Editor’s Note: This is the first installment 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. — I sit here in front of my keyboard. Whether it was my old clunky manual typewriter or my current fuel-injected hot rod computer, more than 2,000 times I have composed copy for National Speed Sport News. I have contributed race reports, articles and columns for 50 years as of Nov. 9.
This week I’ll write about the personal side of this long relationship. I saw my first race in 1952 at Long Island’s Freeport Stadium. I was 7 years old. My parents had been midget racing fans before World War II. Then the war and my arrival got in the way of their racing pursuits.
My love affair with racing started immediately. When I was nine years old, I began writing down the lineups of every race I saw. My racing interest expanded thanks to Speed Age Magazine, which covered extensively the Indy Car championship trail and the fledgling NASCAR Grand National circuit. In 1954, I saw my first NASCAR GN race at Langhorne (Pa.) Speedway. Herb Thomas won in a Hudson Hornet. It was just the fifth full year for the series.
I was different than other youngsters who went to races to see the “crack ups.” I sat quietly in my seat and ate up the racing. I loved the competition and the passing and in those days there was plenty of it.
In 1960, I got my first job, playing music at Freeport. I was interested in stats. Freeport had run a three-night-a-week format with three divisions since 1956. I noticed they had all the pay-off sheets. I made several trips there by bus on non-race days and compiled them.
I now had a pile of info. I thought the fans would be interested. I contacted the man who published the souvenir program. Previously it had no text in it. He started printing all my stats. The programs sold out very quickly. He then asked me if I’d write some “pit patter.” I agreed and at age 15 my writing career started.
In 1961, a three-quarter-midget show was run at the Commack Arena in the winter. Heavy snow prevented Nat Kleinfield from making the trip so Walter Bull, publisher of Illustrated Speedway News, contacted me the next day about writing a story. It ran on the front page. He gave me a press card, but told me not to use it.
The next year he asked me to write the Long Island column. Right from the start I figured that one must me honest and “tell it like it is.” The trouble is, a lot of people weren’t prepared for that. After I had taken the summer off because I owned stock cars at Freeport, he wouldn’t take me back.
With nothing to do, I contacted Chris Economaki about covering the indoor season at the Island Garden Arena. After the second week, he sent me a media card and I’ve been with NSSN since.
After writing race reports for two years, I submitted a column and he ran it. The column went through three name changes, but what I wrote didn’t change much.
It was very uplifting to write for such a prestigious newspaper.
Chris was an amazing man. He could be a wise-cracking, self-assured, old-style newsman one minute and humble and sensitive the next.
As it turned out, he began writing his Editor’s Notebook column about the time mine started. It was a huge boom for the paper.
You’d never know what he’d have in his column, everything from Middletown, N.Y., to Monte Carlo. He knew everybody and he’d surprise me with the knowledge he’d have of the circuit I followed — the modifieds.
(End Of Installment One)