I started subscribing to National Speed Sport News in the mid-1980s for one reason and one reason only: Chris Economaki’s column.
Each week, when the weekly paper arrives in the mail, the first thing I do is turn to page 4 to read his column, which for ever and ever has been a potpourri of inside information, editorial comment and the odd bit of gossip.
That column has been required reading for anybody interested in motorsport because it covers – just as the paper itself does – every aspect of racing from stock cars and sports cars to Indy cars to F1 and the sprints and midgets too. In other words, just about anything on four wheels finds its way into NSSN.
Economaki first started working for the New Jersey-based National Auto Racing News in the 1930s as a newsboy (they changed the name to National Speed Sport News in the 1940s). In the beginning, he hawked the paper at speedways; then he started filing stories. In 1950, he was hired as editor and publisher and became, over time, the most respected auto racing reporter in North America – if not the world.
His knowledge, influence and accessibility to racing people made him indispensable to the rapidly growing industry and when ABC’s Wide World of Sports started broadcasting auto racing in the 1960s, it was Economaki who was hired to provide colour and analysis.
As well as a reporter, he was also a natural entertainer. One of my favourite memories was when he was doing colour during a telecast of the Detroit Grand Prix F1 race. It was a blisteringly hot day, so he wore purple shorts and purple knee socks (what a sight that was!) and, at one point, was shown going into a portable toilet to get out of the sun.
Anyway, imagine my surprise (and the surprise of many, I would imagine) when I received my first issue of 2011 a few days ago (the Canadian Post Office can be terribly slow sometimes . . .) to discover that Chris Economaki’s column has disappeared from page 4. In place of his photograph is a logo and his Editor’s Notebook column is now called Speed Sport Notebook.
Now, Chris Economaki is not dead. But he’s 90 now and he’s starting to slow down a bit. According to the newspaper, he will continue to contribute items to the notebook and that’s fine. But after 25 or so years of seeing his mug on page 4 of that newspaper every week, I feel a little sad because he’s one of a kind and nothing or nobody can replace his observations and/or commentary.
Or wit. In April 2000, on a Sunday morning, I was sitting in the lobby of a Holiday Inn in Bethlehem, Pa., which is just down the road from Nazareth. There was a CART Indy race scheduled for Nazareth Speedway that day and there was two feet of snow on the ground, which had fallen overnight. Economaki came walking into the lobby, looked out the window at the still-raging blizzard and said: “All the drivers are wondering which button on their steering wheel is for the defroster.”
Anyway, life goes on and I will continue to subscribe. (They have an excellent web site now but I keep forgetting my password and it gets embarrassing to keep asking them to send me a new one. However, I’ll have to swallow my pride again one of these days and do it – although I must admit I like reading the paper best.)
And the reason I will continue to read it is because the lineup of talent is better than you'll find at any other racing publication or website: Keith Waltz, Dave Argabright, Gary London (he's a riot), Bill Oursler, Susan Wade (she does a great job on drag racing), Ron Hedger, Keith Shampine on supermodifieds and Mike Kerchner are all terrific reads, week in and week out. And their F1 correspondent, Dan Knutson, is second-to-none.
But it won’t be the same any more without Chris on page 4 and that’s too bad.
Because it’s a reminder that my life is tickin' right along too.
P.S. His absence is showing. The latest issue (the second of 2011) contains two corrections in the new column. That sort of thing rarely happened when “Ye Ed” was on the job.