John Fitch, legendary race car driver and an influential figure in developing professional road racing, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on August 4, 1917.

After serving as a fighter pilot in WW II, Fitch began racing cars in 1950. He participated in several races in 1951 and he became the first Sports Car Club of America national champion. Over the next several years, Fitch competed in many races throughout Europe and was named "Sports Car Driver of the Year," by Speed Age magazine. However, it was his 1952 race in Mexico at the Panamericana Carrera with Mercedes-Benz that began a connection with the brand for the next sixty years.

Dan Gurney-John Fitch-Sheila Walters
Dan Gurney-John Fitch-Sheila Walters

Photo by: Steve Rossini

In 1953, Fitch won a significant race at Sebring marking the first win at that track for an American driver in an American car. 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 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 Hours of Le Mans, Fitch was paired with Pierre Levegh in a 300 SLR, which was involved in a historic crash killing 84 spectators while Fitch was in the pits awaiting his turn to drive. Later that racing season, John co-drove to victory with Stirling Moss in the Tourist Trophy in Ireland and finished fourth with Desmond Titterington at the Targo Florio in Sicily for Mercedes.

The disastrous and horrific accident at Le Mans sparked Fitch's lifelong interest and devotion to increasing safety for motorsports, which resulted in innovations for racing and overall driving on highways. Most notably is the Fitch Barrier system, a type of impact attenuator consisting of a sand- or water-filled plastic barrel, usually yellow colored with a black lid, now ubiquitous on American highways. Other impact absorbing systems designed by Fitch are the Fitch Compression Barrier, suited for oval tracks and other such high speed situations with little runoff area, which comprises a set of strong, resilient hollow cylinders about a yard in diameter placed between the guardrail and the wall, gently absorbing the vehicle's energy without bouncing it back onto the track.

John Fitch resided in Connecticut in close proximity to Lime Rock Park. This past August, he celebrated his 95 birthday among family and friends. Over the last thirty years, John Fitch retained close ties with Mercedes-Benz participating in several events and receiving the prestigious Mercedes-Benz Star Driver Award at Pebble Beach in 2006.

"We are saddened by the passing of John and our condolences go out to his family and friends," said Geoff Day, Director of Communications for Mercedes-Benz. "John was a great friend to Mercedes-Benz, a true gentleman and an outstanding driver. His accomplishments will have a long legacy among defining moments in our Company's history."

Source: Mercedes-Benz USA