CONCORD, N.C. — What was going on in the world 85 years ago?
The seeds of what would become World War II were popping through the ground in Europe. Shirley Temple and Donald Duck made their first appearances in film and cartoons. Bonnie and Clyde met an ignominious end in a Louisiana cornfield. Bill Russell and Hank Aaron were born … and so was National Speed Sport News.
Today’s sense of time hardly gives credence to just how long 85 years is. There were no conveniences that we use every day to save time, do impossible things (for 1934) and otherwise blend our lives into the blur that it seems to be.
Motorsports was in its infancy, relatively speaking, and revolved around the Indy 500 and other big-ticket races like the Vanderbilt Cup and the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. The automobile was still new, its capabilities were somewhat limited by the absence of technology and the men who drove them were daring beyond measure.
National Speed Sport News was there to record it all. To me, as a veteran of NSSN and now SPEED SPORT (they blend, thanks to the stalwart service of Mike Kerchner and the rest of the staff), that’s critically important. There are few sport-specific publications that have lasted that long and the quality of reportage and scope is a hallmark of the work the publication has done over that time.
One of the other things that strikes me about the longevity of the publication is, obviously, those writers and photographers whose work was the bread-and-butter of what was THE paper of record when it came to motorsports.
The names are familiar to longtime readers and some of my personal heroes on the writing side included Walt and Ronnie Renner, Gary London, the timeless Ron Hedger, Merle Holbrook, Steve Mayer, Bill Holder, the force of nature that is Bill Oursler, and Mike O’Leary. There are countless others, to be sure, all of whom moved heaven and earth to get the copy in on time every Monday. There were also the track and series operators who did the same.
The photographers were just as dedicated and committed. Guys like Steve Remington, Steve Peters, Max Dolder, the late Steve Snoddy (otherwise known as the “God of Turn 3” at IMS), the Rhinos and the Heithaus family team — the list is way too long (and I’m a lot older now than I was back then) to list much more, but all of you who helped us put the paper out 50 weeks of 52 every year know who you are. You all have my everlasting thanks and appreciation.
The importance of SPEED SPORT in all its forms is two-fold. Before the monster that is the internet was a gleam in the eye of the global cabal, it was the only place you could find results of the TQ midget feature at Pine Brook (N.J.) Speedway, the NASCAR, Indy car and Formula One races, every race from the World of Outlaws, the All Stars, NARC, URC and the rest of the sprint car alphabet soup, and all the other series great and small as well as local tracks from sea to shining sea and around the world.
The late, great Chris Economaki specialized in getting people who loved the sport almost as much as he did to come to New Jersey (yes, New Jersey) and do it for a living. You gave it everything you had, because you couldn’t do it any other way. There wasn’t time to do anything less.
That’s the legacy of 85 years of news, notes, the ever-popular From the Editor’s Notebook column and a ton of people pulling on the same oar.
Ralph Sheheen’s group took the reins and oversaw the transition from tabloid newspaper to monthly slick and it has worked well. There’s a lot less emphasis on race reports compared to the original, but it more than makes up for it with reams of opinion, thought-provoking stories on issues, personalities and trends and the same great photography.
Happy birthday to the grand publication, the one constant through the golden age of motorsports in America and around the world. It was there before NASCAR was formed and IndyCar and NHRA and Formula One — it will still be around when we’re writing about the latest in hover-car racing from the moon.
I’m proud to have been a part of it.