O’LEARY: Hoosier Pit Pass


SPEEDWAY, Ind. — He is still here. There is no doubt that you can feel it as you walk into the Chris Economaki Media Center at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway early in May.

Take the elevator to the fourth floor, home for the print media, and walk past the bulletin boards and racks with the latest press releases and public relations folder, toward the large room with row-after-row of desks.

Chris Economaki is remembered in the press room at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Mike O’Leary photo)

Suddenly there’s an anomaly. While writers are hunched over laptops and radio people have their electronics arranged around them, something is clearly out of place. A well-used Olympia manual typewriter fills the first seat in the first row.

And although there is a framed photo with an inscription that includes the title, Dean of American Motorsports Journalism, next to the typewriter, you know that the chair is still reserved for Chris Economaki.

Chris had his chair and typewriter set up in the old press room, a crowded, busy, single-story section with multiple tiny offices off the main room, in a long cement building behind the tower terrace grandstand. He seemingly knew everyone, and the term “holding court” could have easily been coined on one of those warm afternoons. It would be difficult to calculate how many of his Editor’s Notebook columns he drafted from that seat and even on that well-used Olympia.

After the construction of the new Media Center, with its high ceilings, smoked glass windows and electronic facilities, Chris attended Indy practice and qualifying days less frequently. But when he did, his seat and his typewriter were there for him. Visitors would stop and he would smile and pause his typing and working with his notes. His sharp eye and humorous stories were always ready.

It’s May at Indy again and things change. The machines are more aerodynamic and much quicker. They go by so fast that it is nearly impossible to read a car’s number with the naked eye.

But the roar is still there as they thunder down the main straightaway. Young drivers are still ten feet tall and bulletproof. A.J. Foyt is commanding his show from atop a modern pit-side control center. And as the afternoon sun rolls toward the West, many of the Oldtimers and old friends are still around and stop to trade stories.

And every time you walk into the pressroom, you can still hear Chris telling you to go check out the new suspension that some mechanic is trying.