John Fitch – American automotive icon

Marc Elliott

PARK POINT – Like a lot of folks, one of my biggest quarantine activities has been in watching movies. I have just finished watching one of the most amazing documentaries I have ever seen – for the fourth time! "A Gullwing at Twilight" is the title, and if you have any interest it IS available on DVD, albeit at some elevated pricing at this time due to a limited number of copies on the market. I’d still recommend grabbing a copy or finding a way to view this beautiful story, I enjoyed it that much. The doc chronicles the life of the late John Fitch who was an auto racer of note, an amateur sailor, a pilot in WWII, was the one-time head of the Corvette Racing team for Chevrolet and turns out to be one of the most interesting people I have seen a doc on or read about and researched in some time. He studied civil engineering at Lehigh University and took that educational discipline and applied it to many different automotive safety inventions that are believed to have saved a countless number of lives for the motoring public as well as for those in the racing world.

Along with all of the life history of Fitch, his racing endeavors and family, the doc is centered around what was a final trip out to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah for Fitch to attempt one last shot at a record in the other star of the film – his legendary 1955 Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing.

This is the same iconic car that Fitch raced in Europe decades back and had success with. A remarkable factor in all of this is that Fitch was 88 when this attempt at a record was made. Had he succeeded his record would have been applied to an age group classification.

Alas, the car developed some engine issues and Fitch couldn’t get it past about 150 mph. Considering everything, that’s still pretty amazing. Fitch himself appeared to be in better then average physical condition for his age and his mental clarity and focus was superior. How many people of that advanced age do you know who are even still driving at all? I mean, my mother will be 85 this year but only drives 200 feet per day – out to her mailbox and back!

Some of Fitch’s biggest racing successes included wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring, the Gran Premio de Eva Duarte’ Peron, the 1955 RAC Tourist Trophy and the 1955 Mille Miglia. He was active in SCCA and won several events there and competed in two World Championship Grand Prix races.

And believe me, this is the short list of his accomplishments. So, what did he invent that the average person sees on a frequent basis?

Next time you are traveling down an Interstate and see the large sand-filled barriers in front of overpass columns, yup, that is known as the Fitch Barrier system. He also developed what is known as the Fitch Compression Barrier, which is used as a major safety device at oval racing tracks. He innovated the Fitch Driver Capsule, which is a seat back safety device for racing vehicles. He was also involved in the development of the Evans Waterless Engine Cooling System which is an engine cooling system that uses propylene glycol but does not require pressurization.

His long list of accolades include membership in the Corvette Hall of Fame, the SCCA HOF, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, the Sebring HOF, a Presidential Citation, a Purple Heart and a POW award. Additionally he was awarded the Kenneth Stonex Award from the Transportation Re-search Board of the National Academy of Science for his work and innovations relative to the world of automotive safety. If you have ever driven a car or have been a passenger, you have been protected in some way shape or form by Fitch innovation, it’s that simple.

Fitch passed away on Halloween in 2012, leaving a massive legacy. There is no way that A Gullwing at Twilight could have possibly covered all of Fitch’s amazing life, but what it did cover was beautifully done and documented for the public, quite a few of whom likely  had never heard of him before. The director-producer was Chris Szwedo of Szwedo Productions. If you are an automotive enthusiast and ever get a chance to see this documentary, don’t pass it by, you’ll be glad you watched.

ALL MLB CLUBS will be reporting for what I guess will be the first time ever that “spring” training will be held in the summer. Due to the COVID-19 shutdowns across the country and world, the first go-round was abruptly halted in March. Players will report and get about three weeks of camp in before kicking off an abbreviated 60-game schedule that will lead up to a playoffs and culminate in a World Series. The regular season will start on July 23 and will end Sept. 27. The playoff will start on the 29th and the World Series is tentatively set to go on Oct. 20.

I’d have to presume that with a shortened “camp” version this year and in planning for health and safety provisions that this will be a camp like no other. I don’t believe the players are happy about the way matters stand right now between them and the league, but I do think quite a few of them just want to play some ball. I’d like to see a few games, but as soon as the NHL kicks off it’s Stanley Cup tourney, I’ll be giving full attention to that. There seemed to be a lot less screwing around in their negotiation then there was with baseball’s contentious battle.

AS FAR AS ANY news coming out of the NHL last week went, they basically whittled the list of “hub” cities down for the much anticipated Stanley Cup tourney and then held what I can only describe as a fairly bizarre Entry Draft Lottery selection.

Early last week the league announced that Columbus and St. Paul were eliminated as possible hub cities, and then followed that up with an announcement that Pittsburgh and Dallas were also being dropped from consideration. At that point the management group of the Vancouver Canucks announced they were no longer actively seeking to be one of the hub cities, leaving Las Vegas, Chicago, Edmonton, Toronto and Los Angeles as the five remaining clubs looking at being one of the two to be selected.

With the July 10 date for training camps coming up, the league will likely be making a decision on the hubs quite soon.

The draft lottery was held involving the 7 clubs that didn’t make the 24 team tourney cut. Six selections were made, with the Number One selection TBD.

That will be held after the qualifying round… PEACE