The Dean of American motor sport journalists, Chris Economaki, has passed away two weeks short of his 92nd birthday.
Economaki was publisher and editor of the weekly newspaper National Speed Sport News for more than fifty years and was renowned as the voice of American racing as a track, radio and television announcer. He achieved national and international fame as ABC television’s primary pitlane reporter from 1961-’84 before moving to CBS for a further ten years covering NASCAR, Formula 1 and everything in between.
Economaki was a classic American success story. The son of Greek immigrants he was born in Brooklyn, New York and was instantly hooked on the sport when saw his first race at age nine. Economaki started his career when he was 13, selling copies of a new racing newspaper called National Auto Racing News at local dirt tracks near his home in New Jersey. He wrote his first column for the paper the following year and hitch-hiked to Indianapolis in 1937 to watch the 500 and other nearby midget and sprint car races. Over the next two years he worked as a go-fer or ‘stooge’ on Duane Carter’s midget racing up and down America’s east coast.
Chris served in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II and when he returned home he continued to write columns for National Auto Racing News as well as hawking the newspaper at dirt tracks in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. He became the editor of the renamed National Speed Sport News in 1950 and started his career as a track announcer the following year. Soon, Economaki’s voice was heard at race tracks around New Jersey and later moved into radio and then television commentary.
His work for ABC and then CBS over a stretch of 35 years cemented Economaki’s role as the USA’s most renowned motor racing commentator. For decades his unmistakable, gravely New Jersey drawl defined the sport to the wider American public. In fact, he was identified so closely with the sport that he twice played himself in Hollywood movies, Six Pack, released in 1982 and Stroker Ace the following year. Economaki’s television career came to an unhappily abrupt end in 1995 when he used a racial epithet to describe a driver in one of his columns.
For many years Economaki’s keynote Speed Sport News column called ‘The Editor’s Notebook’ was a must-read for everyone involved in American motor racing. He was able to move effortlessly from Formula 1 to NASCAR, midget and sprint car racing, Indycar racing, drag racing and every form of short track oval racing. A mention in Economaki’s column could make and sometimes break a career in the sport.
Chris continued as NSSN’s editor until ill health forced him into retirement in the early years of the new century. For a while he continued to cover the major races, working away at his manual Royal typewriter, the last man to clatter away among America’s motor sport’s reporters as computer technology took over the world. His autobiography, Let ‘Em All Go: The story of auto racing by the man who was there, co-written with Dave Argabright, was published in 2006.
After his retirement, Economaki’s daughter Corinne took over as the publisher of NSSN until the final issue came off the press in March of last year. The NSSN website was sold to Turn 3 Media which earlier this year launched a new monthly magazine called Speed Sport Magazine. Economaki’s wife Alvera passed away in 2001 and he is survived by two daughters, Corinne and Tina Reidl, and two grandchildren.