ECONOMAKI LEAVES BEHIND A VOID AND A POWERFUL LEGACY IN MOTOR SPORTS JOURNALISM
Chris Economaki, the Dean of American Motorsports Journalism, passed away Friday morning at the age of 91. Economaki covered every form of racing during his career and served as the editor for National Speed Sport News for 60 years, in addition to his roles as a track announcer and broadcaster on television and radio.
Below, SPEED on-air personalities offer their thoughts on Economaki’s legacy and his immeasurable contributions to motor sports journalism.
“If 13-year-old Chris Economaki had fallen in love with stick-and-ball sports, his literary biography might well rival those of Ring Lardner, Grantland Rice and Red Smith. Instead, to our eternal good fortune, teen-aged Economki starting hawking Speed Sport News, thus planting the seed for the most important racing publication ever. To borrow from Rice, now that it's time for the one great scorer to come and write against Chris' name, I think he'll record that my old friend did one helluva job for racing. Thanks for everything, Chris.”
--Dave Despain, host of Wind Tunnel
“Chris Economaki became the prototype for all radio and television journalists in his sport. His depth of knowledge and skilled questioning made network execs understand that auto racing needed specialists to properly cover the sport. Chris opened the door for a whole generation of voices you hear today, and we are all indebted to him.”
--Mike Joy, NASCAR on FOX and SPEED play-by-play announcer
“Chris was the most premier auto racing journalist who ever was and ever will be. We’ll never again see someone as incredibly diverse and successful at his craft. Chris was every bit as at home with a microphone at a local short track as he was covering the Indianapolis 500 or Daytona 500. Dave Despain and I had a similar conversation with Chris regarding how we could improve our performance. Chris said simply, ‘Ask a good question.’ How appropriate today when some journalists make a statement to the driver or athlete and expect him or her to agree. But they don’t ask a question. When I first became a fulltime motorsports journalist, it was as editor of Stock Car Racing. At the time, Chris’ National Speed Sport News arrived on my doorstep on Thursdays, and I quickly made a habit of not answering my telephone until I’d read his column because so many of the calls that came in on Thursdays were about what he had written. He was so powerful and influential for so many years.”
--Dr. Dick Berggren, veteran motor sports journalist and SPEED reporter
“I first met Chris Economaki as a little kid when I was paid $25 to carry his ABC Sports blazer because he had a habit of laying it down and forgetting it when it came time to shoot an on-camera. But like the rest of America, I got to know Chris through his weekly columns in National Speed Sport News. He brought the heroes of American auto racing to the masses whether it was a small dirt track or to auto racing's grandest stages of Daytona and Indy. Each week, as a kid, I couldn't wait to read his column in Speed Sport to learn the latest news on and off the track. As an adult, it was an honor to be mentioned in it. I still have his column from the rain delay at Atlanta, where he called Dale Jr.'s interview one of the most unique and informative interviews of any kind he'd seen in a long time.”
--Matt Yocum, NASCAR on FOX and SPEED reporter
“Chris Economaki was the Dean of American Motorsports Journalism. With his typewriter and unmatched enthusiasm he made National Speed Sport News the most-read racing publication and his Editor's Notebook an absolute must read. With his voice he made racing exciting and helped to elevate it in the mainstream sports world through television and radio. Everyone in the racing community whether they are members of the media, racers or fans, owes Chris a debt of gratitude for his passion and dedication to racing.”
--Ralph Sheheen, Voice of AMA on SPEED & Co-Owner, Publisher of National Speed Sport News
“Chris was the standard for motorsports journalism. He essentially invented the business of covering motorsports. I was fortunate enough to cover some races for WTBS with him in the ‘80s and learned volumes from him. He always told me to ask a question. ‘Don’t answer the question.’ This day, I still hear his voice in my head, ‘Don’t answer it. Just ask it. Ask the driver how they won. Ask the team how they won.’ That was just one specific lesson I learned. They called him the Dean for a reason. But not only did he work incredibly hard and ask the hard questions, he enjoyed life and could tell a joke to lighten the mood in a flash. He will be greatly missed.”
--Steve Byrnes, host of NASCAR Race Hub
“Chris Economaki's contributions to broadcasting are immeasurable. He pioneered the industry of motorsports with his always recognizable voice and delivery. Even as a legend in this sport, he was easily approachable and ready to tell a story that would keep his audience hanging on every word. I will miss those stories.”
--Rick Allen, SPEED play-by-play announcer
“When it comes to motorsports you simply cannot measure Chris’ contributions. His dedication and tireless work helped promote the sport and its many drivers over the years. His presence on the air and his knowledge of all forms of racing made him one of a kind. No one does it today like Chris did it for so many years.”
--Adam Alexander, host of SPEED Center
“Chris was someone after whom many of us tried to model ourselves. He always asked the tough question and always took into account what the fans wanted to know, whether they were watching him on TV, listening to him on radio or reading his newspaper. His book, Let 'Em All Go, is one of my favorites. Chris always gave me great advice and taught me to look for the story inside the story because you may not realize what really is there. He loved all types of racing from the Cup Series to the short tracks. He was a true racer and an inspiration in my career. Chris Economaki was one of the real pioneers of our sport who helped build it to what it is today.”
--Bob Dillner, SPEED reporter
“In the motor sports world, if you've ever held a microphone or put words to paper, you owe a debt to Chris Economaki. He had a passion and a persistence that seemed to make his words come to life -- words that were created letter by letter on a typewriter. I still remember having the honor of sitting across from Chris at a media dinner in Indianapolis in 2002. He talked. He laughed. He flirted. He had all of us at the table hanging on his every word. Nate Ryan of USA Today and I walked out of that dinner saying, ‘Now that was a good night.’ One of my greatest moments was seeing my name, with praise for my work, in National Speed Sport News. The reason it was special? It was Economaki handing out the accolades. I have the article clipped, laminated and saved. Even being in the same fraternity with Chris Economaki is, and will continue to be, a true honor.”
--Krista Voda, host of NCWTS Setup and Trackside
SPEED will air an encore of Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain tonight at 11pm ET/8pm PT. Originally aired on June 18, 2006, this show features legendary automotive journalist Chris Economaki, who passed away early this morning. More details on the life and death of Mr. Economaki will be included on SPEED Center, tonight at 6:30 Eastern.