fitch. Berman facilitated the donation.
“We are delighted to have Larry Berman, a leading expert on Fitch’s career, and Bob Sirna, who traveled for many years with Fitch, provide their unique perspectives on his remarkable life and contributions to racing,” Head Archivist Jenny Ambrose said.
“Their beautifully illustrated presentation will be part of a larger celebration of Fitch’s life and will serve as the opening event for the Center’s new exhibition on Fitch. Featuring selections from the Center’s extensive Fitch collections, the exhibition will include his goggles and racing helmet, trophies from his racing victories and portraits by noted motorsports photographer Jesse Alexander. Photographs, papers and ephemera reflecting Fitch’s diverse interests and accomplishments will also be displayed,” Ambrose said.
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.
Other donors have added to the Fitch materials over the years.
Fitch died on Oct. 31, 2012, at the age of 95.
“John Fitch lived an exciting, storied and full life. We will attempt to hit the highlights of an amazing career which included fighter pilot, race car driver, race and highway safety specialist, fuel catalyst inventor and many more,” Berman said. “In reviewing his many accomplishments, one would have to conclude that it was an honor and a privilege to have been considered his friend.”
The Fitch Collection includes correspondence, technical reports and publicity and sales materials relating to the Fitch Phoenix. The one-off car is now owned by Charles Mallory of Connecticut, who has generously placed it on display at the Center.
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.
Filmmaker Chris Szwedo, who produced and directed “A Gullwing at Twilight” about John Fitch’s return to the Bonneville Salt Flats at age 87, spent hours speaking with Fitch. Those recorded conversations can be viewed here.