Pittsburgh, PA
March 4, 2021
    News           Sports           Lifestyle           Classifieds           About Us
Pirates Q&A
Headlines by E-mail
Home >  Sports >  Notebooks Printer-friendly versionE-mail this story
District Cars: His racing pen is still mighty

Sunday, June 01, 2003

By Chris Dolack, Special to the Post-Gazette

The term legend is thrown around a lot these days, but there are only a few of them out there. For drivers, Mario Andretti is a legend, as is A.J. Foyt. In Western Pennsylvania, Lou Blaney has reached legendary status for all of his accomplishments in sprint and modified cars.

For those who would rather wield a pen than a race car, Chris Economaki is a legend. Now in his early 80s, Economaki is in his 53rd year as editor of National Speed Sport News and he still is a fixture in media centers at racetracks across the country. Last weekend at the Indianapolis 500 was no different.

He was stationed in the front row of the massive pressroom overlooking the front straightaway at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While almost every other writer hammered out stories on a laptop computer, Economaki clicked away at a typewriter. There could be no rhythm to his writing, though, because when a legend is in the room, everyone wants a word with him. He accommodated them all.

Economaki's career has included a wide variety of racing-related roles, from writing to broadcasting, which enables him to offer credible opinions on the sport, nationally and locally. In fact, when Pittsburgh was mentioned he didn't hesitate to recount his days as the track announcer at Heidelberg Speedway for special events in the '50s. Opened in 1948 and closed in 1973, Heidelberg Speedway, where Lee Petty won his first career race in 1949, is now the site of a shopping center, Raceway Plaza. Many of the old Heidelberg components still are in use at Pittsburgh's Pennsylvania Motor Speedway in Imperial.

"Racing back in the mid-'50s and -'60s wasn't as intense as it is now from the standpoint of the number of events. It was a now-and-then, here-and-there thing," Economaki said. "Therefore, a racing event had more importance. For example, Heidelberg had a weekly show [Thursday nights] with local guys but it wasn't a significant event. Then, every six or seven weeks, there would be a big race. [Promoter Ed Witzberger] would fly me in to be the announcer. I remember one year Bob Sweikert had won the Indy 500 [1955] and had some work to do the morning of the race in Akron, Ohio, at the soap box derby. He arrived at Heidelberg in a helicopter, which was big stuff in those days.

"Racing then was publicized much more aggressively than it is today. What has happened to racing now, with American business very much involved, is the danger element of racing is minimized. Years ago racing was built on danger. These guys who came to race were daredevils facing death at every turn. Can't do that anymore. Witzberger's era was really in the golden days of racing."

As for the current status of Western Pennsylvania racing, Economaki believes the region could support a major speedway.

"There's no significant track in Greater Pittsburgh any longer, and that's what Pittsburgh needs," he said. "There were proposed tracks in Youngstown that would have satisfied the Pennsylvanians but what Pittsburgh really needs is a major racing facility. Hopefully one will come along some day."

A Chris Economaki, though, doesn't come along very often at all.

Rain and results

The World of Outlaws can't seem to catch a break lately. The sprint car series was at Sharon Speedway Friday night, one week after some of its equipment was seized by sheriffs in North Carolina in response to a lawsuit filed by a broadcasting company. Although local standout Jimmy Hawley posted the fastest time in qualifying, heavy rain by lap 8 of the feature forced the event to be canceled.

Fans seeking cover from the downpour were injured when a walkway at the base of the west grandstands collapsed. Seven of the 10 injured fans were released from area hospitals.

Elsewhere Friday night, Lernerville Speedway finally was able to run at least three divisions of racing with Ed Lynch Jr. (sprints), Doug Eck (late models) and Lonny Riggs (modifieds) pulling into victory lane. At Motordrome Speedway, Neil Brown ended Rick Miller's late model win streak at two and Greg Kelley (pro trucks), Gary Scott (modifieds), Robin Rimel (street stocks) and Dave McManus (chargers) also were winners.

Chris Dolack is the senior writer of Auto Racing Digest magazine. He can be reached at cdolack@chrisdolack.com.

Back to top Back to top E-mail this story E-mail this story
Search | Contact Us |  Site Map | Terms of Use |  Privacy Policy |  Advertise | Help |  Corrections