American motorsports journalist Christopher “Chris” Constantine Economaki passed away Friday, September 28th, 2012 at the age of 91. Economaki served as an editor, publisher and columnist for National Speed Sport News for more than 60 years. He also was a reporter and commentator for racing broadcasts on network television and radio, including coverage of the Indianapolis 500 for ABC and the IMS Radio Network.
Known as the “The Dean of American Motorsports”, Economaki was born in Brooklyn, New York to a Greek immigrant father and his mother was a great-niece of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. He saw his first race at age nine at the board track in Atlantic City. He was immediately hooked on the sport.
Economaki began his career in auto racing journalism at age 13 selling copies of National Speed Sport News newspapers. He wrote his first column at age 14 for the National Auto Racing News. Economaki became the editor of the National Speed Sport News in 1950. He began writing a column called “The Editor’s Notebook”, which he continued to write over fifty years later. He eventually became owner, publisher, and editor of the National Speed Sport News.
Economaki began as track announcer at a number of major races in the 1940s and 1950s. He began at the July 4, 1961 running of the Firecracker 250 NASCAR race at Daytona International Speedway for ABC Sports. He covered most ABC Wide World of Sports motorsports events, including several Indianapolis 500s, Daytona 500s, Formula One Grand Prix races, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the East African Safari, and the Bathurst 1000.
After 23 years he switched to CBS Sports, where he covered International Race of Champions (IROC) events, Daytona 500s, and Formula One races.
Economaki was also part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network coverage of the Indianapolis 500, contributing essays and analysis. In 2006, the Trackside Conference Room at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Center was renamed the Economaki Press Conference Room in honor of Economaki’s legendary accomplishments.
Economaki received numerous major awards, including induction in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1994. He was also awarded the 1990 NASCAR Award of Excellence and the NASCAR Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.
Kevin Kennedy, director, Ford Racing Communications:
“Chris’ passing marks the end of a great era of auto racing and how it was covered in this country. He truly loved the sport, probably more than any journalist I knew, but he also loved the people who made up the sport, and was quick to tell a great story, say a kind word to those new to the sport, and hold court on any subject the sport could dish out. I’ll miss that great voice, and the fabulous stories, the Monday morning calls as he was finishing his weekly column, and, of course, the manual typewriter that every media center kept for him. His influence on the media, and the PR people who work in the sport, will never be matched.”
Jeff Belkus, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation President:
“Chris was the dean of motorsports journalism. His accurate, incisive reporting helped increase the audience of the sport and put the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, its events and competitors into the global spotlight. He set a standard for others to follow for generations and will be deeply missed. Our thoughts, sympathies and prayers are with his family and friends.”
Bob Varsha, the voice of Formula One on SPEED:
“Though we all knew Chris was in failing health, this is heartbreaking news. We all grew up watching Chris, listening to Chris, or reading Chris in the pages of his beloved National Speed Sport News. His example affected everything we do in broadcasting, but the one thing none of us could do is replicate Chris Economaki.
“Everyone has a stack of Economaki stories. Here’s one of mine: In 1987 Chris was my booth analyst as I made my debut on a Formula One broadcast for ESPN at the Austrian Grand Prix. We walked into the paddock and, as a well-known aficionado of what he always called ‘the finer things in life,’ Chris led me straight to the Elf petroleum hospitality motorhome. Being a rookie, I timidly asked ‘Are we allowed in there?’ To which Chris replied in his trademark cackle ‘Of course! That’s why it’s here!’
“A few minutes later Chris was seated in the middle of a group of top european journalists: Nigel Roebuck, Alan Henry, Jabby Crombac and so on. Chris had a plate of food on his knee, and had everyone’s ear as he told stories of Phil Hill in the Carrera Panamericana, Ted Horn at Trenton, AJ Foyt at Indy, Richard Petty at Darlington and on and on. In the weeks that followed, I saw some of those stories appear in magazines from abroad, and I realized then that Chris was, and remains, as big a racing treasure on the other side of the pond as he is here.”
Michael Printup, President of Watkins Glen International:
“It was with great sadness today that I learned of the passing of Chris Economaki. As one of the most prominent motorsports journalists of all time, Chris ruled the airwaves for over four decades as he brought action on the track into the homes of millions. Chris will be missed by the entire motorsports community, and we will never forget all that he did as a pioneer of our sport. We are honored that Chris’s legacy will live on through the gifts made in his name to the International Motor Racing Research Center here in Watkins Glen.”
Brian France, NASCAR Chairman and CEO:
“The passing of Chris Economaki is a tough loss for me on both a personal and professional level, having known Chris throughout my life. Many people consider Chris the greatest motorsports journalist of all time. He was, indeed, ‘the Dean.’ Chris was a fixture for years at NASCAR events, and played a huge role in growing NASCAR’s popularity. I’ll miss seeing him and of course, I’ll miss hearing that voice. Our thoughts and prayers are with his daughters Corinne and Tina and the rest of Chris’ family.”