Growing up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Herb Fishel watched short track racing at Bowman Gray Stadium, read about Zora Arkus-Duntov in Hot Rod Magazine and worked on cars with his uncle William. He consumed every scrap of information he could find in the local paper about the Indy 500, Daytona 500, the 24 hours of Le Mans, and the Mille Miglia.
He came up with an idea: racing could be, and should be, and accelerated test laboratory for an automotive manufacturer. However, to do it he had to be the first in his family to get a college education. Technically and scientifically he was initially ill-prepared to face the engineering challenges he encountered upon enrolling at North Carolina State. But he was determined to go racing, and that grit propelled him to earn a degree in Mechanical Engineering from NC State in 1963.
His first airplane trip was to Detroit to interview with General Motors. After the interview was done, he was asked if there was anything else, he would like to do while in Detroit. He didn’t hesitate, “I want to meet Zora Duntav”, he said. Before the day was over Fishel met his boyhood, idol and agreed to begin working as an engine draftsman.
He held onto his childhood belief that racing was essential to an automaker especially the major events: the Rolex 24, they Daytona 500, the Indy 500, and the 24 hours of Le Mans. Driven by the strong work ethic he learned from his father, Fishel made his dream a reality. In 2001 General Motors won the Rolex 24, the Daytona 500, the Indy 500, and had class win in the 24 hours of Le Mans. Fishel guided GM to many driver and manufacturer titles in NASCAR, Indy car, drag racing, sports cars, and off-road racing.
He retired as the Executive Director of General Motors Racing in 2003. Afterwards he completed the Mile Miglia route through Italy, driving a 1953 Ferrari 250 MM co-piloted by his wife Sandy.
Fishel feels his greatest achievement to be one that carries no trophy or award. In the early 1990s he pioneered the Motorsports Safety Initiative for General Motors. He assembled a research and development team that led to innovations that save thousands of lives. His team studied accidents on the race track with test dummies, pioneered black box recorders in Indy cars, roof flaps and restraints in NASCAR, and structural and impact absorption improvements used in almost every form of racing.
During the energy crisis in 2006 he foresaw the future motorsports is being defined by global concerns for energy supplies and climate change. His vision that the great race of the 21st century would be for economic, socially responsible, and sustainable transportation is now a reality.
Fishel has received many awards for his contributions to motorsports. He was named by Hot Rod Magazine as one of the “100 Most Important People in the First 50 years of Hot Rod” (1997), and Racer Magazine as one of the “Most Influential People in Racing from 1996 to 1999”. He was presented with the “Spirit of Le Mans” award by the race organizers (2003), and drove the pace car at the 2003 Indy 500. In 2005 Herb received the distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award from North Carolina State University, plus was inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame. In 2015 he was inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame. Automotive News Magazine honored the 100 years of Chevrolet in 2011 naming Fishel as one of the “100 Most Influential People” stating, “Fishel put Chevrolet in the winner’s circle”.