SPEED SPORT: The Birth Of A Brand

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SPEED SPORT has been around for 85 years and covered all of racing's major moments.
SPEED SPORT has been around for 85 years and covered all of racing's major moments.

The popularity of auto racing at county fairs on the East Coast during the early 1930s served as the catalyst from which the SPEED SPORT brand was born 85 years ago.

An abundance of midget dates at county fairs across the region annually attracted numerous Midwest-based car owners, drivers and crews, and many of them utilized an area of East Paterson, N.J., which eventually became known as Gasoline Alley, as their base of operations.

Chris Economaki was always hard at work during his long stint as editor and publisher of National Speed Sport News. (NSSN Archives Photo)
Chris Economaki was always hard at work during his long stint as editor and publisher of National Speed Sport News. (NSSN Archives Photo)

“All these cars and drivers showed up in East Paterson in the end of June and stayed until early October,” Chris Economaki, National Speed Sport News’ longtime editor and publisher, recalled prior to his death in 2012. “Everybody lived in a furnished room in that town. There were no hotels, and no motels. There was no money anyway.”

Dick Vieldhouse, a local resident and race fan, recognized the need for a source of racing news. He went to the local newspaper in East Paterson — The Bergen Herald — to sell the editors on the idea of adding auto-racing news and results.

“They put out a weekly broadsheet newspaper for the town. It was like an eight-page tabloid. Sometimes it was 12 pages,” Economaki said. “This guy Vieldhouse went to them with the idea that with all the auto-racing people in town living in furnished rooms, they should publish some auto-racing news in the paper.”

The editors liked the idea, but they needed Vieldhouse to sell some racing-related advertising to support the additional editorial content.

Vieldhouse quickly sold an advertisement to Pyroil, which was heavily involved in the sport at the time, and racing news found a home on the back page of The Bergen Herald during the summer of 1932.

The coverage soon escalated to two pages, and in 1933 it became the back three pages. When the 1934 season started, auto racing was featured on four of the paper’s pages.

“The people in East Paterson complained about all this auto-racing news all over the paper,” Economaki noted. “They wanted to read about the school board and what the mayor was doing.”

During the summer of 1934, William Kay and Louis Fournier, owners of The Bergen Herald, developed a plan to satisfy their local readers along with those craving auto–racing news. Kay and Fournier knew the company that produced The Ridgewood News in nearby Ridgewood, N.J., had recently opened a new printing facility. They approached the paper’s owners with the idea of expanding the racing section of The Bergen Herald into a separate tabloid publication.

On Aug. 16, 1934, the East Paterson Herald Publishing Co. produced the first issue of National Auto Racing News.

In that issue, Kay and Fournier presented their vision for the future of the publication:

The cover of the first issue of what eventually became National Speed Sport News.
The cover of the first issue of what eventually became National Speed Sport News.

“We will in the future, as we have in the past, endeavor to give our racing fans all of the news from all of the tracks all of the time. Our constant endeavor since the inception of the Auto Racing Section has been to increase our service to our readers. That will continue to be our policy. We will welcome constructive criticism and helpful suggestions. We want this to be your paper. Our only aim and desire is to give you what you want in the way you want it.”

“It’s obvious from the very first issue that William Kay and Louis Fournier fully understood the paper’s role as a promotional tool for auto racing,” said Corinne Economaki, who succeeded her father as publisher of National Speed Sport News from 1990 to 2011. “They knew if they could help grow the sport, the paper would grow with it.”

And that’s exactly what happened.

After a brief publishing hiatus when auto racing was shut down during World War II, National Auto Racing News returned as National Speed Sport News in February 1943 with William Kay continuing as editor.

As the paper evolved, off-track news, regional columns and personality profiles were added to the editorial mix and letters from readers became a key element.