Jim 'Fitzy' Fitzgerald
National SCCA Champion - D Production, 1970
(Above photograph of Fitzy from the Winner's Circle, Road Atlanta, 1970)
'He left a big impact on me and all I know is, wherever he is, he has a helluva ride'.
Paul Newman, from his eulogy at Jim's funeral, 1987
Jim 'Fitzy' Fitzgerald was born in 1921. Hailing from Clemmons, North Carolina, Jim was an engineer by trade, working for Western Electric. He started racing in 1957, and during his thirty year career he won more than 350 auto races. 'Fitzy', as he became known, started campaigning Datsuns in the mid 1960s, driving a 1500 Roadster. A regular qualifier for the National SCCA Championship runoffs, Jim campaigned his 2000 (under his trade mark #23) in both C & D Production. His first National Championship came in D Production in 1970, in his 2000 Roadster. He beat Carl Swanson in a GT6 by just half a second in the runoffs after Carl lost a wheel over the finish line. The 1970 ARRC saw Datsun 2000s take four of the first five places. Click below for a full contemporary commentary on the race, the most exciting of the 1970 ARRC weekend, which details the fortunes of several other well known Datsun Roadster campaigners, together with the official SCCA results.
Fitzy later gifted his championship winning car to Linda Sharp of Smyrna, Georgia. Linda, who campaigned in the SCCA's Atlanta Region, achieved some success in her own right. Under Linda's ownership Jim also occasionally raced the car, as well as his own.
Despite his prolific number of career wins, Fitzy's next National Championship had to wait until 1984 when he won the GT1 Class, driving for Bob Sharp in a 300ZX. He tragically died in 1987, at the St Petersburg Grand Prix, again at the wheel of a Bob Sharp 300ZX.
Jim was a fierce competitor, fighting for every corner and position. He was never afraid to trade paint to get the win - at Road Atlanta one year he was seen slamming doors with Freddie Baker in his E-Type - on the pace lap.
After Jim retired from engineering, and until his death, he enjoyed life as a driving instructor at Road Atlanta. When he died, Road Atlanta named a picnic site after Jim in his memory - a bronze bust and commemorative plaque have also been erected in his honour at the site.
Jim was very close friends with actor/racer Paul Newman, who was his co-driver at Newman/Sharp Racing. They met in 1973 when Fitzy showed Paul Newman around Road Atlanta. Fitzy said 'I had the cooler and Paul had the beer!'. A lasting friendship developed.
Paul Newman learned his craft racing Bob Bondurant's Datsun 510, 1600 and 2000 roadsters, and before turning to professional racing he enjoyed success with Bob Sharp's racing Datsuns, his own 510 prepared by BRE engine man John Caldwell, and ex-BRE racer John McComb's 1975 championship winning TR6. One notable race where Paul and his TR6 got the better of Fitzy was the 1976 D Production Runoffs at Road Atlanta. Lining up on the grid, Fitzy and his 2000 were on the second row behind Newman and Lee Mueller, in the Huffaker TR7. By turn 1, Fitzy was already in the lead, which he commanded until the 12th lap, when a broken rocker arm sadly put him out of the race. Paul went on to win the Runoffs in style, with Mueller a close second. Soon after, Paul and Fitzy were to line up together on the Bob Sharp team .
Paul Newman was very shaken by Fitzy's death. At the funeral he gave the eulogy from which the above quote was taken.
Fitzy left behind him a wife Mary Lou, and a daughter, Mary Jo, together with many happy memories. He also left behind his chief mechanic, Rock Vest, who he treated like a son - Rock has since regularly campaigned his own 2000 Roadster, (#38, in memory of Fitzy's BSR car), and was close to becoming National Champion himself. He was still competing in the 2000 season.
PLN himself sadly passed away on 27 September 2008 - perhaps it was time for the beer to be reunited with the cooler again ...
If you have any further information/images that you think would benefit these pages, or if you would like to forward any comments, please E-Mail me or leave a message in the Guestbook.
The Jim Fitzgerald Gallery
Images from Jim's early
(All images are from Road Atlanta unless otherwise stated)
These pages could not have been produced without the knowledge and support of vintage Z car racer and long time 'Fitzy' fan, Alan Poindexter (above seen autocrossing a 1969 2000).
The majority of black & white photographs were taken by Jim Williston, Fitzy's photographer.
These pages are copyright ©2000 Alan Poindexter, Jim Williston, Rob Beddington and the CFRR