For those of you who missed it, Mercedes honored famed driver John Fitch over the weekend at this year's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, presenting the former racing champion with the coveted "Star Driver" award.
The award, currently held only by legendary driver Stirling Moss, pays tribute to distinguished Mercedes-Benz race drivers and recognized their unique contributions to great moments in motorsports. Highlights of Fitch's racing career include victories in the Mille Miglia, Tourist Trophy and Sebring, as well as driving six times in the 24 hours of Le Mans, finishing as high as third.
According to Paul Halata, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA: "In our 120-year history, having John Fitch race for Mercedes-Benz in the 1950s was a highlight and a great honor. Tonight it becomes our great privilege to mark his place in the annals of racing – as well as our band heritage – with the Mercedes-Benz Star Driver award."
But for John Fitch, his former racing career is simply a chapter in a diverse and remarkable life. Flying a P-51 in in World War II; setting a production sports car speed record; inventing a new form of highway safety - these are just a few of Fitch's many accomplishments. And at age 89, Fitch still continues to add to his incredible legacy, currently planning on breaking a Bonneville speed record in a modified Mercedes 300SL. If he does so, Fitch will be become the oldest driver ever to break a salt flats record.
To those interested in learning more about John Fitch, the gentlemen over at Inside Line have published a tremendous article detailing these and many other of Fitch's accomplishments. If you have some free time, I highly recommend reading it. I've also included Mercedes-Benz USA's official press release detailing Fitch's "Star Driver" award below, which gives a quick overview of Fitch's racing highlights and career.
OFFICIAL PRESS RELEASE
MERCEDES-BENZ HONORS LEGENDARY “STAR DRIVER” JOHN FITCH AT 2006 PEBBLE BEACH CONCOURS
MONTEREY, Calif., August 19, 2006 – Mercedes-Benz, the world’s first carmaker, will celebrate the accomplishments of legendary race driver John Fitch, one of the great American sports car drivers, by honoring him as a “Star Driver” at this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
The Star Driver award pays tribute to distinguished Mercedes-Benz race drivers and recognizes their unique contributions to great moments in motorsports. Fitch, the only American to have raced on the Mercedes-Benz Team, will become the second driver to earn the Star Driver designation; Sir Stirling Moss was the first recipient in 2005. Fitch and Moss were on the 1955 Mercedes-Benz Team along with other racing legends Juan Manuel Fangio and Karl Kling. The formidable team took wins in Formula One, Sports Racing, production GT sports cars and all classes including even diesel passenger cars, all in a single year.
“In our 120-year history, having John Fitch race for Mercedes-Benz in the 1950s was a highlight and a great honor,” said Paul Halata, president & CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA. “Tonight it becomes our great privilege to mark his place in the annals of racing – as well as our band heritage – with the Mercedes-Benz Star Driver award.”
Mercedes-Benz USA recently honored Fitch with sponsorship of a special exhibit at the Saratoga Automobile Museum in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The exhibit featured a reproduction of the renowned #417 300 SL racecar that Fitch drove to a class win in the 1955 Mille Miglia. Fitch will drive that car, which is currently on loan from the new Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, when he leads this year’s Pebble Beach Tour of the Monterey Peninsula.
This year’s Pebble Beach Tour commemorates the world’s first car company with “A Mercedes-Benz Star Drive Celebrating 120 Years of the Automobile.” Another star of the Tour will be a replica of the world’s first car, the Benz three-wheeler for which Karl Benz received a patent in 1886 and that gave birth to the automobile age.
Fighter Pilot, Racing Legend, Road Safety Pioneer
A P-51 fighter pilot in World War II, Fitch focused on cars after the war and became the first Sports Car Club of America National Champion. In addition to driving for Mercedes, Fitch also drove for the Briggs Cunningham team, with victories in the Mille Miglia, Tourist Trophy and Sebring. He drove six times in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing as high as third.
It was the tragedy at Le Mans in 1955 – which killed a number of spectators and Fitch’s co-driver, Pierre Levegh – that inspired Fitch to design energy-absorbing safety barriers for racetracks. Fitch also turned to public road safety, and his invention, the Fitch Barrier, is the sand-filled plastic-barrel crash cushion that is commonly seen in front of ramps and bridge abutments.
Heritage, Like No Other
Honoring John Fitch is one part of a broader Mercedes-Benz brand philosophy to honor its 120 years of contributions to the industry that it started. This summer, the company opened the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center, the first manufacturer-backed classic center of its kind, in Irvine, California. The Classic Center at Irvine offers a full array of services including retail sales, restoration and appraisals for Mercedes-Benz models aged twenty years and older.
The Classic Center in Irvine houses an unequaled stock of tools, service manuals and production records needed to work on any classic Mercedes-Benz as well as an inventory of 42,000 different parts for every regular production Mercedes-Benz from 1945 through the 126-series S-Class models last built in 1989.
Copyright © 2006, MBUSA