John Fitch, legendary race car driver, died on October 31. I remember watching him recklessly tear around the the 1.5 mile Lime Rock, CT race track way back in the 1960s. Ringleader Tom Conry at the wheel, we would drive down from Pittsfield on summery Saturday mornings to watch the spectacle. "The Red Protector of the People's Goods," Conry's name for the battered Coleman cooler with plenty of miles on its odometer, stuffed with beer and sandwiches, was wedged in the back seat.
We'd sit on the hillside overlooking the start area, one of the S turns and a straightaway, where we were guaranteed to see lots of action, flying gravel, spin outs, and contentious maneuvering on the SCCA race track. We were young Walter Mittys, imagining ourselves buckled in and goggled up, slip streaming inches behind a competitor, executing perfect four wheel drifts around the turns, and gunning our engines to the breaking point. College kids with our whole lives stretching out before us, we had no clue about the S curves and straightaways ahead that we'd speed through or brake for or spin out of.
There were plenty of races when the hard-charging John Fitch (1917-2012) was a "DNF", Did Not Finish. This year Tom Conry became a DNF. Conry was the only person with the same bright memories of those sun soaked, beery, ham and cheese, carefree afternoons on the hillside, the only one with whom I could relive those moments of watching low-slung race cars of every dimension and class, engines whining, clouds of grey/blue smoke jetting from exhaust pipes when the drivers pushed the pedal to the metal or billowing from engine compartments when they "blew" it.
Conry's gone. I'm still here. Somewhere this summer there'll be another bunch of college kids sitting on that hillside under giant blue skies.Their own S turns and straightaways are ahead of them. I still wish I could dig my hand into the icy 'red protector,' pull out a cold Budweiser, and share a John Fitch story with him.
Photo by David G. Connor