LITTLE: Economaki’s Role In Florida Track Facts
When word came on Friday, Sept. 28 that Chris Economaki had passed from this world at age 91 it was not a big surprise.
Many were aware that he had been in declining health for some time and certainly anyone in their 90s is thankful for each new day.
The memories of my relationship with Chris and National Speed Sport News came flooding back in a sight, sound and the printed word. What was the spark that made this veteran motorsports journalist decide to encourage a raw rookie who only submitted weekly race results from one South Florida speedway to do more?
I’ll never know the reason and its not important now, but I am forever thankful for the chance to grow my writing skills and be part of NSSN for the past 37 years.
It all began when the race team I was associated with in Ft Lauderdale, started by our family, moved to North Carolina in July 1975. I elected to remain in the area continue on with the printing business my dad and uncle purchased in 1960. I had been compiling a limited circulation late model stat sheet called South Florida Track Facts.
It covered the top local division at Hialeah Speedway, Palm Beach Fairgrounds Speedway and Miami-Hollywood Speedway Park and listed feature victories, top five finishes etc.
On a Friday night visit to Palm Beach track promoter Danny Taylor pulled me aside and asked if I’d begin doing the weekly race result stories and get them to the local media as well as the racing trade papers. It seemed easy enough and I quickly agreed. My style was to report what actually happened, opinion aside, in a concise manner and reliably week after week. Needless to say my top trade paper target was NSSN as it was “the bible” of a wide range of weeklies published at the time and I was a longtime subscriber.
Out of the blue came a post card in the mail, typed on his infamous manual machine, thanking me for taking the time to get the Palm Beach results up to Ridgewood, N.J., each week. I was flabbergasted. Chris Economaki writing Marty Little? Wow! Not long after I asked Chris if I could pen a column in the paper and asked him if he had any suggestions for a title. He quickly responded back that he’d very much like to have me do a column and why not go ahead and call it South Florida Track Facts. Done deal. I was now on the team, a raw rookie among many pros, at the top weekly trade paper in the country.
One evening in 1977 Dick Gavrich, who submitted the Hialeah result stories to the paper, asked if I’d fill in for him for two weeks as the was going in the hospital. Dick had been in failing health and lived in a care facility and came to the track with his nurse each Saturday night.
I’d known Dick for many years and readily agreed to fill in as long as needed. Dick never returned to the races and I did the Hialeah result stories for 28 years until the track closed in August 2005.
Due to my connections with NSSN I was able to file stories from Daytona and Homestead for the NASCAR events. I covered the one and only Trans-Am event at Moroso Motorsports Park. I followed the Florida Pro Series late model tour to several different Sunshine State ovals and did pre and post race stores for them. I worked with All Pro promoter Bob Harmon at both Hialeah and Palm Beach and learned a great deal about real race promotion from one of the best ever. I covered the grands prix in West Palm Beach and Miami at various venues as well as the Indy cars at three different locations in greater Miami.
I mention these various accomplishments not to toot my own horn but to show the influence that Chris Economaki had and where my association with NSSN allowed me access.
Maybe one of my favorite recollections of Chris was at the 1983 Miami Grand Prix on the streets of downtown Miami. The sports cars of the era were spectacular with all the name drivers, IMSA stars and others, and the course on and near Biscayne Blvd. was tight and exciting. The media center was on the top floor of the old Everglades Hotel, which fronted the main straight and offered a gorgeous view of most of the entire course. Organizer Ralph Sanchez was ecstatic until dark clouds moved in. Low slung sports cars don’t do well in the wet, especially on a street course that is less than totally smooth. Chris had a meeting with me and went over what he wanted me to do — sidebar stories to dig out — and other details of our day at the track.
Chris then came to me and said, “come with me I’d like you to meet my wife Tommye.” She was with some other friends and clearly enjoying her day in Miami and it had little to do with the race. We met, exchanged pleasantries and I went on my way. To this day it remains one of my highlights of working with Chris at a track.
The rain did arrive and the race was shortened due to street flooding but the memories of that day will never diminish.
To myself and many others in the sport Chris was a mentor, coach and confidant but most of all a friend.
RIP and thanks for memories which I will cherish forever.