If you read about the career of just about any driver that was trying to make short track racing a profession prior to the internet era, there is one common refrain, “We’d read the ads in National Speed Sport News to find out where the highest paying races were, then head there”. If you’ve ever been around any hard core racing fans pre-internet, their common line was, “The best day of the week was when National Speed Sport News came, you could find out the results from all over the country”.
In 1990 Corinne Economaki assumed the responsibility of publisher of that venerable racing institution. In 1990 things were going well for motorsports in general – NASCAR was growing by leaps and bounds, Indy Car racing was in the best shape it could be and sponsorships were plentiful. In 20 years it was not so rosy, NASCAR had peaked, Indy Car was in the early stages of recovery mode, and for magazines and newspapers the internet had laid bare pretty much everything in its path. In March of 2011 Corrine Economaki parked NSSN as a racing weekly for the last time.
We wanted to catch up with Corinne and find out how life has been in the ensuing nine years and what she’s been up to. We also wanted to get her perspective on the current state of motorsports media and obviously the sport itself.
If you want to know about Chris Economaki driving lessons, where to find any back issues of National Speed Sport News, or know what she really thought of Bob Kinser read on!
TDP: What are you up to these days? Career, family life, where are you located etc…..
CE: After NSSN ceased publication in March 2011, it took me a year to set things right. I knew I wanted to do the best job possible closing, and complete all the tax forms and see that all the accounting issues were completed in a timely manner. I paid our creditors best I could although there weren’t enough funds to completely pay everyone. The building was owned by a separate entity associated with the paper, and I had that as well to contend with. It needed to be emptied, cleaned and put on the market. I took care of all its details until the sale, finalized in 2012.
In addition, I had years and years of archives. After deliberating a bit, the NSSN bound volumes, six filing cabinets of photographs, all Dad’s negatives of every race he attended and electronic archives were donated to the International Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen. I drove them there myself in a U-Haul! They are available for research and viewing at that location.
In 2012 the North Carolina Motorsports Ass’n hired me and I spent a year and a half as its Executive Director. Nice job, met lots of folks and hopefully left a little mark on the organization.
In July 2013 I moved from the Charlotte area to Easton, Md., known as the “Eastern Shore.” It’s a little town of about 15,000. Don Kern and I love it here – the people, the town, there is always something to do and we’ve got some great restaurants. About an hour from Annapolis, two hours to downtown Baltimore and D.C.
I’ve been trying to get in some “bucket list” traveling since retiring, and have been to Iceland, Rome (for the second time), Morocco, Tanzania, Sicily and Greece. All trips have been just wonderful (I can tell you that going to Greece with a Greek last name is like being royalty!). Next on the list is Mongolia, which has been postponed by the coronavirus.
TDP: From what I understand, your dad’s involvement with racing started somewhat due to geography (New Jersey being a midget hot bed)- I assume your love of him and what he did got you involved. Please let us know your early involvement and memories.
CE: Dad got the racing bug after his mother took him to a race in Atlantic City when he was about 12 (1932). In a few years he was going to Ho-Ho-Kus Speedway, near his hometown of Ridgewood, N.J. His history has been written elsewhere, so for brevity’s sake, I’ll jump to when I knew about motorsports.
My mother always said I went to my first race before I was born. Probably Reading Fairgrounds in Pennsylvania. Dad was the announcer, and my mother and sister and I would go with him to various “driving distance” tracks. I remember falling asleep in the car a lot and to this day, consistent engine noise is like a sleeping pill to me. And Trenton Speedway always had a good buffet; as a little girl the cookies were the best. I guess the whole racing thing hit home when Dad was on ABC’s Wide World of Sports as well as when the Indy 500 was broadcast in movie theaters. He got a lot of attention in our small town, and I got a lot of attention in school because he was on TV. I didn’t care for that one bit.
I also remember going to Weissglass Stadium on Staten Island, N.Y. as a kid. What a crowd! It was a .2-mile track and everyone thought the sun rose and set there. Dad would announce and we’d be there and home in hours.
When I was 12, Dad took me to Nassau to see the Bahamian Grand Prix. Our rental car was some model Triumph, maybe a TR3. He drove it onto the race’s road course and had me get in the driver’s seat. My first lesson on stick. It was a bit bumpy but I finally got it. In fact, my first dozen or so cars were manual transmission. When it came time to get a real driver’s license, I had to do a few things my friends didn’t have to do. First, I wasn’t allowed to take Driver’s Ed in high school because they didn’t know enough to teach me how to drive up to Dad’s standards. Then I had to rotate the tires on my mother’s Oldsmobile, change the oil, drain and replace the fluid in the radiator and memorize parts of the engine. Then I had to drive around the block – backward, and more than once.
TDP: In 1990 you became NSSN’s publisher, was that the culmination of a long apprenticeship? Was this something as inevitable as Bill France Jr taking over NASCAR from Bill France Sr? Is there more to the story? I’m guessing you were not just handed the keys to NSSN, that you had to work it – what was your history and involvement with NSSN prior to being named publisher?
CE: My early careers (I’ve had three) were in marketing (prior to cell phones, computers, social media etc.) and restaurant management. In 1985 I was hired by Dad’s then publisher, Jerry Gappens, to handle the advertising department at NSSN. After some bumps in the road, it became easier for me and I really enjoyed the business part of the paper. I did enjoy a good race for sure, yet it was the business of racing that fascinated me.
Dad decided to name me publisher (up from assistant publisher) in 1990, but not before consulting with Roger Penske! I find that such a sweet story…he didn’t want to seem like he was giving me the job because I was his daughter. Roger said it would be just fine, and it was.
TDP: Can you approximate when readership and advertising peaked for NSSN? Can you tell us the peak number of subscribers.
CE: From 1990 to 2000 things were really good at NSSN. Subscribers, advertising, trade shows, race coverage, single-copy sales, couldn’t be better. We averaged about 25% net profit for years and our subscriber base was around 75,000. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. The dates escape me, yet we went online in the late 1990s – early 2000s. Had to, everyone else was.
TDP: I believe the internet was the main reason that NSSN could not survive as a weekly, was this because of the usual problems of all traditional media once the internet took hold, declining readership, lost advertising revenue – is there more to the story, or is it just that simple??
CE: Speed Sport’s demise was a perfect storm. Declining subscriber base, declining single-copy sales, declining advertising revenues battling the instant news available on the internet. We did have a website (still in existence) yet it didn’t bring in the revenue needed to sustain the print edition. Making the decision to cease publication was a tough one. I’m grateful to this day that Dad didn’t really understand what happened. He was told that the paper was now “on the web,” and that seemed to satisfy him.
TDP: At one time you could have been rightly called one of the most powerful women in racing, Did that mean anything to you?
CE: You ask if being called one of the most powerful women in racing would mean anything. Sure, it would! Being the publisher of NSSN was a powerful position, but I was more interested in managing the staff and company. There were many important moments in my time with NSSN, but one of the most important happened at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Ind. I went there with Dave Argabright to see a sprint car race and was nosing around. Suddenly I looked up and 15 feet away is Bob Kinser. I mean Bob Kinser! The patriarch of the Kinsers and he’s looking at me! I had never met him, but like with a lot of folks in motorsports, you knew who they were and they knew who you were. After about 20 seconds he nods at me. HE NODDED AT ME! It was like being accepted into a fraternity and I still remember it fondly all these years later. I felt like I was big time!
TDP: Do you still follow the sport closely, at arms length or not at all.
CE: These days I follow a bit of motorsports news, some of it from the North Carolina Motorsports Association’s daily email blast (half covers news in N.C. and half news elsewhere) plus what I see on Twitter and LinkedIn. We do get NSSN at the house and I page through it a bit. I watch a bit on TV, mostly IndyCar. I just can’t get used to the stages of the NASCAR races these days; in my opinion you must watch the entire race to appreciate it and I just don’t care to do that. The only races I watch flag-to-flag are the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500. I try to keep up with most types of racing a bit, even NHRA.
TDP: Do you maintain any close contacts from the sport/ if so who?
CE: I do maintain contact with some folks from my NSSN days, a few former staffers (Mike and Haven Kerchner); Wolfgang Hustedt, who retired from Bosch; Rockingham Dragway owner Steve Earwood; former Mazda and Mercedes PR rep Steve Potter; David Miller, who has my old job at the North Carolina Motorsports Ass’n; Dave Argabright; Rob Dyson; Athene Karis, retired from BFGoodrich; Dick Berggren; Stuart Chase, former Arciero PR and a few on Twitter. Oddly, when I joined my gym here in town, I met two people who had worked in motorsports and we’ve become friends as well.
TDP: Do you follow any drivers today?
CE: I don’t follow any driver particularly and don’t need to! The days of memorizing the field (or trying to) are over for me. I do pay attention to industry business closely, like the NASCAR-ISC merger and Penske’s purchase of Indy. One thing I’ve noticed of late is more short tracks with names I don’t recognize. Don’t know if they have been renamed or are new.
TDP: What do you miss most?
CE: What I miss most would be going to an event with a job to do with the walk-on-water pass. That and always being in the know. Getting the news first. Going to an event with no job isn’t that much fun to me…unless it’s a sprint car event. Maybe even modified. I have never been to Williams Grove and this year I plan on going.
TDP: Do you have a preferred form of the sport?? F-1, NASCAR, Indy Car etc.
CE: Last year’s qualifying at Indy was really good and I thought that would be a good trip. I even took a look at seats and ticket prices and flights. Then we have the coronavirus shutdown so we’ll have to wait and see. I’m old enough to remember when qualifying at Indy was really exciting and it was nice to see it that way last year. Hopefully with Roger at the helm it will again be as exciting.
12: Are you following virtual racing at all – any thoughts??
CE: The virtual racing leaves me cold. Not interested at all, in the racing or in seeing Michael Waltrip trying to give Denny Hamlin a taco.
TDP: Page 233 of Let em all go:”If you wanted to know what was happening on the inside of the sport, you needed to read National Speed Sport News. That’s what I was always after; inside information nobody else had.” DO you see that being even remotely impossible today for a hard copy paper/magazine with Twitter and other instant messaging? The above being said, if you were starting from scratch and given the task of making a hard racing paper work and be relevant today – can it be done? How would you go about it?
CE: Don’t know if it would be possible to re-create a weekly NSSN paper? Don’t know if it would be seen as a must-have publication. Quite a few publications have gone to web only, or reduced printing (from weekly to monthly). Racer seems to be doing OK and I think the car culture in America keeps Car & Driver, Motor Trend and Road and Track going. I think the aging of the original fan base who once read those publications and the younger fans who obtain data instantly and constantly via web and social media would make it a tough thing to do.
TDP: Is there ever going to be another Chris Economaki? Who is closest to filling the role today? – or is it just impossible?
CE: Do I think there will ever be another Chris Economaki? I sure don’t, but you’d probably get a better answer from the likes of Dave Despain, Mike Joy, Dick Berggren, Ken Squier et al. Dad sure did grow up with the sport in many ways and had just a ton of institutional knowledge that can’t be beat.
TDP: Any Final Comments?
CE: Thanks very much for allowing me to do this!
TDP: It was our pleasure indeed!
The Drivers Project is a media collective devoted to North American open-wheel racing.