John Fitch, American Hero, Dies at 95

by Nate Torvik on November 16, 2012

It is not too often that race car driver and American hero can be used as terms to describe the same person. Sure, we often glorify race car drivers of the past and present to being some of the greatest of all time, but American heroes? That is precisely what John Fitch was. One of the most legendary characters in the driving world, Fitch passed away last week at the ripe old age of 95.

John FitchFitch was born in 1917, an Indianapolis, IN, native, so of course racing was in his genetics. He became a WWII pilot early on, perhaps explaining at least some of his success on the track, but his real claim to fame came in the driver’s seat of a car. His driving career came to fruition in the 1950s and 60s, driving for Mercedes-Benz alongside Stirling Moss, arguably the greatest driver of all time. After spending years behind the wheel, garnering multiple victories and his spot in many halls of fame, including the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, Fitch moved on to bigger and better things.

After his days on the track, including a horrific accident in the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans race, Fitch felt the need to do more. He focused on automobile safety, and his legend continued to thrive. He received several patents for safety inventions such as soft walls and sliding barriers. Have you ever seen those obnoxiously yellow plastic barrels on the highway or your neighborhood street? You can thank John Fitch for creating the Fitch Barrier. His lifesaving innovations earned him more awards and accolades, but he said it himself in an interview for the Salt Lake Tribune in 2003, “I was involved in some fatal events. This is payback in a way.”

Fighter pilot, driver, innovator, and American hero were all occupations held by John Fitch. He will be known by many for his glory days on the track, but will be remembered even more, perhaps differently, for those yellow plastic barrels and the lives they have saved.

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