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Two New England Racing Legends Pass – John Fitch and Gaston Andrey

Craig Fitzgerald November 1, 2012 All Things Hoon 7 Comments

[Image snagged from Daniel Strohl’s excellent Hemmings article]

According to an item in AutoWeek, American racing legend John Fitch passed away yesterday at the age of 95. He succumbed to Merkel carcinoma, a rare form of skin cancer.

Fitch wasn’t just a racing legend — the first SCCA National Champion, and a racing star throughout Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. He was the kind of do-it-all, renaissance man that seemed to be spawned one after another following World War II. According to the piece in AutoWeek:

“His first passion was airplanes, not cars, so it is not surprising that when World War II broke out, he volunteered to become a pilot. He was in England at the time (1939) on an extended trip to “see the world” and tried to join the RAF, since the United States hadn’t yet joined the war. When this proved impossible, he returned to the U.S. and, in 1941, volunteered for the Army Air Corps. Fitch took easily to flying, and attained the rank of captain quickly, serving in northern Africa before entering the battle in Europe.”

Based in London, Fitch flew missions as a bomber escort, managing to shoot down a Messerschmitt before his P-51 Mustang was shot down while strafing a German supply train.
Every time someone writes an article about the birth of the sports car in America, it’s cast this way: returning American soldiers, sailors and airmen — enamored with the sporty cars they drove in Europe — began importing and racing those cars on fledgling circuits in America. In Fitch’s case, that’s exactly what happened, as he began campaigning his MG-TC at Bridgehampton in New York. During his racing exploits, he caught the eye of Briggs Cunningham, who eventually had him pilot Cunningham’s C4-R roadster at LeMans, setting the fastest lap in 1952, until retiring under somewhat nefarious circumstances (read the AutoWeek article for more.)
In 1960, Fitch was back at LeMans with Cunningham, this time in a Chevrolet, developing a race team around the Corvette in just six weeks. Chevrolet entered cars in both B and C Production and won both classes that year. The event is so significant to Chevrolet’s racing history that it’s included on Chevrolet’s website as #2 in the Top 10 Moments in Chevrolet Racing History — just behind the time the company’s namesake joined Billy Durant’s race team.
Following his racing career, he was a safety pioneer, inventing the Fitch Barrier. During World War II, Fitch was protected in his tent by sand-filled 55-gallon drums that resisted the rounds fired by enemy aircraft, and those sand-filled cans provided the inspiration for his racing barriers. The Fitch Barrier was first utilized in racing applications, but later went on to be nearly ubiquitous on American highways, the yellow plastic cans at nearly every off-ramp saving an estimated 17,000 lives.

Fitch was also a car builder with the Corvair-based Fitch Phoenix and Fitch Sprint to his name, the former which ironically suffered under the weight of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. You can read more about the Phoenix and other Fitch history at Dan Strohl’s great post on the Hemmings Blog.

Gaston Andrey


Image Source: VIR History

Less known than John Fitch, but just as important to many New England racing fans was the passing of Gaston “Gus” Andrey at the age of 85.  Andrey won road racing National Championships seven times. His last race was an IMSA Camel GT event at Miami, 1985, which ended in a horrible crash that caused Andrey significant injury.

Automotive fans from the Metrowest region of Boston will remember Andrey most for his dealership — Gaston Andrey of Framingham — which was a leading importer of Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Maserati throughout the 1980s. The dealership later became Saab City under Andrey’s ownership. Many New England racing fans will remember watching F1 races from all over the world — live, at all hours of the morning — at Andrey’s dealership. The building is still functioning as a garage, as the new home of J. White”s Automotive, a Land Rover specialist.

  • aastrovan

    True Knights of the Hooniverse!

  • scroggzilla

    The late Mr. Andrey at Sebring, 1962

    <img src="http://www.barcboys.com/Images/drivers%201/GusAndrey-62SebV2zWeb.jpg"&gt;
    Gus at Lime Rock, 1959.
    <img src="http://www.barcboys.com/Images/59LR/59LR-25FerrariAndreyV2.jpg"&gt;
    photos courtesy the fantastic barcboys.com site

  • BMWJustin

    This is truly a sad day for motorsports, rest in Peace Mr. Fitch, and Mr. Andrey. I had the great pleasure of meeting John Fitch for the first time at an LRP Historic Festival over a decade ago. As our paths crossed several times a year at local shows and track events, I got to know him and enjoyed many wonderful conversations. He was always happy to talk to fans and seldom forgot a face. My best wishes go out to the family of both these great men.

  • Number_Six

    Fitch's resume is so awe-inspiring that it's actually a bit hard to read (out of sheer envy). He did everything a hoon could ever possibly want to achieve, plus a whole lifetime of other stuff. His war record alone would have sealed his bad-assery cred for life but then he just kept piling it on…

  • Van_Sarockin

    Fitch was a giant and a gentleman of the sport. On the Mercedes team at LeMans when Levegh's horrible accident happened, he immediately advised M-B to withdraw the cars, a very wise move given the sentiments of the times. I'm sure that also informed his concerns for auto safety. Wish I'd met him. And I still want one of his kits to improve the Corvair.

  • Eurohaus

    Great story and post. Rest in Peace Mr. Fitch, and Mr. Andrey.

  • Great story and post. Rest in Peace Mr. Fitch, and Mr. Andrey.