CALL IT FORESIGHT, OPPORTUNISM OR JUST PLAIN LUCK. Maybe it was a little of each that led to the launch, in 1934, of National Auto Racing News, the weekly tabloid that continues, after so many years, to be the most respected voice in auto racing. The year, 1934, is important — critical, really — to understanding the explosive growth of auto racing and the accompanying success of the newspaper that first spread its story from coast to coast. In the early days of racing, a single type of car was used for racing. They were called “racing cars” and they were all pretty much alike – homemade, single-seat, pointed tail. Race tracks were few and far between.
Going to an auto race was a major undertaking, an expensive, all-day road trip that, as often as not, caused tension in cash-strapped Depression households. But all that changed in 1934, with the arrival of the midget racing car. The midget, as its name implies, didn’t need much room to race. Every town with a baseball field or a high school track or a playground could now have a race track. Very simply, the arrival of the midget, with its simple racing rules and low cost, was the most significant innovation in auto-racing history. Americans no longer had to travel to races. Races came to them — men, women and children — Friday nights and Saturday nights. Men, women and their children. Auto racing took its giant step into the mainstream of American popular culture. Auto racing proliferated.
APRIL 16, 1934 – THE FIRST ISSUE
In East Paterson, N.J., a couple of enterprising newspapermen made a bold move. Publishing four pages of racing news in their weekly local newspaper, The Bergen Herald, since 1932, they established the free-standing National Auto Racing News in 1934 (the name was changed to National Speed Sport News in 1943) to serve the growing fan interest in New Jersey and across the U.S. The paper, an instant success, flourished as new fans sought ways to keep up with their newly found favorite drivers who now were touring the country in fledgling circuits. Other papers were started, but most were unable to compete with the broad-based, comprehensive, objective coverage and the network of correspondents established by National Auto Racing News. The formula was simple: Cover all types of auto racing, nationwide – and do it with objectivity, expertise and integrity. Much has changed since 1934, but that formula hasn’t.
THE VOICE OF AUTO RACING
A 13-year-old schoolboy, Christopher Constantine Economaki, hawked the very first papers at Ho-Ho-Kus Speedway. Sold them for a nickel; kept a penny. “I sold 200 papers,” Chris Economaki recalled recently, “That was $2. An incredible amount of money in 1934.” Such was the publishing indoctrination of Economaki, who is still, at age 90, editor of National Speed Sport News and unquestionably the “Dean of Motorsports.” By 1936, the cloth racing helmet had gone by the wayside, and young Economaki, still a high school student, was assigned a column, “Gas-O-Lines,” in addition to selling papers at tracks – where the paper originally grew its base of reader support. The young paper grew, both in circulation and influence, along with the sport it covered so thoroughly. In 1938, the first national convention of auto racing was held in New York and attended by leaders from all facets of the sport. The convention’s organizers? William Kay and Louis Fournier of National Auto Racing News. The paper was forced to reduce its publication schedule briefly during World War II, but it reemerged stronger than ever in early 1943 with its new name, National Speed Sport News. It continued its coverage of all forms of auto racing, and the sport just grew and grew. A form of the sport indigenous to the South, stock-car racing, grew in popularity and further expanded the reach of the newspaper. National Speed Sport News, as you would expect, was at the aptly named Streamline Hotel in November 1948, when race promoter and industry giant-to-be “Big Bill” France formed the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing – NASCAR. And so it has been for decades now. A new form of the sport is created, a new series is born, new drivers catch the fan’s imagination. What wins on Sunday sells on Monday. In an ever-evolving sport, a growing, never-look-back industry, there have been two constants – cars go fast, and National Speed Sport News covers it all.
CHRIS ECONOMAKI – RACING ICON
Although National Speed Sport News established itself early as the voice of motorsports, it was Economaki’s leadership that positioned the paper as “The Bible” of the industry, read religiously by fans nationwide, drivers and crewmen and by the sport’s business leaders. Hired full-time in 1950 to be editor and publisher, Economaki insisted on editorial excellence, while creating a dynamic advertising environment – whether the products be racing products or national-brand consumer goods. Economaki’s energy, erudition and knowledge of the sport made it only natural that “Big Bill” France would, when asked in 1961 to pick the announcer for ABC-TV’s first broadcast of the Firecracker 250 in Daytona Beach, select the National Speed Sport News editor. The rest, of course, is broadcast and racing history. Chris Economaki went on to become the voice of auto racing for more than three decades. He is credited, more than anyone else, for the burgeoning popularity of the sport — in all its myriad forms. His television work and track announcing, all supplementing National Speed Sport News, have brought news and understanding of racing to tens of millions. For years, Economaki kept a daunting pace and still today visits tracks and events. Indianapolis this week, Daytona next. To Bonneville, to Rockingham (England or North Carolina, equally likely), to Knoxville and Eldora, Nazareth and Pocono, Le Mans and Long Beach. Chris Economaki remains a familiar face – and a familiar voice – wherever cars go fast. His column, “Speed Sport Notebook with Chris Economaki,” is still a top-read feature in the paper. He works the phone in his Midland Park, N.J., office, adding items to the columns and passing along scoops to his other writers. Auto racing has grown, evolved and exploded since those early years when Chris Economaki was a teenager peddling papers at the track. It’s now among the leading spectator sports and attracts an increasingly affluent audience.
THE FIRST, AND STILL THE BEST
The history, industry standing and loyal readership of National Speed Sport News are matched by few in publishing. The paper has taken new looks over the years, and recently re-launched its website; certainly, some things will change as the paper attracts a new generation of readers, while caring for its long-time supporters. But a couple of things won’t change: National Speed Sport News will retain its position at the center of the auto-racing industry, committed to providing the very best coverage of all forms of racing, nationwide, while conducting an attractive and effective marketplace for its advertisers.