An icon of the motorsports whose voice was for many motorsports itself has been silenced as the legendary, long-time editor of National Speed Sport News, Chris Economaki, died Sunday morning.
Truly a gentleman and as knowledgeable about open- and closed-car racing as any writer could be, Economaki began his long career as a motorsports journalist with his first piece for Speed Sport News at 14, SportTV reported today.
The longtime voice of ABC, ESPN and CBS motorsports, he was probably best known for his contributions to NASCAR racing on CBS and to ABC’s now-defunct, “Wide World of Sports,” where, if there was a race, you were sure to hear the distinctive tones of Economaki. He was literally a walking encyclopedia of racing. Trusted by racers, race team owners, other motoring journalists, Economaki was of an era that faced the Great Depression of last century. He went on to survive World War II which followed hard on the heels of the Depression.
Indeed, he took over full editorship of National Speed Sport News in 1949, a post he held until long past the point where most people would be slowing down and retiring. If anything, during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Economaki seemed to be everywhere with expert commentary on any form of racing and with comments from racing team owners, who trusted the son of a Greek immigant implicitly. Economaki was born here and would have celebrated his 92nd birthday in about three weeks.
(Ed. Note: The author of this piece has been involved with journalism and automotive journalism for more than half-a-century.)
Economaki’s encyclopedic knowledge of racing and his friendships with drivers, team owners, fellow journalists and his knowledge of cars, their handling and changes that were coming that would impact motorsports made him the master for many writers.
SportsTV put it well when they noted that while some journalists or commentators were put on television to bring the viewers a show, Economaki, whose voice was unmistakeable, was there to bring you the news.
Economaki was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame 20 years ago. He was the first journlaist so honored. He also was honored by the National Midget Hall of Fame as well as the Sprint Car Hall of Fame. Indeed, the list of honors and awards, SportsTV notes, that Economaki amassed, is far too long to reocrd here.
Called the “Dean of American Motorsports,” Economaki’s work was trusted worldwide because of its depth, breadth and honesty. For example, in the mid-1960s, the Offenhauser camp on the open-air road circuit didn’t want the world to know that its vehicles weren’t as great as their teams would have the public believe. They were underpowered and their handling was, to put it mildly, quite strange ad Chris described the Offie as have both understeer and oversteer at the same time.
Times were changing
Given the lines of the Offenhauser, the size of its engine and its suspensional geometry, one can see where that might be true. The Offenhauser (Offie) was designed in the 1930s era when Mercedes was dominating both road-racing and Formula 1. Offenhauser was our attempt to compete and it did.
The only problem is that while the US rolled through the 40s and 50s with the same basic over-the-rearwheels-design Offie, other designs were in the air, including the Lotus design and the rear-engine/rear-drive design that Jackie Stewart was tearing up tracks with for Ford.
The handwriting was clearly on the wall — and I remember Chris saying so — as metals technology was also overtaking and passing the much heavier Offie. And, wheel and suspension technology were clearly taking them past Offenhauser’s too.
Who will be new voice?
By about 1969, the Offenhauser-styling was being scaled down to midget size and some outlaws were also adding huge blowers so they could do their circle track runs. Chris covered them, too, as they were important and some of the technology the used actually made its way across to the legitimate world such as adjustable suspensions and engine technolgy.
That Economaki was able to talk with team owners, racers and team mechanics and never make anyone feel as if they were inferior was his gift, as was his encyclopedic knowledge of cars and construction.
Now that voice has been stilled and a new generation of auto journalists or bloggers will only have either the factories or themselves to listen to primarily. It’s amazing how smart we all are when we’re talking to ourselves, isn’t it? If you’d talked with Chris you would have been learning and would never really have known you were talking about technical issues.