by: Cody Dinsmore
Christopher Constantine Economaki was born in Brooklyn New York on October 15, 1920. His father was Greek, and ironically, his mother was a great-niece to Confederate general, Robert E. Lee. Chris went to his first auto race in 1929, just months before the stock market crash that October. The race was a board track, which was popular for the time up North. The track was located just outside of Atlantic City, and he was a regular there for the next decade. That was the track where he raced his one and only race, in a borrowed midget. Driving in the sport he loved just wasn’t for him. Pretty soon, around the age of 11 or 12, he voluntarily sold copies of a local paper, National Speed Sport News. They were a nickel each, and in return, he received one penny. An average of $2 per race day was good pay during the depression. Even some adults didn’t receive that much pay for many jobs.
When he was just 14 years old, he started writing a column for the paper he lovingly sold every week. It was called “Gas-O-Line” and he wrote about different aspects in racing. In 1938, he was 17 years old, and he hitch-hiked down to Indianapolis with $15 in his pocket. He was gone for about a week watching some good racing and after he came home, he had spent only $12 of his 1938 dollars. Soon after he got back, he helped a friend with his midget car and spent the next season traveling with him. His friend was severely underfunded and really couldn’t compete. Economaki acted as his crew chief…..and that was his one and only time doing that.
After a stint in driving and trying his hand at being a crew chief, in addition to his regular contributions to National Speed Sport News, he put it all aside for a couple of years to serve in the U.S Army during the war. He went to Europe and fought on the front line. He came home and went back to work, right where he’d left off. After ten years, he finally went back to see the Indy 500, and returned each year for more than 60 years, from 1948-2010.
In 1950, he became the chief editor of National Speed Sport News. His announcing career was introduced in 1951, when NASCAR founder, Bill France hired him to call the NASCAR races at Daytona Beach. After that, he started to ‘sell’ himself to other tracks to let him announce when he wasn’t there to cover a race for his publication. His unique voice soon became recognizable at many tracks across several racing circuits. In 1959, Bill France hired him to be the announcer for his new big track at Daytona. That lasted until 1961, when The American Broadcasting Company, otherwise known as ABC, hired Chris to cover races from the pits.
He was the first to commentate about racing on television. Even though the first live race was in 1971, and the first flag-flag coverage in 79′, starting with Economaki in 1961, the races were filmed, but cut down to portions for ABC’s “Wide World of Sports”. Now, Mr. Economaki was heard nationwide, from the comforts of home. Since he had now almost 30 years of racing knowledge, he could translate what was going on during a race to the fans at home. And when it came time to interview drivers, especially after a crash for instance, he would ask the questions that no other journalists would venture to ask. After all, his listeners, viewers, and readers expected the truth about what happened, not a ‘guess’ or a change of words. Chris had a keen sense of what was going on, and knew most of the drivers. Just imagine what he might ask one of the Busch Brothers if he had been still active.
After 23 years of working with ABC, he was lured away by CBS and covered not only Daytona races, but also his beloved Indianapolis 500′s in addition to other events such as the 24-Hours of Daytona, and Formula One Races. In 1995, he was discharged by CBS because of a racial comment made in his National Speed Sport News column….but then again, he was writing what he had on his mind. After this, he stepped away from many TV and announcing positions with the exception of every Daytona Speedweeks, when he joined his fellow and former colleagues, such as Dave Despain, and Ken Squier.
With a full lifetime of pride in his typewriter, the last publication of HIS National Speed Sport News was printed on March 23, 2011. [Editor's note* The publication now operates digitally under new ownership, as noted on the website, "National Speed Sport News" is now used under an exclusive license agreement Turn 3 Media, LLC. Doing business as National Speed Sport News, the new owners offer the website www.nationalspeedsportnews.com, a new monthly magazine “SPEED SPORT Magazine“, and will be rolling out a variety of motorsports media products and initiatives over the coming years."]
Speaking of his typewriter, it had been said that even with the technology of computers, he wrote all of his articles on a typewriter. He didn’t email, or send them in letters, he called the printer, and spoke the entire article, word for word, in his booming announcer voice.
His wife, Alvera Helene (Tomljanovic), passed away in 2001, and Chris Economaki, the “Dean of American Motorsports Journalism” passed away on September 28th, 2012, just shy of his 92nd birthday.
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(Editor’s note: Cody Dinsmore is a member of the regular cast of the Tuesday evening racing show ” Racing Through History”, presented on Zeus Radio Network by RacersReunion®. Archives can be found by following the link. Live broadcasts can be heard from 7:00-9:00 PM every Tuesday. Please feel free to join us in the RacersReunion® Chat Room for the show.)