<VV> John Fitch, S.Moss and LeMans 1955

ricebugg at comcast.net ricebugg at comcast.net
Thu Nov 29 22:28:03 EST 2012

All:  At least a couple of things.  John wrote about the accident at LM 55 in his book, “Racing for M-B.”  Good read.Up until recently, I did not know Stirling has had a grudge against John ever since 1955, and that he went around bad 
mouthing hJohn.  I am sadden to know this.  Moss, of course, blames Fitch for his not ever winning the 24 Hr of LM
 in 1955.  It is not like Moss didn’t have other opportunities.  In all likelihood, he and Fangio would have won, if they had 
slowed down and saved the car after getting 4 laps – something over 32 miles - ahead of the Hawthorns D-type 
Jag by the time MB withdrew from the race. 

Like Ken, I first say the only film of the crash at the Henry Ford Museum’s Sports Cars in Review as a snotty nose
 teenager.  The accident predated by 5 years my interest in road racing.  Like Joe, I have never lost my interest in 
the same.  Although my interest has been challenged in recent years with all the politics in racing, both in this 
country and elsewhere.  Hence, my interest in vintage racing.     About the accident.  Hawthorn was suppose to pit for fuel the previous lap.  He was on fumes, and could not have
 done another 8 + mile lap. He had just lapped Levegh, who was about to be lapped by his teammate Fangio.  
Levegh was due to stop the next lap for fuel and a driver change.  Fitch was standing there in the pit box looking 
down the track.   There was no pit entrance as we understand the term today The LM racetrack at the time was little
 more than 3 lanes wide. Hawthorn came in hot, cut in front of Macklin and hit his brakes to stop at his pits.  Macklin 
was accelerating his much slower car, having just stopped for fuel himself, and cut left to miss Hawthorn.  In doing
 so, he got partway into the “fast lane.” 

We have all seen this happen on interstate on/off ramps.  Levegh have no place to go.  He reportedly threw up one arm to warn Fangio, as he braked.  The MB 300SLR had
 an airbrake behind the driver, which came up under braling. If Levegh hadn’t raised his arm, Fangio would have l
likely plowed into him as he probably could not see what was happening in front of his teammate as Levegh’s air 
brake came up.  Levegh’s car ran up the left rear corner of Mackin’s Austin Healey and took off, rolling to the left.  The 300SLR came
 down on it’s side on an earthen berm, and essentially exploded.  Pieces went thru the crowd like shrapnel.  
What wasn’t turned into shrapnel cart-wheeled thru the crowd,  People having a good time suddenly died or were 
hurt.  I don’t know anybody has an exact number of dead, and I don’t remember a number of injured. Over 80 is 
the number of dead generally mentioned to.  The injured could have been 2 or 3 hundred, given how tight they were
 packed in across from the pits.  Fitch first telegraphed Elizabeth he was ok.  Later he argued for Team Manager Alfred Neubauer to at least call the
 MB BoD about the accident and ask what they wanted him to do.  Fitch’s argument was something to the effect that 
the headlines would read “German’s win race; kill many Frenchmen in process.”  Remember, it was only 10 year 
and two months since Germany’s defeated, and France was still recovering.  And POed.  Like most everybody else.   The race continued to keep a quarter of a million spectators off the roads so emergency vehicles could care for the
 dead and injured.  Then, well into the night, the MB BoD said withdrew from the race.  By the end of 1955, MB won the F-1, Sports
car and sedan racing championships in Europe.  And then they withdrew from international road racing for a really long 
time. Like most tragic accidents, we can sit here and say, “Why didn’t they see the danger and do something.”  In case 
you haven’t notice, humankind seldom operates that way.  But this accident changed at least one man’s life forever,
 and many thousands are alive today because John Fitch spent the rest of his long life wearing safety glasses on 
our behalf.  Finally in my opinion, Moss was a better racecar driver, but Fitch the better human being.  John was, after all, the 
only person involved in LM ’55 who took a look at reality, and set about to change it, both on the track and on the 
street.  We are safer today because of John Fitch and the accident at LM in 1955.   He is still my singular hero. Historically Yours,	  


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