Chris Economaki: The dean of American motorsports journalists

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For more than seven decades, he was one of the most well-known journalists in all of racing world.

Chris Economaki, the dean of motorsports journalism, passed away Friday morning at the age of 91. For more than seven decades, he was one of the most well-known journalists in all of racing, covering world-famous races and lesser-known events around the globe. He started out as a track announcer and advanced into television coverage when the major networks recognized the importance of auto racing. His distinctive voice was easily recognized by sports fans and his easy-going-demeanor made him an acquaintance to everyone in the racing community. He had a phenomenal memory for names and was on a first-name basis with everyone he had met.

Chris Economaki, Grand Marshall of 2005 Chili Bowl
Chris Economaki, Grand Marshall of 2005 Chili Bowl

Photo by: Michael C. Johnson

While gaining fame in television, Economaki’s first love came from being owner, editor and publisher of National Speed Sport News, a weekly tabloid devoted to race coverage. For some 50 years, he penned a weekly column entitled “The Editor’s Notebook,” and it was considered must-reading for everyone in the racing world, as it contained tips and insights not seen anywhere else. And to have your name or product mentioned in his column was an attention-getter.

NSSN’s influence started to ebb a few years ago due to the skyrocketing influence of the Internet and Economaki’s advancing age. The weekly newspaper ended its long run in March, 2011, although it did return under new management months later as an on-line entity and a monthly print edition, to the delight of the racing community.

The Brooklyn-born Economaki got the racing bug early in life and by age 13, he was selling racing papers at a New Jersey race track, netting him a penny on each sale. A year later, his writing career started and his love of racing soared. And it didn’t take long before he began announcing races at dirt tracks on the east coast. As his career flourished, television was coming of age and owing to the recommendation of Big Bill France, Economaki made his television debut at the Daytona International Speedway in 1961. Being conversant with all forms of racing and the personalities involved, Economaki’s television assignments multiplied, and he had long runs with the ABC, CBS and ESPN networks.

During his brilliant career, Economaki covered the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He also was a globe-trotter as he covered Formula One races around the world along with lesser events just about everywhere. As his fame grew, he earned many notable awards, including NASCAR’s Award of Excellence and its Lifetime Achievement Award, and was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame, the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame and the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame. Also, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway named its media press conference room after him and the Pocono Raceway named its press box in his honor.

Economaki did his writing with a typewriter and most tracks reserved a seat and a typewriter for his use. Although he wasn’t able to attend races in recent years, Indy continued to reserve a seat and a typewriter in his honor.

Chris Economaki making his rounds at the Indy 500 in 2005
Chris Economaki making his rounds at the Indy 500 in 2005

Photo by: Michael C. Johnson

The famed personality also played himself in two movies, “Stroker Ace” and “Six Pack,” and in 2008 in collaboration with noted writer Dave Argabright, Economaki authored a book about his life in racing, entitled “Let ‘Em All Go!”

With Economaki’s demise, tributes have poured in from racing executives and luminaries, including condolences from the Daytona International Speedway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Ford and Chevrolet executives, publishers, track presidents, drivers and just about everyone with whom he had come in contact. Major national publications also wrote substantive obituaries.

Mr. Economaki’s wife, Tommye, passed away in 2001, and he is survived by two daughters, Corinne and Tina, and two grandchildren. According to the NSSN web site, Mr. Economaki’s wake will be held on October 1 at the Nativity Church in Midland Park, N. J. and a day later his life will be celebrated with a funeral mass at the same Nativity Church. His family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations should be made to the International Motor Racing Research Center, 610 S. Decatur Street, Watkins Glen, and N.Y. 14891.

Story by: Joe Jennings

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Series GENERAL
Article type Obituary
Tags alms, chevrolet, chris economaki, daytona, ford, grandam, indianapolis, indycar, jennings, lemans, nascar, nhra, nssn, usac