Chris Economaki may have been as well known for his announcing as his Editor’s Notebook in the pages of National Speed Sport News.
Economaki, who died Friday at age 91, got his start as a track announcer, working his first race at Selinsgrove (Pa.) Speedway in 1950. From there he eventually worked radio and television, gaining fame as a pit reporter for ABC, ESPN and CBS.
A few years ago, he talked about his start as an announcer.
“When I started, I was under the direction of an old show business promoter, and my instructions were, ‘sell it, sell it, sell it,’” he explained dramatically. “You had to enhance the excitement of the viewer. For example, Langhorne was a very fast track. It was frightening with speed, but yet there were some of those races would be parades, and I would start talking about some guy, and I would talk about him, and I would get everybody in the grandstands to watch him.
“Then when he was way over on the left, I would say, ‘Oh, there’s so and so, oh my,’ way over there on the right where nobody was looking,” Economaki said slyly. “And I would say, ‘Oh, what a great save he made.’ And everybody would turn there head and gasp, and the fact was that nothing had happened, but I had focused everybody 90 degrees from where I was going to make this saving remark to let people think that something really miraculous happened and unfortunately they missed it. You can’t do that too much, but you can do it once or twice a day and get away with it.”
Economaki always believed that educating himself about the competitors was a key to selling the action on the track.
“The other thing that I did that put in demand as an announcer, was that when I announced a race I would start at one end of the pits and go to the other and talk to every driver,” he explained. “I’d ask him what he did for a living and what kind of a family he had because I believed that every man in the grandstand had a toolbox and he may fix the screen door, or he may fix this car, and that all the women in the grandstands were interested in the guy’s personal life, you know his kids and his family and so forth.
“So, I always saw to it that my commentary included something for the man and something for the woman. A good announcer will do that.”
Economaki was more than a good announcer.
MORE ABOUT THE LIFE OF CHRIS ECONOMAKI:
SPEED is going to air the 2006 WindTunnel Special Economaki: Eyewitness to American Racing History tonight at 11 p.m. EST. Please tune in and check it out.