Corvette Timeline Tales: Happy 94th Birthday, John Fitch!

Dateline: 8.4.11
A Birthday Salute to One of the First Corvette Hot Shoe Drivers, John Fitch

Fitch behind the wheel of one of the three specially prepared Corvettes built for speed runs on the sands of Daytona Beach in January 1956.

Racing and Corvettes are completely inseparable. John Fitch was already a hot shoe when Zora Arkus-Duntov hired him to drive one of the three specially prepared ‘56 265-CID Corvettes for a speed record run on the sands of Daytona Beach, Florida in January 1956. Were it not for those exciting early racing experiences, the tone and attitude of the Corvette would have been closer to a passenger car rather than a scrapper race car. And John Fitch was part of the first wave of Corvette drivers.

After serving in WW II as a fighter pilot, Fitch got his degree in engineering and went to postwar Europe to race sports cars. Fitch was one of the first American engineer/drivers that set the template for future engineer/drivers, such as Mark Donohue and others. A thorough understanding of how things mechanically function has proven to be an incalculable asset to a successful racing enterprise.

The SS Corvette was a beauty, but the light weight magnesium body transfered enormous amounts of heat into the cockpit, making driving conditions near unbearable!

Before driving for Chevrolet, Fitch won the very first SCCA national championship and was the only American to drive for the Mercedes-Benz factory team. In 1957 Fitch was hired by Chevrolet to prepare and manage a team of stock and semi-modified Corvettes for competition. That same year, Duntov literally put Fitch’s feet to the fire driving the obscenely hot (temperature wise) SS Corvette.

Besides racing Corvettes, John won the 1951 Argentine Grand Prix, the 1955 Mille Miglia production class, and John competed at Le Mans six times, finishing as high as 3rd place. He was the first general manager at Lime Rock Park race track, developed the yellow “Fitch Barriers” crash barrels, and started the first advanced driving school. Being an innovator must have been in Fitch’s DNA, as his ancestor, also named John Fitch, was a clock maker, silversmith, and built the first functioning steamboat in 1787.

"Lucky dog" Lance Miller going for a brisk ride around the Le Mans track with the master, John Fitch at the wheel in June 2010.

John was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame in 2000. In 2010 Fitch was at Le Mans and drove the Miller Family’s restored 1960 Briggs Cunningham Le Mans Corvette racer with Lance Miller riding shotgun. The restored Cunningham Corvette and John Fitch are the subject of the documentary film, “The Quest” that will have a special showing on August 25 at the Carlisle Theater, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. For more information about the movie showing, CLICK HERE.

We covered The Quest here at Corvette Report and included the official movie preview, plus John’s Bonneville speed record attempt back in 2005 when John was 87-years old! WHAT’A GUY! Happy Birthday, John! – Scott

PS – For more information about the life and times of John Fitch, CLICK HERE.

John Fitch was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame in 2000. You can read all about it HERE.

Fitch was also an early “tuner” offering his version of what he felt a high performance Corvair should be, “The Corvair Sprint! by Fitch.”

Hemmings Motor News’ blog covered the Fitch Corvair. Check out the excellent story, HERE.

How fitting is this, a Fitch Corvair at Lime Rock Park? John Fitch was the first manager for the race track.

Check out some of the art prints of Corvette race cars that John Fitch drove HERE.