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Racer John Fitch dead at 95

Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012

John Finch, a World War II fighter pilot who became an American giant in sports car racing, has died.

Born in Indianapolis in 1917, John Cooper Fitch, would become the Sports Car Club of America's first national champion. He died early Wednesday at his home in Lime Rock, Conn., autoweek.com reported. He was 95.

In U.S. sports car racing's formative years after the war, Fitch impressed many with his skills behind the wheel. Among them was Briggs Cunningham, the wealthy entrepreneur and sportsman who built and raced his own cars and yachts.

On U.S. circuits of the day, Fitch won often in Cunningham's cars and very nearly brought his boss a victory at Le Mans. Cunningham would never realize that ambition, but Fitch's performance in the 1952 running of the 24-hour classic impressed many more, including executives in the front office at Mercedes-Benz.

Soon Fitch was driving for Mercedes and starring – along with Juan Fangio, Stirling Moss and Karl Kling – on the world racing stage.

Fitch counted wins in the Argentine Grand Prix, the Mille Miglia and 12 Hours of Sebring, among many.

Early in his career, Fitch had built some of the cars he raced. And in the mid-1950s, he helped manage Chevrolet's efforts to turn the company's fledgling Corvette into a competitive world-class car. His John Fitch & Co. Inc. later built and marketed cars.

Among his safety innovations was the Fitch Barrier system, said to have been modeled on the sand-filled barrels that protected the tents of pilots and their crews from strafing during the war. Variations of the system remain in use on many highways and at racing facilities.

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