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USAC’s Clauson earns ride, reputation

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Noblesville resident Bryan Clauson is close to winning his third straight USAC National Driving Championship.

The championship is decided by a driver’s 25 best finishes in the United States Auto Club’s three National series (midgets, sprints and Silver Crown cars). Clauson is a known talent, and he can generally obtain a pretty good ride.

However, when there is not a suitable ride available, he’ll provide his own. For instance, he generally drives a midget for Pete Willoughby and Keith Kunz of Columbus, and there is probably not a better midget ride anywhere.

Clauson currently enjoys a 94-point lead over Tracy Hines. However, there are still a number of races to be run. In the Silver Crown division, they have a race left at the Terre Haute Action Track on Oct. 13.

The sprint cars have remaining races at I-96 Speedway at Lake Odessa, Mich., on Friday, at Canyon Speedway Park at Peoria, Ariz., on Oct. 26-27, and at Perris (Calif.) Auto Speedway on Nov. 2-3.

The midget races left to be run are at Tri-City Speedway at Pontoon Beach, lll., today; at Canyon Speedway Park on Nov. 9-10; and Perris Auto Speedway, which runs with the Turkey Night Grand Prix. This will be the first time in several years that Turkey Night has been contested on dirt. Perris isn’t Ascot; but it’s better than Irwindale, where the race has been run lately.

Although Levi Jones is second in the National Drivers Championship points, he has been parked for the rest of the season because of neck surgery. Consequently, it is unlikely he will be able to maintain that position. Clauson has nine wins, while Hines and Darland have five wins each. As long as he continues to run all or most of the races, Bryan has to be the odds-on favorite to win the driving championship again.

His second championship earned him his first ride in the Indianapolis 500. It remains to be seen what the prize will be this year if he wins the championship again. However, what he is certain to get is a better reputation among potential car owners.

Economaki dies at 91

Chris Economaki began his career with National Speed Sport News in 1934 at the age of 13 by selling the papers at racetracks for a nickel (of which he kept a penny). He sold 200 of the papers a week; and, during the Depression, that was serious money, especially for a kid. Later in his career, as publisher of NSSN, Economaki would see to it that copies of the paper were available in the press room of the track where he was working.

In 1935, he began writing his own column. The column quickly became a “must read” for racers as well as fans. Economaki kept his finger on the pulse of auto racing and seemed never to forget anything.

During the war between CART and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Andy Graham and I were timing and scoring officials for the Speedway, and we had offices next to each other at Arvin. The morning after NSSN came out, we would often meet to discuss Economaki’s prognostications about what might happen next in the Indy car wars.

In addition to writing, Economaki did some time turning wrenches on Duane Carter’s midget in 1938 and 1939. That put him in constant contact with some of the top racing people in the nation and gave him a different perspective on the sport. Economaki said that Carter would pay him $15 a week when he could afford it, which apparently wasn’t very often.

While the racing fraternity knew Economaki from NSSN, race fans knew him for his work as an announcer. He was noticed by Bill France Sr., who talked ABC into using Economaki as the announcer for the first telecast of the Daytona 500 in 1961.

Following that first telecast, Economaki traveled the world covering races for ABC’s Wide World of Sports. I recall Gary Gray’s nasty flip at Eldora Speedway several decades before Tony Stewart bought it. That shot was an illustration of the “agony of defeat” for years.

Economaki died Sept. 28. He was 91.

Tim McKinney is an auto racing columnist for The Republic. He can be reached at 372-3936.

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