Chris Economaki’s impact transcended journalism

jutter@charlotteobserver.comSeptember 29, 2012 

— Chris Economaki was a motorsports journalist.

Based on the accolades which poured in Friday on the news of his death, it was clear he had as big an impact on the sport as any competitor.

Economaki, a voice for motorsports in print, on radio and on TV for nearly his entire life, died Friday in Ridgewood, N.J., where he spent most of his childhood. He was 91.

Economaki, known fondly as the “Dean of American Motorsports,” began selling copies of National Speed Sport News at age 13 and eventually became the publication’s editor – a position he held for 60 years.

“The passing of Chris Economaki is a tough loss for me on both a personal and professional level, having known Chris throughout my life,” NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said in a statement.

“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.”

With his coarse, distinctive and direct voice, Economaki began working as a track announcer throughout the Northeast until getting his big break in 1950 when NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. recommended he be part of ABC’s first telecast from Daytona International Speedway in 1979.

From the high banks of Daytona and Talladega to the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway and all the out-of-the-way short tracks in between, Economaki spent a career sharing the stories of motorsports.

“Chris dedicated most of his life to reporting the sport of auto racing and telling the stories of the heroes of our sport,” said a statement released by the IndyCar Series on Friday.

“He was truly one of a kind.”

Economaki received numerous awards throughout his career, including the NASCAR Award of Excellence and the NASCAR Lifetime Achievement Award. He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1994.

Visitation is 4 to 8 p.m. Monday at Nativity Church in Midland Park, N.J. His life will be celebrated with a funeral mass at the Nativity Church at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the International Motor Racing Research Center in Economaki’s name, 610 South Decatur St., Watkins Glen, N.Y. 14891.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Tommye. He is survived by his daughters, Corinne and Tina, and two grandchildren.

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