The U.S. motorsports community as a whole, and the profession of motorsports journalism in particular, suffered a great loss on September 28, when Chris Economaki passed away just two weeks shy of his 92nd birthday.
Economaki may be best known as editor and publisher of the weekly racing newspaper National Speed Sport News, but his fame spread globally once he began working as a pit reporter for ABC-TV from 1961 to 1984, when he switched to CBS for a further decade in front of the camera.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, of Greek immigrant parents as the Roaring Twenties opened, he was nine when he saw his first auto race and found his life’s mission. As a teenager he began selling single copies of NSSN’s predecessor, National Auto Racing News, based in his by then hometown of Ridgewood, N.J. He started writing for the paper the next year, hitchhiking to tracks around the country to pursue his craft.
After serving with the army in Europe during WWII, he returned home to Ridgewood and rejoined the NARN crew, then in 1950 took over the editorship of the renamed National Speed Sport News.
About this time he met NASCAR founder Bill France, who invited him down to Daytona to be track announcer for the famous beach races. Chris had been doing track announcing back home, but Daytona provided him with vast exposure and it wasn’t long before he and his abundant knowledge of the sport were put to use by the television industry as its resident inquisitor when motor racing became more prevalent on the tube.
He knew virtually everyone and these relationships gave his broadcasts and his “Editor’s Notebook” column exceptional insight that made them essential elements of any racing fan’s consciousness. Being mentioned in his column was a high point for any driver.
A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti are but two of the many helped by his notice.
“Chris meant a whole lot to my career,” offered Foyt. “He saw me when I first started and he said I’d be the next one coming up who’d be a good race driver. He really knew what he was writing about…because he came through all the different types of racing.”
“As a young driver, until you were mentioned in the famous notebook you could never consider yourself like you had arrived,” commented Andretti. “It was the bible of the racers, and you had to be noticed by Chris to be affirmed.”
Foremost among the many tributes paid Economaki during his Hall of Fame career was the 2006 designation by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway of its trackside conference room as the Economaki Press Conference Room.
It’s difficult to imagine anyone having any greater impact on the sport and its dissemination to the fans than Chris Economaki. To his daughters Corinne and Tina, his two grandchildren and all his countless friends around the world, Vintage Racecar offers its sincerest condolences.