News & Media

Economaki, 'Dean of American Motorsports,' dies

September 28, 2012, The Associated Press,

Chris Economaki, known as the "Dean of American Motorsports," died early Friday morning. He was 91.

"The passing of Chris Economaki is a tough loss for me on both a personal and professional level, having known Chris throughout my life," said Brian France, NASCAR chairman and CEO. "Many people consider Chris the greatest motorsports journalist of all time. He was, indeed, the Dean. Chris was a fixture for years at NASCAR events, and played a huge role in growing NASCAR's popularity. I'll miss seeing him and of course, I'll miss hearing that voice. Our thoughts and prayers are with his daughters Corinne and Tina and the rest of Chris' family."

Economaki began selling single copies of National Speed Sport News at age 14 and eventually became the publication's editor, a position he held for 60 years.

Economaki next turned his attention and energies to broadcasting, covering several Indianapolis 500s, Daytona 500s, Formula 1 Grand Prix races and other motorsports events for ABC Wide World of Sports in the 1960s. Two decades later, he moved to CBS Sports and later contributed to ESPN and TBS motorsports programming.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Economaki, circa 1985 (Smyle Media)

Others offered their thoughts on Economaki's legacy and contributions to motorsports journalism.

Jeff Gordon: "Speed Sport News is something that I read religiously. Chris did a lot for that newspaper and for motorsports, and he was passionate about all of it. The last time I saw him was earlier this year, and still that is all he thought about was racing. And he cared so much about what was happening in this sport and wanted to make a difference and wanted to get those stories out there. It's just not very often that you come across somebody that puts their heart and soul and entire life mission into that."

Matt Kenseth: "You would hear him when NASCAR racing first started being on TV, or at least being on TV in Wisconsin before I could see it in person, and you couldn't help but notice Chris. He was one of the first and probably the most recognizable and famous voices there was with motorsports, and I'm sad to hear about his passing."

Tony Stewart: "He has covered racing for so long, not only been a journalist but a great announcer at the same time and pit reporter. I don't think anybody here that has been involved in racing for very long didn't get Speed Sport News every week. Luckily, Speed Sport News is still going on and then it got turned over to some really good hands. The guy that started it all unfortunately we lost."

Danica Patrick: "I just know how instrumental he's been in certain things and how long he's been around. It's sad. It's sad that any time someone who has been around forever and is a legend dies."

Bruton Smith, Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman: "Chris loved the racing business as much as anybody you'll ever know. He was a great storyteller because he knew so much, and he'd seen so much. He was just so knowledgeable and must have visited nearly every race track in the world. He was a walking encyclopedia when it came to racing and probably knew more about motor racing than anybody who is alive today. It didn't matter if it was open wheel, NASCAR or what happened at the local short track, Chris knew about it. He made it his business to travel all over the world and he saw it all. There was no form of motorsports he was not acquainted with.

"He was a remarkable man. I enjoyed every moment I ever spent with him. We will miss him. I don't know where you'll ever find another Chris Economaki, but I wish we had more of him. He was a great reporter, a great writer and a great announcer. He was respected by everyone in the business, and he was just great for our sport."

Grant Lynch, Talladega Superspeedway chairman: "Our hearts are heavy at the loss of Chris Economaki. Chris was a legend of motorsports media and will truly be missed. He touched so many lives during his time in our sport, not just those he that interviewed, but the thousands of readers and viewers who enjoyed his stories. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this time."

Mike Joy, NASCAR on Fox and Speed play-by-play announcer: "Chris Economaki became the prototype for all radio and television journalists in his sport. His depth of knowledge and skilled questioning made network execs understand that auto racing needed specialists to properly cover the sport. Chris opened the door for a whole generation of voices you hear today, and we are all indebted to him."

Dr. Dick Berggren, veteran motor sports journalist and Speed reporter: "Chris was the most premier auto-racing journalist who ever was and ever will be. We'll never again see someone as incredibly diverse and successful at his craft. Chris was every bit as at home with a microphone at a local short track as he was covering the Indianapolis 500 or Daytona 500. Dave Despain and I had a similar conversation with Chris regarding how we could improve our performance. Chris said simply, 'Ask a good question.' How appropriate today when some journalists make a statement to the driver or athlete and expect him or her to agree, but they don't ask a question."

Ralph Sheheen, voice of AMA on Speed and co-owner, publisher of National Speed Sport News: "Chris Economaki was the Dean of American Motorsports journalism. With his typewriter and unmatched enthusiasm he made National Speed Sport News the most-read racing publication and his Editor's Notebook an absolute must-read. With his voice he made racing exciting and helped to elevate it in the mainstream sports world through television and radio. Everyone in the racing community, whether they are members of the media, racers or fans, owes Chris a debt of gratitude for his passion and dedication to racing."

Steve Byrnes, host of NASCAR Race Hub: "Chris was the standard for motorsports journalism. He essentially invented the business of covering motorsports. I was fortunate enough to cover some races for WTBS with him in the '80s and learned volumes from him. He always told me to ask a question. 'Don't answer the question.' This day, I still hear his voice in my head, 'Don't answer it. Just ask it. Ask the driver how they won. Ask the team how they won.' That was just one specific lesson I learned. They called him the Dean for a reason. But not only did he work incredibly hard and ask the hard questions, he enjoyed life and could tell a joke to lighten the mood in a flash. He will be greatly missed."

Adam Alexander, host of Speed Center: "When it comes to motorsports, you simply cannot measure Chris' contributions. His dedication and tireless work helped promote the sport and its many drivers over the years. His presence on the air and his knowledge of all forms of racing made him one of a kind. No one does it today like Chris did it for so many years."

Bob Dillner, SPEED reporter: "Chris was someone after whom many of us tried to model ourselves. He always asked the tough question and always took into account what the fans wanted to know, whether they were watching him on TV, listening to him on radio or reading his newspaper. ... Chris always gave me great advice and taught me to look for the story inside the story because you may not realize what really is there. He loved all types of racing from the Cup Series to the short tracks. He was a true racer and an inspiration in my career. Chris Economaki was one of the real pioneers of our sport who helped build it to what it is today."

Edsel B. Ford II, member of the Ford Motor Co. board of directors: "All of us at Ford Motor Company are sorry to hear of Chris Economaki's passing last night. He was an icon of the sport of auto racing and a familiar, knowledgeable face and voice to millions of race fans around the world. His influence on the growth of auto racing in the United States cannot be underestimated. National Speed Sport News covered everything from the greatest drivers around the globe to the local short trackers who competed for their families and fans around this country. Chris respected and loved them all, and they loved him back."

Kevin Kennedy, Ford Racing Communications director: "Chris' passing marks the end of a great era of auto racing and how it was covered in this country. He truly loved the sport, probably more than any journalist I knew, but he also loved the people who made up the sport, and was quick to tell a great story, say a kind word to those new to the sport, and hold court on any subject the sport could dish out. I'll miss that great voice, and the fabulous stories, the Monday morning calls as he was finishing his weekly column, and, of course, the manual typewriter that every media center kept for him. His influence on the media, and the PR people who work in the sport, will never be matched."