Editor’s Note: This is the second of three installmenst of Gary London’s 50th anniversary memories columns. London celebrates 50 years of writing for National Speed Sport News Nov. 9.
VALLEY STREAM, N.Y. — In the 1960s, Chris Economaki added “Public Forum,” to the pages of National Speed Sport News. It gave readers a chance to share their feelings. Did they ever. Letters to the editor provided NSSN with some great reading and also some of the dumbest things ever published.
I was often the “topic” of PF, but I never minded it. I always feel people should have a right to their opinions of what I wrote but sometimes they got a little too personal.
NSSN’s salad days would be the 1970s. Chris’ column grew bigger as his television work took him to major events all over the country. His importance to the sport was obvious. The paper grew and it was a must-read for racing folk every week.
The sport’s growth paralleled NSSN’s. NASCAR was no longer a Southeast only entity. The presence of R.J. Reynolds as a title sponsor encouraged other large companies of the value in racing.
Fortune 500 companies began supporting racing in the nineties. Chris knew many of the CEO’s. His column was often a topic of Monday morning board meetings. Racing was becoming far more than an amusement.
Chris began to include NHRA coverage. Then the World of Outlaws series began and regional racers became national stars. In the 1980s came the biggest boost to racing with television flag-to-flagging the entire NASCAR series. Indy car racing featured in-fighting by the newly formed CART organization and the old guard at USAC.
The Indy feud kept me busy. I was very unhappy with the direction CART was taking it. The circuit was mostly street and road courses and in the early 1990s when many of its stars retired. They were replaced by foreign drivers who were unknown to American fans.
With Tony George forming the IRL things got ugly. In the middle of that, George brought NASCAR to Indy in 1993. He set up a system that favored the IRL drivers at Indy. CART members boycotted and had their own 500-mile race at Michigan Int’l Speedway the same day as the Indy 500 — a real embarrassment.
Things then changed at NSSN. They pulled up stakes and moved to North Carolina from New Jersey. After a couple years, Chris moved back to the Garden State and learned to use a laptop computer.
The paper was downsized to save money. Being told to write shorter columns was hard for me. Meanwhile, with many shows on TV devoted to racing and with news, even though mostly not factual, being instantly available on the Internet, business at NSSN slumped.
In 2011, the big blow came when the paper went out of business in March.
NSSN had a long successful run. It was a true newspaper in every sense. Chris always said it didn’t matter what you wrote but how you wrote it. It was very professional. Fans all over the country still miss it arriving at their mailbox on Thursdays.
Luckily I still have many back issues which still makes good reading. I am very proud of my 50 years here and the fact only Chris wrote more words than I did.
Stay Tuned For Part III…