One of the most recognisable voices in motor sport, including three appearances at Bathurst on the Seven network, Chris Economaki has passed away at the age of 91.
Known as the “The Dean of American Motorsports” Economaki’s influence was not just in the US, but internationally he was highly regarded by colleagues, drivers, team owners, officials and most importantly the fans. The style of pit reporting that is seen today in every form of racing, was pioneered by Economaki.
In so many respects Economaki should not have been a commentator, he didn’t have the look or indeed the voice. Even though his voice did not have that clean broadcast slick sound, it had the one key element – knowledge. This shone through in every report Economaki conducted.
This knowledge came off the back of his work as a journalist which began at the age of 13 (1933) selling copies of National Speed Sport News newspapers; in 1950 he became the editor. Economaki began writing a column called “The Editor’s Notebook”, which he continued to write over fifty years later. As well as the editor, he eventually became owner and publisher of the National Speed Sport News. The newspaper was considered “America’s Weekly Motorsports Authority”. His daughter Corinne Economaki took over as the publisher until the final issue of National Speed Sport News was published, on March 23, 2011.
On the back of a recommendation by NASCAR founder Bill France Sr, his broadcast TV career began in 1961 calling the Firecracker 250 NASCAR race at Daytona for ABC Sports USA. His voice was then heard over the years at Indianapolis, Formula One Grand Prix races, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the East African Safari, and of course Bathurst. Economaki is best-remembered for his work in the pits at Mount Panorama in 1979, ’80 and ’82. His influence leading to NASCAR boss Bill France Jr coming to the Great Race as the Grand Marshall in 1982. He also came to Australia in 1988 for the Goodyear 500 NASCAR race at the Calder Park Thunderdome.
Economaki was a commentator up until the end of the 1990s and he was still appearing on telecasts and specials until recent years.
Of those to lead the tributes to Economaki were Brian France and Edsel B Ford II.
“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.”
“All of us at Ford Motor Company are sorry to hear of Chris Economaki’s passing last night,” said Edsel B. Ford II, member of the Ford Motor Co.board of directors and great grandson of Henry Ford. “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.”
Earlier this year Speedcafe.com contacted Economaki for an interview for ‘Where are they Now?’ His daughter Corinne replied and respectively declined the offer saying that Economaki was not in good health.
Economaki is survived by his two daughters, Corinne and Tina, and two grandchildren.
Here is the US legend at Bathurst in 1979
Economaki speaks with Dick Barber and CCR1 in 1979
Outstanding interview with Economaki on his life