Thu04172014

Last updateTue, 04 Nov 2014 9pm

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Reflections on the passing of an old friend

The old saying “Nothing lasts forever” was brought home to me once again, and quite unexpectedly, last week with the arrival of the mail on Wednesday.

Growing up in a small town in the 1950s there was precious little information available on a regular basis for a young race fan. The newspapers didn’t cover auto racing, except for the occasional picture of a spectacular crash and a

brief story after the Indianapolis 500.

My first regular source of information was Speed Age magazine; trouble was it only came out once a month. When you’re a kid, a month is a really long time. I searched local newsstands each month waiting for the latest edition of Speed Age to arrive.

Television was no help. Those of us, as they say of “a certain age,” will well remember the tiny screens and three or four channels we had to choose from. No 200 cable channels, no satellite dishes. Even worse, no Speed Channel or ESPN. Times were tough for a race fan in the so-called good old days.

Things started looking up with the beginning of ABC Television’s Wide World of Sports in 1961. Beginning with the Firecracker 250 from Daytona, they began to carry taped highlights of NASCAR Racing, and also the general racing scene in the United States. That was the first I had heard of an announcer from New Jersey named Chris Economaki. I was really late to the party. It just shows what small worlds we lived in back in those pre-Internet, pre-cable TV days. Turns out Chris Economaki had been the editor and publisher of a racing newspaper called National Speed Sport News since pre-World War II days. It quickly gained a new reader and subscriber, and I had a regular weekly source of the latest goings on in the world of racing. I have read and enjoyed it ever since.

Economaki is a fascinating character. With his slicked down black hair, horned rimmed glasses and “Jersey” accent, Economaki looked like anything but your typical “car guy.” But boy, does he know his stuff. Back then, they didn’t have former crew chiefs with cut away cars for the announcers to turn to and explain set ups and the workings of the race cars, but Chris had the ability to stand in front of the TV camera, microphone in hand and explain the most complex issues of chassis set ups, engines and gear ratios in terms the average viewer could understand. His first love has always been the Midgets and Sprint cars that dominated racing in the East Coast and Midwest since before WWII. Each week National Speed Sport News is a wealth of information not only about NASCAR, but other forms of racing.

I picked up last week’s edition of National Speed Sport News and read the headlines on the front page, “Rowdy Sweeps again” and “Peugeot Power,” a reference to the American LeMans Racing Series. It wasn’t until I got to page six that I got the biggest news of the week. This was the paper’s last issue. Columnist Dave Argabright went on to say, “It is perhaps a sign of the times, where shifting consumer habits have reshaped the world of information and media. National Speed Sport News has informed and influenced the sport for 77 years.”

Chris Economaki turned 90 this year. Just a couple of months ago he gave up writing his weekly column for the paper. For years his column was the first thing most readers turned to when they opened the paper. The man has an encyclopedic memory of racing minutia. A couple of years ago I sat in the media center at Richmond International Raceway and listened and watched in awe as a writer showed Econamiki a collection of racecar pictures from years past, mostly Sprint Cars and midgets, he had on his lap top. It was fascinating to listen to Economaki’s comments about the history of each and every car, drivers, races won, etc. Many went back to the 1940s and some even pre-World War II.

In this era of instant communications with the Internet, laptops, tablets, smart phones, and more, where we can dial up Jayski, NASCAR.com, or every driver or team owner’s website 24-7 for the latest information, it was still great fun to read what the staff of NSSN had to say each week.

You may reach Pete Barber
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