LEMASTERS: I Wonder…

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Ron Lemasters Jr.
Ron Lemasters Jr.

CONCORD, N.C. — As SPEED SPORT celebrates its 85th anniversary, I wonder…

Had the Internet not popped up and made it so that the breadth and depth of what SPEED SPORT offered on a weekly basis (which is a hoot because you’re reading this on the ‘Net!), where could the publication have gone?

Nobody covered the sport like we did. Sure, others tried, but no one had the reportage, the reach and the cachet that we did. SPEED SPORT went into NASCAR and went toe-to-toe with the old NASCAR Scene empire of Rob Griggs, and we gave as good as we got. We were on even keel with the Indy Car pubs in coverage, the sports-car rags in terms of their myriad classes and races, and even Formula One. Autosport knew we were in the building across the pond, too.

Where no one could touch us was national short-track racing. From Maine to California, Florida to Washington, we had it all. In the old days, when Editor Mike and I would pass out papers at a NASCAR race somewhere, Ken Schrader used to stalk us until we got to his trailer. If you didn’t have at least two copies on Tony Stewart’s hauler, he would send Jeff “Gooch” Patterson out to make sure they arrived.

My father, who was a subscriber from the mid-1960s on, used to leave his copy out where I could see it, and it soon began to be a battle as to who would read it first. He won, of course. My dad was a longtime contributor to SPEED SPORT as well, and he covered the Indy 500, Midwest NASCAR races and other events around our home in Indiana. It was a fantastic time for me, because I grew up working for him and he ended up being one of our reporters. We had some good times on the road, dad and I, and those are among my most treasured memories.

You can’t celebrate 85 years of SPEED SPORT without the man who made it work. Chris Economaki was, in all respects, a force of nature. Always on the move, if there was a rumor floating about his newsman’s nose would find it and have it in the book before anyone else knew it was a rumor. Of course, anyone who was anyone in the sport read his weekly column. When we went to computers, it was hysterical, because Chris would bang out his notes on half-sheets of typing paper and hand it to one of us to enter. That got old in a hurry, but nobody really minded once we got away from the old TRS-80 brick computers.

Once again, none of this was possible without the army (and I mean that!) of people who contributed. Photographers, correspondents, friends of friends…all of them were devoted to getting the news in on time.

The people who worked like maniacs seven days a week — because there weren’t eight, it seemed —were the real heroes. Guys like Ed Muzio and Mike Regina, who ran the cameras at the old base in New Jersey. Like Vince Robertiello and Walter Elliott, who typed thousands of stories and did everything we asked in the weekly slog toward publication. Like Anne Fornoro, who worked for SPEED SPORT before she became A.J. Foyt’s primary representative. When we moved down to North Carolina, the crew changed but the mission didn’t.

Of course, Corinne Economaki had a lot to do with the success of the paper/magazine when she became the publisher. A lifetime spent around the sport and her own qualities as a manager and businesswoman helped us modernize and adapt, and she was the spiritual leader of the group as well.

As the sport changes and adapts so does SPEED SPORT. I can honestly foresee a future in which SPEED SPORT, in some form, is still available in the year 2104, though I have no concept of how that will look (and I most likely won’t be around to see it!). Longevity is a gift, given to quality people and ideas. SPEED SPORT has a lot of both quality people and quality ideas, so I wouldn’t bet against it.

When 2104 comes around, if I’m still kicking, can a former associate editor get a complimentary copy?