WALTZ: SPEED SPORT Has Changed Lives

(From left) Keith Waltz with current SPEED SPORT Editor Mike Kerchner and the late Chris Economaki.
(From left) Keith Waltz with current SPEED SPORT Editor Mike Kerchner and the late Chris Economaki.
Keith Waltz
Keith Waltz.

HARRISBURG, N.C. — As we celebrate the 85th anniversary of the SPEED SPORT brand, join me on a stroll down memory lane.

In the fall of 1982, I was a recent college graduate who couldn’t find a job. That’s when I responded to a classified ad in the pages of National Speed Sport News, a publication that had been a weekly staple in my family’s home since the mid-1960s.

The ad was looking for an advertising specialist — not really my cup of tea — but a few weeks after mailing my résumé, I received a call from Chris Economaki. He said he also had an editorial opening he thought would be better suited to my background.

Economaki and I met in the concourse of the Indianapolis airport for an interview that took place while he waited to board a flight to Newark, N.J. We didn’t talk much about my education or my journalism background. Instead, Economaki was more interested in my passion for sprint car racing in central and southern Indiana.

After several anxious days of waiting, the phone finally rang and Economaki offered me the editorial position. We worked out the details, he arranged a place for me to stay and in the early days of January 1983 I hit the highway, headed east to Ridgewood, N.J.

That trip started an incredible journey that has lasted 36 years.

Much to my surprise, the space National Speed Sport News occupied in the Ridgewood News building was rather spartan, but it became my new classroom as I began my graduate education in motorsports journalism.

During my years at NSSN, we added spot color, included the first four-color picture and made numerous improvements to the design of the paper. We revamped the editorial coverage of major events by adding news and notes as more and more television coverage shifted the focus from who won to how they won.

We moved to a plush new office and assembled our own in-house production facility where we built the paper by hand on Monday nights and Tuesday mornings. Typesetting computers also became the norm as we worked at keyboards instead of typewriters, and how we received editorial copy started to evolve as computer-to-computer transmissions replaced mail and telecopiers.

I covered many of this country’s greatest races — with the Knoxville Nationals, the Kings Royal, the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and the final Turkey Night Grand Prix at Ascot among my favorites — and met thousands of fascinating people along the way.

However, the long hours and pressure of producing a top-notch weekly newspaper eventually took their toll and in late 1993 I decided to look for a new opportunity in motorsports public relations.

My first issue with NSSN was dated Jan. 5, 1983, and what would temporarily be my last was published on Dec. 1, 1993.

In that issue, Economaki ended his column with: “It is with a touch of sadness we write this closing item, for this issue of NSSN is the last one you will find the talented hand of associate editor Keith Waltz, who leaves today for other pursuits in the racing industry. Keith, of Columbus, Ind., and a Ball State grad, like so many NSSN staffers before him, departs one month short of his 10th anniversary managing the NSSN news desk. His stewardship of this post has been the best in the 59-year history of this newspaper and we wish him all the best in his new endeavor.”

After relocating to North Carolina, I spent the next 14 years working as Darrell Waltrip’s PR rep and then publicizing events for Charlotte Motor Speedway.

When I made the decision to venture into the world of freelance writing and copy editing in 2008, Mike Kerchner and Corinne Economaki welcomed me back into the SPEED SPORT family. Although my role was different, it was as if had I never left.

During the course of its 85 years, SPEED SPORT has had an immeasurable impact on the motorsports industry, but there are a handful of us who can say it literally changed our lives.

Subscribe to SPEED SPORT Magazine today, or order the 85th Anniversary issue of SPEED SPORT!