Chris Economaki 1921- 2012

Long-time racing journalist Chris Economaki has died at the age of 91. Although he was primarily known in the United States of America, he spent many seasons attending the F1 races as a commentator with ESPN. A native of Brooklyn, Economaki came from a curious background: his father being an immigrant from Greece and his mother a relative of Confederate General Robert E Lee. He saw his first race, on a board track, at Atlantic City, when he was nine and later tried driving by realised that his talents lay elsewhere. He began writing in his teens and became the editor of National Speed Sport News in 1950, after serving in the US Army in Europe at the end of World War II. He eventually became owner, publisher, and editor of the magazine and passed it on to his daughter Corinne until it finally closed its doors in March last year.

Chris became a track commentator in the late 1940s and early 1950s and moved to television in 1961 with ABC Wide World of Sports, his commentaries including Indianapolis 500s, Daytona 500s, Formula 1 Grand Prix races, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the East African Safari, and even the Bathurst 1000. He remained with ABC for more than 20 years before switching to CBS Sports and covered F1 with ESPN in the late 1980s before being replaced by Bob Varsha.

21 thoughts on “Chris Economaki 1921- 2012

  1. Like Chris Economaki, I also attended Ridgewood High School. One day he was our guest speaker and for me that was naturally a thrill. I grew up in Ho-Ho-Kus, next door, where Chris attended his first races. The track was long gone when I grew up, replaced with a housing development on “Racetrack Road” … it’s only memory. Every week I’d hit the news stand on Ridgewood Avenue, by the train station and pick up a copy of his weekly National Speed Sport News. Page six, was my first order of business back then. I met him subsequently at races. He had a great, subtle sense of humor. Two that come to mind he did on television reporting: “They use what is known as stagger and stagger is not what some may think of the mechanics way of returning after a long night at a bar… ” . Or reporting on Nelson Piquet “… Nelson Piquet stated that Ayrton Senna preferred the company of men” then pausing a two count, cocking his head ever so slightly and his eyes opening wide “to women”. Chris will always be known as one of the great, pioneering racing journalists of all time, and rightfully so, both in print and television. However, his sense of humor was part of his human side, which should also be hailed. Godspeed Mr. Economaki and Thank You!

  2. I flicked through the search to recall the voice, because this jogged a memory, though I was not save occasionally aware of him, and the first clip I found was him reminiscing how he cut the chain fence or sneaked through to see a race when he was a kid. Then the next thing, he’s almost salivating over recalling first seeing a rotary press. I can level with that. Heady stuff. I had not heard his name for years, because I am still young enough for him to have been mentioned as a legend in a kind of past tense. No slouch at all, and that embodies the mentality. Sad to hear of his passing. I am suddenly thinking, when this blog was fairly quiet, a few piped up and asked Joe how to get in the business. Holy Mary, consider what people have for kit at their disposal today, compared with when a rotary was a big deal to print word! It’s all the difference between dedication and thinking there’s some kind of trick to being passionate and communicative, that somehow you fix the obstacles before you commit yourself. I can only salute this guy, for his last journey, and hope in another few years we won’t have lost all collective memory of can – do real men.

    Here’s what caught my eye on his wikipedia entry:

    “He wrote his first column at age 14 for the National Auto Racing News”

    yup, dedication. Respect from me.

  3. Sad to hear the news, his voice was one of the most recognizable when I first started watching F1 in the 80s. I always appreciated the depth of his knowledge of the sport, from small town circle track racing to F1. RIP Chris.

  4. For all of us US fans “of a certain age”, he was pivotal in our growing interest in auto racing.
    My earliest memory is of his distinctive voice and style reporting in a half-hour presentation called “Sebring-The Twelve Hour Grind”. I was captivated by the images and descriptions of the day-into-night racing. Mind you, this was black-and-white TV…had to be the early sixties.
    I was a loyal subscriber to his publication from 1984 to the end. It was largely done in by the internet. In the week it took the paper to reach you, all the news was already old hat. But his coiumn was a must-read…just like this one is today.
    Thanks, Chris.

    1. Just on the “done in by the internet” thing, I’ve spent my life growing up with the internet developing, and yet being sad and worried how it blew up print magazines of wonderful variety. But I still don’t suss why (not in a short para, anyhow) because print is still many times the market for online ads. Sometimes, uncharitably, I think online caught the ad agency game because it simply offered more opportunity to fix the numbers. Yeah, I’ll go with that, because I remember “reputable” almost household name agencies holding forth that every single element of a web page was a “impression”. Not just that, but many businesses saw their own website as a equivalent part to a advertising page. I think that was way over done, compared with when you are small and sending a message matters more because you are not well known yet. Sometimes I reckon all the sane budget got diverted, and pretty awful web designers mopped up. Maybe no coincidence that top ad sales guys I knew jumped on that. I’ve seen no results we could read, in the hand, from all that change. There was, and remains, a arms race of BS about this. It makes me very sad when it also denudes us of unique voices and a read that doesn’t require batteries, or that you can hand to your neighbour friend or stranger, physically, and say “check this out, this is cool!” That one doesn’t work on my Amazon Kindle. Blogs and such don’t count for me the same way as independent publishing, but just look at the people who thrived and entertained us when that was a saner market…

      1. I used to be an avid subscriber to Autoweek, Road&Track, Racer, and several other auto-racing related mags. Not any more.
        1. With the exception of a few feature articles and interviews the news was usually redundant.
        2. The cost WAS becoming prohibitive until the Internet came along. Just received a renewal offer for R&T for a whopping $8.00 annually.
        3. All of the “news” in print mags is now dated when you can stay current on the internet.
        4. Most of the mags are now available on line anyway.

        I now spend part of my subscription budget on GP+,!

  5. Nice to know he lived such long life (hoping it was in good health of course). As an adolescent in the 60’s it was his commentary on ABC Sports ant the writings of Denis Jenkinson (Motor Sport) and Henry Manney III (Road & Track) that helped cultivate my love for the sport.

  6. Here in the US..we grew up on Chris Economaki, He wasn’t an Indy guy or a stock car guy..he reported on everything with a hard charging journalist attitude of “get the story”. NSSN and Autoweek/competition press were the go to weeklies for racing news..then only NSSN that reported on every part of racing…Economaki understood racing from the basic sat nite dirt race/sunday afternoon club race and all up to the big league. We will miss him..

    1. Do you mean John (other John)? No, I can’t work it out either.

      Have commented in the past, but I don’t like to be rude. Just can’t get on that wavelength, think it must be analogue.

      1. Assuming that talk was about my further comment, and I am ashamed if so, at several levels. I was really just saying there was a whole other system of how people wrote and published and were enthusiastic not very long ago. I was struck how Economaki took like a duck to water to any new technology of his day, because he clearly was a natural wanting to enthuse about the sport, and in comparison I’m somewhat appalled how easy it is to use the internet to reach a audience today. Back when he started, a printing press was gold, and a voice more so. I was simply humbled by his endeavours.

        If you see it, that was all a swipe at me and my generation, and me. I merely wanted to expand as to how much later generations have taken the tools of the press for granted, and admire someone who cut it when they were rare resources.

        I hope that’s a lot clearer. I so nearly cut that last comment, and probably should have. My apologies. Very silly of me to mix up my appreciation of media with the memory of a man. ~ john

    2. FastEric, I am actually called John, and FWIW was given the name at birth. No matter. So long as you know I did by no means intend to speak funny or disrepute the man who is discussed, then cool by me. I just wan’t christened with the inverted commas . . Okay, I am simply not great at writing concisely, or even sometimes as clearly as I would like, despite the fact we all know there’s a wide range of comprehension out there, which confuses me as to how to write sometimes, but I was discussing someone else, of far greater note, and it feels very uncomfortable to be discussing me for what I think is no reason. If I did wrong, I’d be a lot happier if you used the second person, not third person, to address me.

  7. Joe – Thanks for the tribute to Chris Economaki. My initial exposure to motorsport came during the late ’60’s & early ’70’s. Chris was in his prime on TV at the time, and without a doubt, he was a tremendous factor in my becoming a racing fan, and hence, reading your blog some 40+ years later. As for a “curious background”, I would argue that Chris was typically American in heritage. My grandfather was an Irish immigrant and my grandmother Belgian, and I married a great-(great) grand niece of Jefferson Davis. In this country, the deck is shuffled every generation and you just “deal” with it – pun intended! Keep up the good work.

  8. A few years ago I managed to crash the hospitality tent of Dyson Racing at Lime Rock Park here in Ct.. Managed to sit at a table near Chris Economaki as he recounted various stories. Never new he was there until he spoke. The body had aged but the voice was still distinct and unforgettable! He was treated with respect and courtesy a legend of his status deserved. Regret not having the balls to ask him for an autograph, but I was an uninvited guest!

  9. Well at least now Chris can provide the answer to one his own famous questions…..and lifes big Question…
    “What’s it like out there”

  10. Thank you for taking the time to write about Chris Economaki. Your one of the only folks that I know of that goes out of their way to write about the lives of people that brought so much to racing on the non-driving side of things.

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