Posted October 3, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Murto: Racing world loses an icon


By Craig Murto - sports@nvdaily.com

Auto racing lost an international treasure when Chris Economaki died last week at the age of 91.

Economaki, the longtime publisher and editor of National Speed Sport News, saw it all. In 1934 at the age of 14 his career began, as he delivered the paper that later would become his. Throughout the years he saw the many changes in racing, and held many jobs in the sport.

He worked briefly as a mechanic, had an unsuccessful stint as a driver, worked as a promoter -- and all the while Speed Sport News was there. In the early '50s Bill France asked Economaki to announce the Daytona races on the beach course. That relationship became important, as in 1961 when ABC Wide World of Sports wanted to broadcast NASCAR races, France refused unless they hired somebody who "knew which way the cars go" -- and that person was Economaki.

For decades he was a broadcast journalist, and was as comfortable in the garage at Monaco as he was at Daytona or the Sacramento mile dirt track. Economaki fit in everywhere he went.

And all the while, Speed Sport News was there. His "Editor's Notebook" became essential reading for anybody in the motorsports industry. Economaki knew the industry.

The first time I spoke with Economaki was in the 1980s when I called Speed Sports News' New Jersey office to inquire about a problem I had with my subscription. Much to my surprise, Economaki himself answered the phone and took care of the problem.

In 2002, Larry O'Donohue -- the producer of In the Pits Racing radio -- and I were asked to travel to Charlotte and announce a Stock Car Championship Series event on the road course. Economaki was the Grand Marshall. When he saw the Late Model Racer magazine golf shirts we wore, he said, "Oh, the competition."

Of course, Economaki had no competition. He entertained us with some of the many stories he had from his many years in the sport, and was gracious enough to pose for some photos as we stood in awe of the Dean of Motorsports Journalism. Meeting Economaki was the highlight of that day at Charlotte.

There is not a single motorsports journalist working today who doesn't owe a debt of gratitude to Economaki. The sport lost a true pioneer, one of the most important people in motorsports in the 20th century. As far as motorsports journalists go, Economaki was peerless.

Economaki was dedicated and loyal to the sport of auto racing, but it seems that within the sport, loyalty and dedication have gone missing.

Only weeks after telling Regan Smith he was good for next season, the No. 78 Furniture Row Sprint Cup team announced that Kurt Busch will drive the car next year. Smith, who gave the team its only win, even moved to Denver to be close to the race shop; so much for loyalty.

Also in the lack of loyalty category is Lewis Hamilton. The former Formula One world champion never would have made it to the big show if McLaren hadn't been bankrolling his career since he was a teen. But Hamilton just announced he's jumping ship to join the Mercedes team and replace Michael Schumacher. In 52 starts since Mercedes joined F1, it has a single win and McLaren has 16. Hamilton may be making a colossal mistake.

F1 made a colossal mistake by black-balling Nelson Piquet Jr. because he revealed that he was following team orders when he crashed his car in order to ensure Fernando Alonso a victory. Now Piquet is in NASCAR, and proving to be quite the driver. Not only did he win the K&N Pro Series race at Bristol this year, but he won a Camping World Truck race by fuel mileage and won a Nationwide Series race on a road course. Last week in Las Vegas he won his second truck race and had the drive of the week, passing Matt Crafton on the last lap for the win. Piquet will prove what Scott Speed and Juan Pablo Montoya haven't -- that you can come from F1 and be successful in NASCAR.

Journalists will be watching Piquet's rise through the ranks. And undoubtedly, many will wonder, "What would Chris Economaki say?"

-- Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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