There was no money in the budget to fly to Connecticut to interview John Fitch for the Carrera Panamericana documentary project that had landed in my lap but after speaking with John on the phone and enjoying the way in which he received me as a stranger, it was obvious that John would not just be a desirable addition to the cast of interviewees I had in mind to shoot but, rather, he was the sine qua non of the project. Film producer/distributor John Lawrence Ré offered up his home as a place to stay just across the border in Massachusetts making the trip easier and providing the opportunity to dine with him in a restaurant from another era that relies solely on candle light.
On the day, we arrived at John's house not knowing what to expect. John had been suffering declining health and I was cognizant of the fact that he might tire easily and I should be prepared to get what I needed in the shortest amount of time possible. John welcomed us and presented his good friend Don Klein with whom I had conversed over the phone. We set up quickly, without rushing; the oxygen tank and mask parked nearby a constant reminded of the state of John's health and the extraordinary gesture he was making in allowing us to come to his home for his interview.
As we got underway, it was a very gracious and enthusiastic John Fitch I found before my camera lens. Someone later asked me about John wanting to know what he was like. My reply was, "Where you might expect arrogance there was only enthusiasm." John was a gentleman and was still very passionate about racing. As we exchanged questions and answers, I had to constantly remind myself that this was the man who had had an impact on the survival of the Corvette, who had raced at Le Mans and the other great races of his era including the Carrera and yet he could easily be mistaken for a university professor of English.
For me, the highlight of the interview was when I asked John if he could ever imagine himself as a passenger in one of the classic road races rather than the driver. He reacted as though the thought was anathema to him and said, "A driver is always an optimist and a passenger is always a pessimist." What a wonderful observation!
When an hour of interview time had run out, I began to turn off the camera and prepare to load-out. John looked at me and asked, "Don't you want to continue?" I certainly did but not at the expense of his health and I was afraid he might be tiring. John made it clear that he was enjoying the interview and wanted to keep going; and so we did--for another hour.
Before leaving, John escorted us across some icy, slippery snow to his garage. He wanted us to see the Fitch Phoenix, a car he designed that bears an uncanny resemblance to the Corvette Stingray (Mako Shark) that came later after GM had taken a few months to study John's creation. [Place a pregnant pause and a knowing look here]
Only a small part of my conversation with John was used in the Carrera documentary and we spoke of a number of other topics that were of interest to him. Maybe one day, I'll share them with you.
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