An icon, legend and pioneer of American motorsports journalism passed away Friday morning. Chris Economaki was 91.
Economaki was inextricably linked to National Speed Sport News, in its original guise, for more than 75 years. He began selling copies of the paper at age 14 and his famous Editor's Notebook started roughly at the same time, in 1934.
Economaki's paper sales as a teenager earned him $2, he said, for 200 copies sold in 1934. That number increased to 700 or 800 sold by the mid-1940s. It was then he moved into announcing.
At the track, Economaki served as one of the most prominent track announcers in history and was a legendary voice on TV broadcasts. He spent large amounts of time on ABC's Wide World of Sports, and later on CBS and ESPN. Economaki was part of the first live TV broadcast of the Daytona 500, the memorable 1979 race that included the last-lap accident and ensuing fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison.
Mario Andretti said simply in 2004, “If he wasn't aware of you, you simply weren't a factor in this sport.”
His at-track appearances became less frequent as he aged, although he was still prominent in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway press room with his famed typewriter through open-wheel unification in 2008. The IMS media interview room is named for him.
In 2006, the Trackside Conference Room at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Center was renamed the Economaki Press Conference Room in honor of Economaki's legendary accomplishments.
“Chris was the dean of motorsports journalism,” said Jeff Belskus, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president and chief executive officer. “His accurate, incisive reporting helped increase the audience of the sport and put the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, its events and competitors into the global spotlight. He set a standard for others to follow for generations and will be deeply missed. Our thoughts, sympathies and prayers are with his family and friends.”
Funeral arrangements were announced late Friday. The wake will be held Monday, Oct. 1, from 4-8 p.m. at Nativity Church, 315 Prospect St. in Midland Park, N.J. The funeral Mass and Interment will be on Tuesday, Oct. 2, at 10:30 a.m. at the same address. A repast will be held Tuesday at 12:30 p.m., at the Brickhouse Restaurant, 179 Godwin Ave, in Wyckoff, N.J.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the International Motor Racing Research Center in Chris's name, 610 South Decatur Street, Watkins Glen, N.Y. 14891.
Tributes have been pouring in already across social media this morning and some are shared below. More to follow throughout the day.
- Ralph Sheheen, publisher, National Speed Sport News: “It is a very sad day for the NSSN family & the racing community w/the passing of the Dean of American Motorsports Journalism Chris Economaki.”
- IndyCar statement: “INDYCAR and the world of motorsports have lost a true friend with the passing of Chris Economaki. The Dean of American motorsports journalists, Chris dedicated most of his life to reporting the sport of auto racing and telling the stories of the heroes of our sport. He was truly one of a kind. We send our thoughts and condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.”
- Kenny Wallace, NASCAR driver: “I grew up in St.Louis Happy and eXcited to get the "SPEED SPORT NEWS" Paper out of my mailbox, I will miss Chris Economaki.”
- Darrell Waltrip, NASCAR champion/FOX broadcaster: “Sorry to hear about Chris Economaki passing, he interviewed me many times in the '70's, he had a distinct style and voice, RIP old friend”
- Michael Waltrip, NASCAR owner: “RIP Chris Economaki. Loved your passion.”
- Jeff Gluck, SB Nation motorsports editor: “I remember watching Chris Economaki sit on a couch in Pocono media center and just tell stories. I thought, ‘I hope this guy lives forever.'”
- Marty Smith, ESPN NASCAR reporter: “RIP Chris Economaki. Proud moment for me was at Pocono cpl yrs back when he told me, ‘Son, u do one hell of a job.' Legendary passion.”
- Jamie Little: ESPN NASCAR/IndyCar pit reporter: “I'll always remember Chris Economaki pecking away at his typewriter in the @IMS media center....even in the era of technology! #Legend”
- Dave Moody, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio: “Everyone in this business owes their livelihood to Chris Economaki. Directly or indirectly, he taught us all. Thank you, Chris.”
- Tony DiZinno, RACER web editor, "Wow, utterly gutted to hear of Mr. Economaki's passing. He gave me my start in racing journalism in 2005."
- David Caraviello, NASCAR.com: “Didn't know Chris Economaki, but loved him as no-nonsense pit reporter. Got sense he wasn't too friendly w/those he covered. Will be missed.”
- Anne Proffit, Race Engine Technology: “Glad @IMS honored Chris Economaki before he died to show #respect for true #journalist – keep typewriter in his spot?”
- Chad Willis, former NASCAR PR rep: “Saddened to hear of the passing of Chris Economaki. Loved working with him in my #NASCAR PR days. God Speed, Chris.#Legend”
- @TheOrangeCone: “Chris Economaki has died at the age of 91. Anyone who's ever watched racing on TV or read about it in a trade paper owes him a debt... #RIP
- @IMS: “Legendary motorsports journalist, Chris Economaki, passed away today. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”
- @DetroitGP: “We're deeply saddened to learn of the loss of longtime motorsports journalist and personality Chris Economaki. You'll be missed Chris.”
- Bristol Motor Speedway (@BMSUpdates): “RIP Chris Economaki. A motorsports legend in every true sense of the word. Perhaps racing's greatest ambassador. Ever. #NASCAR”