John Fitzpatrick needs little by way of an introduction. He learned his trade the hard way, by racing his own private road car, a Mini, in local races.
But we are getting ahead of the story a bit, because as a youngster, Fitz as he is known, was an aspiring golfer with his sights set on becoming a professional. However, life has a way of throwing a curved ball at our plans sometimes, and when he fell out of a tree and broke both wrists badly, he found his golfing plans shattered, literally.
A chance meeting with Ralph Broad when filling his Mini with fuel, resulted in Broad offering to tune his Mini properly! When Fitz called to collect the car three days later, the car had been transformed, and the proud owner put his modified Mini to the test, in fact many tests on the track. Several more Minis followed and then came an Austin 1800, a Ford Anglia and quite soon an offer came his way to drive a Ferrari 250 LM. A Porsche 911 and a Ford Escort was followed by drives in a works BMW and Ford Capri, all the while Fitz was racking up victories left, right and centre.
Fitz’s move into the world of Porsche really began with a chance meeting with Erwin Kremer while in the US. Fitz would eventually drive for the well-known Cologne team as well as their arch rivals from across town, the Georg Loos GELO team. These were the days of the supremacy of the 911 RSR, and Fitz exploited every opportunity he could in these fabulously successful cars. Fitz then returned to drive BMWs for a few years, and very successfully too, all of which is laid out very clearly in his record of achievements and results from 1962 to 1986, at the back of the book.
But the main subject of the book concerns John’s years behind the wheel of various Porsches, and although he had driven the RSR before with good results, the 935 years were really memorable. 1980 was a particularly successful year with the Dick Barbour team which saw Fitz winning the Porsche Cup, the third time he had lifted the coveted trophy. But the end of 1980 marked a new period in his life, as the 1981 season opened with a new name of the entry lists, John Fitzpatrick Racing. JFR started life with 935s as their weapon of choice in 1981 and 1982, with the 956 only being available to privateers in 1983.
At the end of the 1983 season, Fitz decided to hang up his helmet, and to concentrate on running the young JFR team. Fitz enjoyed the trappings of loyal sponsors such as JDavid, Skoal Bandit, American 100’s, Danone and Sachs amongst others. Towards the end of the 1986 season, Fitz was persuaded to sell his whole operation to the German racer and constructor Jochen Dauer.
Fitz retired to life in the sun at the family’s new home in Sotogrande in southern Spain. It is no surprise that golf became a fairly significant activity once again, but other small business interests also helped to keep Fitz on his toes.
As a motorsport journalist and author, I have had the pleasure of interviewing Fitz on numerous occasions over the phone, by email, and face-to-face at various Goodwood events and at Silverstone. I have only ever found him to be completely at ease with life, full of stories, and absolutely straight and honest. This same refreshing attitude is evident in the way in which he has written his autobiography, which is both honest and frank. When he had an issue with a team principal or a competitor, whether from his side or theirs, he has recorded that, warts and all, for the reader to digest.
Fitz – My Life at the Wheel, is one of those books that makes you smile, because of the down-to-earth style in which it has been written. A big vote of congratulations is due to Mr. Fitz, not just for an exemplary career, but also in the way he has recorded the years, the achievements, the tears and the happiness of his time in the sport we are all fascinated with. This is a book that you can read beside the fireplace, on the porch sipping a cocktail, or at bedtime. If you are a motorsport enthusiast, make sure this is a book that you buy and display on your bookshelf, it is a conversation starter!
|Title||Fitz – My Life at the Wheel|
|Publisher||Autosports Marketing Associates, Ltd.|
|Page count||216 pages|
|Images||236 colour and 131 B&W photographs|
|Format||290 x 225 mm (landscape) hardcover with dust jacket|
|Price||US$59.00 or £49.95|
|Available from||Chater’s Motoring Books|
Written by: Glen Smale