CONVERSATIONS WITH JOHN FITCH

DREAMS, LIFE, AND RACING.

I met John Fitch in January of 2000 while creating my broadcast documentary Lime Rock Park: The Secret Valley of Racing.  In doing my research, his name had popped up as an obvious choice to be in the program.  My first recollection of him was of me walking up to his home in Lakeville, Connecticut on a clear and cold morning, and encountering that Cheshire cat grin of his, smiling through the curtains of the main door. Once inside, I was greeted with warmth and intelligence. He knew that I was taking on the difficult project of telling the story of a beloved place, one that I hardly knew, and he sensed the sincerity that I brought to the effort.

The late John Fitch and Director Chris Szwedo

Inside, to the right of the entranceway, was a room with a wall full of racing books that he was eager to share, adjoined by the hanging artwork and memorabilia of adventures in racing from long ago.  I immediately got the sense of the big life that was his, full of individuality, and that January morning it was continuing to evolve well into his eighty-second year.  From the onset, we took each other seriously, and he generously offered some consistently strong fatherly and technical advice--something he would continue to do in appropriate ways for the years that I would know him.

 

Fourteen months later, I would finish Lime Rock Park: The Secret Valley of Racing.  The film was first shown to the public outdoors on the beautiful Friday night of May 18, 2001, the audience perfectly placed on Lime Rock’s amphitheater hillside, with the film playing below them on a large screen.  Next to me sat John Fitch, his ever-smiling face glowing from the images with the stars all around him. It was a special moment for a filmmaker-- to sit next to such a man with a pleased expression that communicated an approval that was perhaps based from his wisdom.

 

Later that year, in August, and November 2001, racing historian and friend Rusty Pinney and I sat down with John Fitch in his home to record for posterity his thoughts and recollections of his years-- from his childhood in Indiana to his hopes for the future.  We captured his formative interest in the mechanical side of life, his experiences in WW II as a pilot, being shot down and captured by the Germans, his survival and liberation, and his post-war life—meeting and courting his future wife, and his natural entry into the racing scene of the 1950s with Briggs Cunningham and the now-legendary Mercedes Team.  Along the way, he would drive in spectacular races, advise a Hollywood film, witness the horror of the 1955 Lemans carnage, help develop and manage Lime Rock Park in its formative years, manage Corvette racing teams, build a remarkably beautiful sports car that nearly bankrupted him, and create a highway safety barrier system that has saved countless lives that everyone who drives a highway knows of.  To the end, he was an advocate of safety on the road, but most importantly for the sport that he loved.  He was an imaginative and tireless man who envisioned practical answers amidst complicated issues and political entities.  He was assertive, charming, creative, and independent.

 

- by Chris Szwedo

Copyright  2016  Chris Szwedo, LLC