John Fitch, race driver and auto-safety innovator, dies at 95

Advertisement

photo

Fitch

John Fitch, whose richly diverse life included being a successful sports-car racer, fighter pilot and auto-safety innovator, died Wednesday. He was 95.

Fitch died of cancer and respiratory disease at his home in Lakeville, Conn., near the Lime Rock Park racetrack he helped develop in the mid-1950s, his son Stephen said Friday.

The lanky Fitch first gained fame in the 1950s and ‘60s racing Mercedes-Benzes and Corvettes in the United States and abroad, notably at European circuits such as Le Mans.

At one point, his Mercedes-Benz teammates were legendary drivers Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio, and Fitch later was inducted into several halls of fame, including the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

“I’ve always needed to go fast,” Fitch told The Hartford Courant in 2006.

But perhaps Fitch’s more lasting legacy was later developing crash-barrier systems for highways and racetracks, including the ubiquitous yellow sand- or water-filled plastic barrels guarding exit ramps and bridge abutments.

“There is no counting how many lives have been saved by these barrels,” AutoWeek reported in 2006.

John Cooper Fitch was born Aug. 4, 1917, in Indianapolis, but despite being driven around the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a youth, he became more captivated by racing sports cars on twisty road courses than on Indy-type oval tracks.

First, though, he was a World War II pilot. It was while flying the P-51 Mustang fighter plane that he shot down one of the highly regarded German Messerschmitt ME-262 jet fighters, although Fitch modestly noted that he did so as the enemy plane was taking off.

Fitch later was shot down himself, spending the last months of the war as a prisoner. He then turned his sights to racing.

He was an early champion in the Sports Car Club of America, and in 1953 co-drove the winning car in the 12-hour Sebring endurance race in Florida.

Fitch later joined Mercedes-Benz, and one of the highlights of his career was winning the GT production-car division at the Mille Miglia endurance race in Italy in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL in 1955.

Fitch was “a true gentleman and an outstanding driver,” Mercedes-Benz spokesman Geoff Day said in a statement.

Also in 1955, Fitch was paired with driver Pierre Levegh for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which turned to horror when their Mercedes-Benz, with Levegh at the wheel, crashed into the crowd, killing Levegh and more than 80 spectators.

Fitch later raced early versions of the Chevrolet Corvette and other sports cars through the mid-1960s. He also developed the Fitch Phoenix, a unique sports car based on the old Corvair and, even in his 80s, Fitch attempted to break speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

But the Le Mans disaster had spawned Fitch’s interest in crash safety that preoccupied him for decades.

In addition to his work on crash barrels, “he holds a number of patents for safety equipment including soft walls and sliding barriers for race tracks, and a shelf full of safety awards,” the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America noted.

Speaking of his safety efforts, Fitch told The Salt Lake Tribune in 2003 that he “was a war-time bomber pilot and a fighter pilot, and I was involved in some fatal events. This is payback in a way.”

Besides his son Stephen, Fitch is survived by sons John and Chris and eight grandchildren. His wife, Elizabeth, died in 2009.

Martha Stewart downsizes magazines, to cut jobs

NEW YORK — Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. is downsizing its magazines and will cut publishing jobs as it increasingly focuses on online video and other digital content.

The lifestyle, media and merchandising company said Thursday that the move could save it $33 to $35 million per year. It did not say how many employees are being eliminated, and a message was not immediately returned.

Martha Stewart will stop publishing its monthly Everyday Food magazine as a standalone publication, instead periodically wrapping it into the company’s flagship Martha Stewart Living magazine. It will make Everyday Food content available on the company’s website, a YouTube channel and through a daily video newsletter.

The company will also seek to sell its Whole Living health and lifestyle magazine. If the magazine cannot be sold, its content may also be incorporated into other company products.

Print magazines are the company’s largest business division, accounting for 64 percent of total sales in 2011. The cutbacks announced Thursday will leave the company with its flagship magazine and the quarterly publication, Martha Stewart Weddings.

Company executives previously highlighted the wewakness of the company’s publishing segment. Revenue from print publications fell 16 percent to $28.8 million in the company’s last quarter.

The New York company plans to focus more on online video, with partnerships with AOL, Hulu and Apple Inc.’s iTunes store. Lifestyle and home guru Martha Stewart, the company’s founder and its non-executive chairman, said an increasing focus on digital media would help Martha Stewart Living connect with audiences.

The cuts announced Thursday, combined with previously announced restructuring efforts in its broadcast TV division, are expected to remove $45 to $47 million in annual costs from the company’s operating costs.

U.S. magazine sales fell nearly 10 percent in the first half of 2012 as consumers cut back on discretionary spending, according to a report earlier this year by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The industry group said that single-copy sales at newsstands and other retailers totaled 26.4 million in the first six months of 2012. That was down from 29.1 million in the same period last year.

Earlier this month Newsweek became the latest magazine brand to drop its print publication for a Web-only presence. US News & World Report dropped its weekly print edition years ago and now focuses on the Web and special print editions, such as a guide to the best graduate schools. SmartMoney announced in June that it was going all-digital.

Martha Stewart shares rose 6 cents to close at $2.95.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment

4 free views left!