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NMPA honors racing legends

By admin | January 22, 2009

By Richard Allen


Every year the members of the National Motorsports Press Association gather at their annual convention and honor worthy figures who have spent a lifetime dedicated to the betterment of auto racing by inducting them into the NMPA Hall of Fame.

This year, the honorees were Chris Economaki, W.C. “Junie” Donlavey and T. Taylor Warren.

Economaki has served as a writer, announcer and broadcaster for almost 70 years. He wrote his first racing column when he was only 14 years of age. He furthered his journalistic career when, in 1950, he became the editor of National Speed Sport News.

Economaki is probably best known for his work in radio and television. He was a long time fixture on the ABC program, “Wide World of Sports”. Later, he joined CBS and helped broadcast the Daytona 500 and other auto racing events covered by that network.

Over the course of his career the 87 year old Economaki has interviewed virtually every significant figure in the history of the sport. He continues to work in racing still today and has recently co-written an autobiography.

Donlavey has fielded race cars for more than 50 years. In that time he has worked with only one manufacturer, Ford Motor Company.

The list of drivers to have driven Donlavey’s racers reads like a who’s who of stock racing. Joe Weatherly, Tiny Lund, LeeRoy Yarbrough, David Pearson, Johnny Rutherford, Harry Gant, Ken Schrader, Benny Parsons and Ricky Rudd are among the greats who have wheeled his machines.

The 83 year old Donlavey still welcomes visitors to his Richmond, Virginia garage.

The third member of the racing community to be inducted into the Hall of Fame may be the least known but may have had the greatest impact.

T. Taylor Warren worked as a photographer for over 60 years. He snapped pictures of almost every type of racing. However, he is best known for one photo in particular.

In 1959, he was on hand for the first Daytona 500. Seeing that a close finish was imminent he positioned himself directly across from the start/finish line. Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp raced side by side to the checkered flag and Warren got his picture.

Immediately after the race Beauchamp was declared the winner. However, once that now famous photograph was developed, it was apparent an error had been made. Eventually, the ruling was changed and the victory was awarded to Petty.

Unfortunately, Warren died this past October. He is often regarded as NASCAR’s most famous photographer.

Each of these three men have made the sport of auto racing better. And for that, fans, media and competitors should all be grateful.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

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