LAKEVILLE, Conn. – Almost six years after his October 31st, 2012 passing at the age of 95, the final resting places of champion driver, car tuner and auto safety pioneer John Cooper Fitch and his wife Elizabeth Huntley Fitch (1917-2009) were formally dedicated during a July 1st ceremony in a community cemetery overlooking the Lime Rock Park race track he co-founded and helped design with safety first-and-foremost back in 1957.
More than 70 family members, fellow racers and “Friends of Fitch” affiliated mostly with the Madison Avenue Sports Car Driving and Chowder Society gamely braved 90-degree temperatures to witness the graveside blessing conducted by The Reverend Heidi Truax of the adjacent Trinity Episcopal Church (which posts the track’s season schedule on its bulletin board). A three-man military color guard also attended to bugle “Taps” and present a folded Stars-and-Stripes to Fitch’s family in recognition of his World War II service as a P-51 Mustang pilot who spent three months as a German POW after being shot down by a gun on board the munitions train he was strafing.
Fitch’s headstone is fittingly adorned with crossed checkered flags and the inscription “HE MADE DRIVING AND RACING SAFER FOR ALL OF US!”, alluding to his 1968 invention of the sand-filled, energy-absorbing Fitch Inertial Barriers that started saving lives at highway exit ramps and bridge abutments following their development and evaluation at Lime Rock Park. Once the service concluded, track owner Skip Barber invited attendees to the Infield Chalet overlooking Sam Posey Straight for reminisces and refreshments that included John Fitch’s “Secret,” Clamato-infused Bloody Mary Recipe. Fitch’s neighbor Terry Dunne, noting this conclusion of the gathering would have otherwise been “a little backyard thing,” thanked everyone present by declaring “I might have whipped up the batter to make this cake, but Chowderheads added the filling, Tom Weidemann of the (Watkins Glen, NY-based) International Motor Racing Research Center added the frosting, and Skip Barber added the cherry.” Steve Fitch recalled how his perpetually inventive father “had a million things going on and off the track” and “an endlessly curious mind we can all aspire to. If he were here now he’d be thanking you one-at-a-time for coming.” Chris Szwedo, the producer and director of a Public Broadcasting documentary chronicling Fitch’s 2005 attempt to set a Bonneville speed record with a 50-year-old Mercedes-Benz Gullwing when he was 87 years old, was one of several eulogizers who admired Fitch’s “sense of adventure – he was a racer to the end.”
A permanent cemetery monument honoring John and Elizabeth Fitch was one fruit of intensive fundraising efforts by Vintage Sports Car Club of America members and various other admirers who stepped up when their hero was almost bankrupted at the age of 90 by open-ended, Connecticut DEP-imposed liabilities for soil removal and groundwater testing after he reported discovering an old, leaking heating oil tank on his property at the same time his ailing wife was requiring costly assisted living care. Photos from the July 1st dedication and the Lime Rock Chalet post-gathering can be viewed online at http://limerock.com/node/949.