- 08/28/2012, 11:34AM ET
Schad - Notorious Deadbeat said 08/28, 11:34 AM
Who? Well, we'll get into that.
First, some background. As some are aware, he was indirectly involved with the worst tragedy in racing history. The LeMans 1955 as shown below.
I say indirectly because he was the second driver in the team with Pierre Levegh, who's car was launched into the stands which caused the death of over 100 people. The cause of the crash has been debated since it happened, but this isn't the place for that.
This crash did one thing though. It got him to devote his life to safety on race tracks and roads.
Why is he the most influential driver ever? No matter who you are, you have benefited from his safety advancements that he invented if you've ever driven on a highway.
He came up with the Fitch Barrier System, which everyone has seen and it looks like a bunch of trash barrels and they are filled with sand in order to absorb impact.
The Fitch Compression Barrier is commonly used on oval tracks and other high speed areas on non-oval tracks.
We will get into more of his advancements, but when you factor that into his racing career, he stands alone.
CuntryBlumpkin said 08/28, 11:54 AM
Fitch was a very influential person, no doubt, and the pick threw me a curveball and lead me to do more research than I previously intended.
But fact is, Fitch only raced in two races in his career. He didn't have much of an influence as a driver. I have to go with Dale Earnhardt Sr who not only had a lot of influence as a driver, but a lot of influence after death as well.
During Earnhardt's career, he tied Richard petty's record with 7 championships, and was known as a very aggressive driver, not afraid to wreck you to win.
His rivalry with Jeff Gordon during the 90's brought NASCAR into the mainstream, and the added attention lead to NASCAR signing a ground breaking 2 billion dollar deal with Fox. NASCAR wasn't just a southern sport anymore.
After Dale's death in the 2001 Daytona 500, NASCAR made safety the number 1 concern. They couldn't turn a blind eye anymore. The Car of Tomorrow, SAFER barriers, required use of head and neck restraints and countless other safety innovations came to be as a direct result to Earnhardt's death.
Without Earnhardt, NASCAR isn't mainstream, and without his death, NASCAR isn't near as safe as it is now.
Schad - Notorious Deadbeat said 08/28, 12:54 PM
Well, Fitch raced in more than 2 races in his career. In 1953, he was "Sports Car Racer of the Year". Most of the racing he did was in Europe, but did race at Sebring, and headed the Corvette Racing team and continued to race until 1966.
Now, it's ironic in a way that you chose Earnhardt for one specific reason. If he had been using one of John Fitch's safety devices, the "Fitch Full Driver Capsule", that would have attached his helmet in the same manner as the HANS device, he would have survived the crash that claimed his life.
While Earnhardt was influential to NASCAR, that is the end of his reach. Yes, he brought them more money and more exposure, but that's the end of it. Fitch influenced every NASCAR driver, along with the CART ones, the SCCA ones and on and on.
It took his death for NASCAR to take safety as the #1 concern, but that was almost 50 years after Fitch.
On top of all of that, he was also the design consultants for tracks such as Watkins Glen and Lime Rock, along with others.
So, he designed tracks, designed safety barriers for tracks, and has designed several safety devices used on the roads we all drive.
CuntryBlumpkin said 08/28, 01:12 PM
I don't doubt Fitch's influence. But from what I've read he never accomplished much on the track. The title is most influential race car driver. I think at least some of the influence needs to have happened when he was behind the wheel.
You're wrong to say that Earnhardt's death and the safety advancements that followed only reached NASCAR. Fact is, all tracks that NASCAR runs on are used by other series. Dale's death lead to SAFER barriers being used on all track NASCAR runs on, which includes Indianapolis, Watkins Glenn, Infenion, Road America, Daytona and Circuit Gilles Villaneuve, and venues that many top series run on including F-1 and Indy. In fact, NASCAR's safety advancements were huge for stock car racing as a whole.
And like it or not, having a massive following that his mediocre son still leeches off of today, bringing in tons of fans to NASCAR, and being a big reason why NASCAR was able to sign a 2 billion dollar tv deal is huge.
Earnhardt was a bigger celebrity, he was better known, had a bigger following, and he greatly influenced his sport both behind the wheel and after death.
Schad - Notorious Deadbeat said 08/28, 04:31 PM
The whole bigger celebrity thing doesn't work here. Kim Kardashian is a bigger celebrity and better known than Clara Barton. Clara had a far bigger influence on everyone's lives than the worthless Kardashian. Yes, I know, worthless and Kardashian are redundant.
You missed the part about Earnhardt, if following what Fitch was trying to get everyone to do, would still likely be alive today if he had heeded the warning and used the devices.
As far as Earnhardt being more successful on the track, that doesn't apply either. Is Petty more influential than Earnhardt because he won more races?
Fitch may not be as big a celebrity, but he had a bigger influence on auto racing as a whole, influences everyone in their daily lives by his road safety measures and his safety measures on the track were almost 50 years ahead of NASCAR. 50 years!
Fitch raced at 6 Le Mans, the F1 circuit, and was driver of the year 1 year. He also was a team manager and a race track designer. That's a lotta influence in racing as well.
Nothing Earnhardt did reaches past NASCAR. Nothing. His influence is in a very small place compared to racing as a whole and the road system we all use.
CuntryBlumpkin said 08/28, 04:39 PM
Let me ask you this: How influential can someone really be if nobody knows who he is?
Of course the actions mean a lot, but if nobody remembers who you were, you probably aren't the most influential person in the history of your sport.
If you're the most influential in the history of your sport, chances are most people at least know what they did when they hear the name.
And being successful on the track does mean a lot. NASCAR was just a southern sport until Earnhardt and Gordon had a ravalry in the 90's. Earnhardt brough in fans to NASCAR, and when you bring in new fans, which leads to a huge TV deal, you are also bringing more fans into the sport of autoracing.
Sure, Earnhardt could have survived if he had been wearing a HANs devise, but there was no rule mandating it in NASCAR.
Since Dale died, there have been zero fatal accidents in any of NASCAR's 3 national touring series, and if not for the safety advancements brought on by Earnhardt's death, we would have seen a lot more drivers carried off in body bags.
Fitch laid the foundation. When Earnhardt died, NASCAR took safety to the next level.
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