INDIANAPOLIS — He was a giant, creating something that will never be duplicated.
Chris Economaki was more than a journalist, more than a broadcaster, more than an editor. He was a pioneer, rising up to lead an entire industry to modern times and prosperity.
You will find much in this issue of SPEED SPORT about the 85th anniversary of the publication. Our roots, of course, date back to the 1934 debut of National Speed Sport News. Eighty-five years is a long, long time and very few commercial entities survive through more than eight decades.
SPEED SPORT exists because National Speed Sport News survived, and it survived because of Chris Economaki. It’s as simple as that.
Chris was involved with “the paper” from the beginning, selling copies of the weekly at tracks around his New Jersey home while still a teenager. He began writing a column — Gas-O-Lines — and in due course took on a growing role. After service with the U.S. Army in the European theater of World War II, Chris returned home to a post-war boom in auto racing.
Chris served as an associate editor of National Speed Sport News for several years before assuming the editor’s position in April 1950. He later became publisher as well.
Over the next 60 years Chris became the very embodiment of the paper. To many readers, NSSN was Chris and Chris was NSSN. His weekly column — From the Editor’s Notebook — was the gathering point of nearly every form of American motorsports. Each week, everybody — and I do mean everybody — turned the page directly to Chris’ column to see what he had to say.
SPEED SPORT lives on today because of the hard work of a great number of people. Editors, reporters, photographers, ad salespeople, columnists, business directors and many more. They were supported by generations of advertisers and readers. However, the most prominent driving force was Chris as he poured his blood, sweat and tears into making SPEED SPORT the most notable auto racing publication in the world.
Those of us who worked with Chris came to know him as a tireless, focused man who devoted his life to racing. His energy level — even in his 80s — was nothing short of amazing. His memory was keen and he was driven by an insatiable curiosity. Chris could be demanding and irascible one moment and charming and friendly in the next.
But always, always interesting.
Along the way Chris rose to become the most influential and impactful journalist in the history of auto racing. His words and opinions literally shaped the course of the sport, because if your new endeavor — a track or a series or whatever — was panned by Economaki in his column, that was an immense hurdle to overcome in the public arena.
In 2005, Chris and I collaborated to write his autobiography, “Let ‘Em All Go.” I had worked with Chris as a contributor since the early 1980s, but it was the book project that allowed us to spend a great deal of time together. Chris had a tendency to keep sentimental feelings deep inside, and like many men of his generation he had developed a tough outer shell.
But there were a couple of episodes during the book project where, for a moment or two, the outer shell cracked open and allowed some emotion to escape. I suppose that’s what I treasure the most, that I was privileged to experience a great man displaying his human tendencies after all.
It’s impossible to not be nostalgic as we think about the 85th anniversary of SPEED SPORT. A lot has changed in recent years, and change doesn’t always bring things we like. But the world keeps turning and change keeps coming.
The element that is most evident is that there is no Chris Economaki in our contemporary world. It’s impossible to fill someone’s shoes when the world has gone barefoot. Information is shared and acquired in such a disjointed and scattered fashion, one leading central figure is just not going to happen — ever again, I suspect.
Chris died in 2012 at age 91 (incidentally, the 100th anniversary of his birth comes on Oct. 15, 2020), and I’m certain he would approve of the 85th anniversary of SPEED SPORT. All those deadlines, all that sweat, all that worry — it’s still going on. And on. And on.
Congratulations, SPEED SPORT, on your anniversary. And thanks to all those hardworking and under-appreciated souls who worked hard all these years to give us such great reading.
Here’s to another 85 years!