Chris Economaki, the legendary motorsports journalist who was the public address announcer for Richmond International Raceway's first race nearly 60 years ago, will serve as the Grand Marshal for this weekend's SunTrust Indy Challenge Presented by XM Satellite Radio.
"I remember that race very well," said Economaki of the open wheel race won by Ted Horn on October 12, 1946. "It was quite a race. The feature race was only 20 laps-10 miles- so it was very short, but it was big stuff back then. The town would turn out for it, there would be banners across the street announcing a race at the state fair."
Economaki was the public address announcer for that race, but as Grand Marshal for the race this Saturday, June 24, he will give the drivers the command to start their engines.
As a track announcer at a number of major races in the late 1940s and 1950s, Economaki brought his own brand of infectious enthusiasm to the job. The fans loved his style.
After traveling the Northeast as a track announcer through World War II (interrupted by a stint in the U.S. Army Air Corps), Economaki took over National Speed Sport News (NSSN) in 1950, and has grown the paper to its present state ¿ the only weekly motorsports periodical on Library of Congress microfilm. Today, he is still the editor and publisher emeritus of the paper.
He joined ABC-TV in 1961, and pioneered the role of auto pit reporter on American television. In the 1970s, he hosted an NBC radio show on motorsports every Sunday. In 1979, he guided CBS-TV through its ground-breaking, flag-to-flag coverage of the Daytona 500. He expanded his TV career in 1984, helping ESPN launch its revolutionary motorsports coverage with a commentary role on ESPN Speedweek.
During his tenure at ABC sports, Economaki not only covered the Indianapolis 500, but the many of the world's major auto events, including the Daytona 500, Formula One and 24 hours of LeMans.
At the age of 85, Economaki remains one of the best motorsports reporters, and still writes a weekly column, the Editor's Notebook, for NSSN. He recently published a book, Let 'Em All Go!, The Story of Auto Racing by the Man Who Was There, with Dave Argabright.
Nearly 60 years after announcing that first race in Richmond, Economaki will return to a track that has been transformed from a ½-mile dirt track with grandstand seating for a few thousand, to a sparkling, state-of-the-art, ¾-mile paved oval with a capacity of more than 107,000.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same.
"What they used to talk about were the Indy 500 drivers," Economaki said. "That was one of the promotional tools they used to get people to go to the race. The fact that local fairgrounds were going to have someone who raced at Indianapolis here on Saturday was a big thing."
Helping the promotion of the first race at Richmond International Raceway was the fact that two of the top stars of the Indianapolis 500, Horn and Joie Chitwood, were in the field, racing against three future Indianapolis 500 winners ¿ Bill Holland (1949), Johnnie Parsons (1950) and Lee Wallard (1951).
Today, it's no different as former Indianapolis 500 winners Helio Castroneves, Dan Wheldon, Buddy Lazier, Eddie Cheever, Buddy Rice and 2006 champion Sam Hornish, Jr. return to Richmond International Raceway to put on one of the most exciting races in all of Motorsports. They will be joined by former series champion Tony Kanaan as well as Danica Patrick, Dario Fracnitti, Bryan Herta, Scott Sharp, Tomas Scheckter and rookie sensation Marco Andretti.
The SunTrust Indy Challenge Presented by XM Satellite Radio will run "under the lights" Saturday, June 24 at Richmond International Raceway. Saturday night's ticket includes a seat for the Richmond Times-Dispatch 100 USAC Silver Crown Championship Series race. Reserved seats are only $35 and general admission tickets are just $30. The weekend starts Friday, June 23 with WRIC-TV8 Pole
Qualifying for the IndyCar Series and the USAC National Sprint Car Series race. Tickets for Friday night are only $15 and include admission to an autograph session with all IndyCar Series drivers. Children 12 and under are admitted free in general admission seating both nights with a ticketed adult. Please call 1-866-455-RACE (7223) or visit www.rir.com for tickets.