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United States John Cooper Fitch

Races: 2

1953United Kingdom HW Motors    Alta GP 2.5 L4 HWM 53 
1955United Kingdom Stirling Moss Ltd Maserati   Maserati 250F1 2.5 L6 250F 

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John Fitch: More than Speed

By Jeremy McMullen
Page: 1 2 3 next >>
In a career spanning less than two decades, John Fitch would ascend the ranks to become one of the premier sportscar drivers in the world. Though speed would forever define Fitch's life right up to that last day on the 31st of October, there would be much more to the man than just speed.

It is nearly impossible to experience terrible and absolute devastation and not be affected by it in some form or manner. Such memories of a silver Mercedes-Benz disintegrating and flying through the air decapitating bodies and causing other such horrific memories would plague the minds of many who were at Le Mans in 1955. In the case of John Fitch, the memories of that terrible moment would lead him to live a life of dual identities, forever striving to turn back the clock in his own way and saving those many lives lost those early evening hours on the 12th of June in 1955.

Those knowledgeable in motor racing history would recall John Cooper Fitch as a talented racing driver. But there would be many others that would recall the man first as an innovator in safety. And, because of his equal passion to both, a discussion of the man almost always requires a delineation of the two halves, the racing and the safety. A man devoted to his art, Fitch would impact all facets of the automotive industry, from inside and outside the cockpit and everywhere else in between. And it would all begin a couple of generations before his birth.

Those astute in history would likely recognize the name 'John Fitch', but there may be some difficulty as to pinpointing from what time period the name comes. The truly astute would recognize there are two inventors/innovators sharing the name 'John Fitch', but which one could still offer some difficulty. But in the case of John Fitch and John Cooper Fitch, though there are differences, they are truly one in the same, for they are from the same family. Therefore, it is not at all surprising to marvel at all John Cooper Fitch would be capable of creating/devising when it is remembered that his great-great grandfather, John Fitch, had been the inventor of the steamboat.

Though those of the time period would likely disagree, unlike his great-great grandfather, John Cooper Fitch would be born into the world in a place filled with speed. Born in Indianapolis, Indiana on the 4th of August in 1917, John Fitch would soon find himself being raised in an automotive family when his stepfather, George Spindler, came into his life at the age of 6. George Spindler was an executive with the Stutz Motor Company and even showed an interest in amateur racing. Because of this upbringing, John would be quite adept and building cars, and throughout his early life he would spend hours taking wrecked or incomplete cars and turning them into proper road-going machines.Being surrounded by the automotive industry it would be practically impossible if motor racing wouldn't come to attract the young boy. This would lead him to enter Lehigh University to study civil engineering after a period of time at the Kentucky Military Institute. Though Fitch would enroll in civil engineering at Lehigh University, he would only be there a short period of time before he would be persuaded to tour Europe with a friend. Therefore, instead of studying, John would be enjoying the privilege of seeing some of the sights and sounds of Europe. One of those 'privileges' Fitch would enjoy, and that would ultimate determine a course for his life, would be seeing the final motor race held at Brooklands in England before the outbreak of World War II.

Although England and all of Europe was on the verge of war when the young American visited Brooklands in 1939, it would be another couple of years before the war would catch up to the United States and the boy from Indiana.

When the war did reach the United States, Fitch would be an honorable young man and would volunteer his service to his country, but if war could ever be considered slow-paced, Fitch would choose a path of service that was anything but.
1955250FMaserati 250F1 2.5 L6
195353Alta GP 2.5 L4

Having attended Kentucky Military Institute and then, briefly, Lehigh University to study civil engineering, Fitch would be able to enter the military as an officer. This opened the door to being a pilot and, coming into service in 1941, he would find himself in some of the hottest and most dangerous theaters of war.

Volunteering for the US Army Air Corps, Fitch's military career would begin in North Africa as a pilot of a Douglas A-20 Havoc in the 15th Bombardment Squadron. This attack/medium bomber aircraft meant Fitch would be right in the fight, down low at times with the sand kicking up and the fighting intense. He would serve throughout North Africa for a couple of years before being shipped to England.

Upon arriving in England, Fitch would be assigned what many would consider a dream position as pilot of a North American P-51 Mustang as part of the 4th Fighter Group in the 335th Fighter Squadron. Part of the famous 'Red Nose' squadron, Fitch would be a part of a Fighter Group that would boast of such famous war aces as Don Gentile, Duane Beeson, Pierce McKennon and Don Blakeslee. But while Fitch himself wouldn't become a fighter ace, he would have the distinction of being just one of a handful to ever shoot down one of the first operation jets, the German Messerschmitt ME 262.

Nothing in war is truly glorious, but, in Fitch's case, his experience would get worse when he would get shot down during a strafing pass on a German train. Crash landing the Mustang, Fitch would suffer a broken arm but would obviously survive. However, just two months before the end of the war, Fitch would find himself a prisoner of war.

During his spontaneous tour of Europe, John would have the opportunity to take to the wheel of an MG Magnette. This experience would be enough for him to start his own MG dealership back in the United States following the end of the Second World War. Based in Connecticut, the dealership would be simple a means, a front for a man with a passion, an obsession with going fast.

Fitch had gone to the Indianapolis 500 as a boy and had even taken some laps of the circuit with his stepfather George Spindler, he had seen the very last race at Brooklands, he had sailed around the Gulf of Mexico and had shot down a jet and had the opportunity to fly what is considered to be the best fighter of all time. Fitch's life was one filled with speed and adventure, and it would have been considered an impossibility had he lived a quiet and serene life afterward. Not surprisingly, he wouldn't.

Not only would Fitch experience some incredible moments, but his life itself would be amongst the jet-setters and affluent. Returning from the war, Fitch would originally settle in Palm Beach, Florida and would be seen with such influential people as Orville Wright, Noel Coward and even the Kennedy family. In such a setting, he would soon form some very interesting and influential friendships, including people like the poet George Barker and the Duke of Windsor, whom Fitch likes to recall as having met and formed a friendship with while urinating on a bush while at a party.

Quoted as saying, 'I've always needed to go fast', Fitch wouldn't remain docile behind the wheel of a car for very long. Already having picked up a life racing yachts, Fitch would decide to make the obvious jump to motor racing. Born to a grandfather that invented Fitch's Chewing Gum and having such an extensive family line of innovators, Fitch believed he could make a go of a racing career. The fact his car dealership wasn't selling very many cars would be further motivation for the still young man to chase adventure and speed. Therefore, in 1949, Fitch's motor racing career would begin with a 100 mile race at Bridgehampton driving an MG TC.

Actually, Fitch tried to get his motor racing career jumpstarted toward the end of 1948 by taking part in the Watkins Glen Grand Prix in the MG TC. However, despite his best efforts, he would fail to qualify for the race.

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After a 5th place in the debut at Bridgehampton, Fitch would try his hand at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix once again. This time he would not only qualify, but he would again finish in 5th place. Taking part in the Seneca Cup on that same day, Fitch would finish in 6th place.

Focusing on sports cars mostly, Fitch would even try his hand at designing and building his own cars. Taking from a Simca, John would create a car that would become known as the Fitch Model B and he would campaign the car in a couple of different races throughout the 1950 season. Unfortunately, the best result the car would earn throughout the season would come at Watkins Glen during the Grand Prix where Fitch finished the race in 8th place.

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Formula One World Drivers' Champions
1950 G. Farina
1951 J. Fangio
1952 A. Ascari
1953 A. Ascari
1954 J. Fangio
1955 J. Fangio
1956 J. Fangio
1957 J. Fangio
1958 M. Hawthorn
1959 S. Brabham
1960 S. Brabham
1961 P. Hill, Jr
1962 N. Hill
1963 J. Clark, Jr.
1964 J. Surtees
1965 J. Clark, Jr.
1966 S. Brabham
1967 D. Hulme
1968 N. Hill
1969 S. Stewart
1970 K. Rindt
1971 S. Stewart
1972 E. Fittipaldi
1973 S. Stewart
1974 E. Fittipaldi
1975 A. Lauda
1976 J. Hunt
1977 A. Lauda
1978 M. Andretti
1979 J. Scheckter
1980 A. Jones
1981 N. Piquet
1982 K. Rosberg
1983 N. Piquet
1984 A. Lauda
1985 A. Prost
1986 A. Prost
1987 N. Piquet
1988 A. Senna
1989 A. Prost
1990 A. Senna
1991 A. Senna
1992 N. Mansell
1993 A. Prost
1994 M. Schumacher
1995 M. Schumacher
1996 D. Hill
1997 J. Villeneuve
1998 M. Hakkinen
1999 M. Hakkinen
2000 M. Schumacher
2001 M. Schumacher
2002 M. Schumacher
2003 M. Schumacher
2004 M. Schumacher
2005 F. Alonso
2006 F. Alonso
2007 K. Raikkonen
2008 L. Hamilton
2009 J. Button
2010 S. Vettel
2011 S. Vettel
2012 S. Vettel
2013 S. Vettel
2014 L. Hamilton
2015 L. Hamilton
2016 N. Rosberg
2017 L. Hamilton
2018 L. Hamilton
2019 L. Hamilton

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