More on Fitch, and hooray for hockey!

Marc Elliott

KNIFE RIVER – In last week’s excitement and zeal to write about the life and times of a pretty amazing person and in regard to the documentary that spurred me on to do so, A Gullwing at Twilight, I have discovered the need to clarify a detail regarding what I wrote about the car that John Fitch once raced, and about the one that he attempted to break an age class/speed record with out at the famed Bonneville Salt Flats. As pointed out to me by Producer-Director Chris Szwedo these are two different cars. In an email to Szwedo to let him know that the article had been published I told him that I thought I may have made an error in the details of the car and in regard to which one was actually used in the documentary. Since submitting the article I had a gnawing question in the back of my mind about that, and the reason why was that I didn’t have clarity on that detail and somehow my psyche was aware of that.

So, here goes, I’ll attempt to set the record straight! In the 1950s Mercedes Benz produced about 1,400 cars that came to be known as the Gullwing 300SL. These are rare and if you can even get one now expect to pay at least $1mil plus.
The race in Italy, The Mille Miglia, was held from 1927 until 1957. It was a 992-mile adventure on public roads around the perimeter of the country. It ended when two different accidents in the 1957 race took the lives of several drivers and spectators alike.

There have been a couple of versions held since but they haven’t resembled the “bare knuckle” racing of the original race.

In 1955 Fitch earned a spot upon the Daimler-Benz AG Sports Car team with some other high level drivers of the era, notably one Stirling Moss. The team was slated to compete in the race, with Fitch driving a production class 300SL, with Kurt Gesell as the navigator. There were 521 starters in the race with 281 finishers.

Fitch and Gesell were in the #417 car. They finished 5th overall in the race and 1st in the GT+1.3 or “Gran Turismo oltre 1300” class.

According to Szwedo, he does not know where the 417 car is at this point or if it is even still in existence. If it’s still on the planet, it’s likely in the hands of Mercedes Benz somewhere.

Based upon its perceived value, Szwedo opined that the MB folks probably have it in a bank vault if it is still around. Thus, the car used by Fitch in his run out at the Salt Flats was a different Gullwing then the #417 300SL car. In that particular attempt a MB Gullwing owned by Robert Sirna was used in the attempt, which came up short due to a fuel injection pump problem.

For those interested there is an abundance of information available on wikipedia about Fitch and the Mille Miglia. You can get DVDs of the remarkable documentary online as well at and two different photos were used in the two versions of my article in The Reader, permission was granted from Szwedo to use them and he was kind enough to provide a quality digital copy of the black and white photo used.

My personal thanks go to Chris for his information and assistance in the telling of the story of Fitch. It has been an interesting journey to learn more about him, his life, racing exploits, and auto safety innovations.

I’ve been exposed to some iconic individuals in my lifetime from a devout interest and participation in sports – Fran Tarkenton, Rod Carew, Rocket Richard and Herb Brooks come to mind immediately – and as for John Fitch, when it comes to his life, times, and accomplishments, he’ll never have to take a back seat to any of them...

THE NHL and NHLPA apparently have agreed upon a basic framework for extending the CBA currently in place as well as a Return to Play format and safety protocols involving such. If this is the case they must be nearing an announcement relative to which two NHL cities will serve as the Hub Cities for the much anticipated Stanley Cup tournament. I am failing to see why the two matters are being lumped together in a single vote but am open to dialogue on that. The league has basically funneled these two separate matters down into a single standoff and now we know why it has seemingly taken so long to get to this point.

It’s my current understanding that if the players vote “no” on the CBA extension, then there will not be a Stanley Cup tourney. Do I have this right?

In this most unusual of seasons I would consider that the owners would want the tourney to be held if for no other reason then to cut their surefire losses from the canceled regular season games at least a little bit. I mean, at this point it’s a given that there will be losses. So why tie these matters together?

And then I contemplate that without the pandemic situation, the Stanley Cup tourney would be over and in the books already. How much differently then, would the agreed upon points in the CBA extension look?

For the first time in awhile it appears that the owners have had a bit of benevolence toward the players in the negotiation, which hasn’t necessarily been the case in the recent past. Some extension highlights are; Camps open on 7/13.

The two Hub Cities are going to be Edmonton and Toronto. Cup participants will report there on the 26th, with the qualifying round commencing Aug. 1.

The right to pick Number one in the Entry Draft lottery will be awarded on 8/10 and it’s anticipated the draft will be in mid October. Free Agency will kick off Nov. 1 and the Stanley Cup will be awarded sometime in the first week of October, provided there are no further problems involving the pandemic. If a player wants to opt out of the tourney based on health or safety reasons, they are free to do so with no consequence.

Playoff money per player is being increased. The CBA extension will cover six seasons and last through the 2025-26 season. The salary cap will be frozen at $81.5mil until hockey-related revenues reach $4.8 billion, at which point that will be recalculated using an agreed upon formula based on the cap from two seasons ago.

The league is agreeing to NHL player Olympic participation in the 2022 games in China and the 2026 games in Italy, provided player insurance details can be worked out between the parties involved.

There are other multiple items to be included as well as a new Escrow Cap provision. I’ll dig into that when more details are finalized. Until then, Lets Play Hockey! PEACE