The importance of our heroes lost should not be underestimated. What they did was show a couple generations of race fans how to get more enjoyment from racing.
Don McLean’s song “American Pie” was an homage to what the songwriter called “the day the music died,” referring to the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper.
The significance of the song’s lyrics were repeated on September 28th, 2012 with the passing of Chris Economaki, Dick Fleck and Margaret Frank. Each of these great people were responsible for keeping legendary racing in front of fans. Each did it in their own way, right up to the day that the engine music died.
With the passing of Chris Economaki, the racing world felt a sense of disillusion and loss, a feeling that we’d lost a good friend.
Economaki had taken race reporting from the stone age and brought some fresh reality to the action. He told it like he saw it, never adjusting for the sake of popularity.
There’s little else that can be said of his career that isn’t already known. Economaki challenged the assumptions of an older order, and made the fans more informed. They were never the same after that, and there was no going back.
Economaki pulled race fans into a new age and the days of black and white were over. With Economaki at the wheel, racing had lost its innocence and the cast of characters were better placed in historical and racing context.
Dick Fleck, also known as Flecky or Fleckney, did just about everything a person could do in motorsports… and then some. Fleck started as a driver, then car builder and owner (1946-1961), eventually working his way through 12 years of NASCAR racing.
Fleck began the next era in his motorsports career by owning and running the PROS (Professional Racing on Speedways) sanctioning body from 1961 to 1967.
Re-inventing himself again, Fleck began the next stage of his career as “one of the founders of Pocono Raceway.” Along with helping design and construct the facility, Fleck was appointed as superintendent and race director of the complex. Fleck’s Pocono years ended in 1998, when the racer with an engineering background once again re-invented himself.
Fleck’s next role in motorsports came as a wordsmith for the racing world. A media member whose focus was clearly on the Living Legends of Auto Racing. His sole purpose in life seemed to be in keeping racing pioneers and former drivers in front of the fans. Sending out daily emails, Fleck did his best to keep racers from being forgotten.
Never forgetting where he came from, Fleck wrote a book, What the Fleck – The Racing Kid from Pennsylvania. If all this was not enough, Fleck waged a battle against cancer and became a cancer survivor in 1986, a feat that he was proud of, and rightly so.
Born in Anderson County, South Carolina, Margaret became one of the leading guardians of NASCAR racers of the 1960s. She handled that task behind the scenes with the gentle guidance of a southern lady.
Margaret married Larry Frank, a NASCAR driver and self made car owner/builder. Having started in motorcycle racing then moving to midgets and sprint cars, Larry found himself in NASCAR, running 103 races in 11 years. Margaret learned every aspect of racing, and knew everything there was to know about the racing legends.
After Larry called it quits on racing in 1966, he and Margaret opened a body shop in Greenville, South Carolina. Margaret was an integral part of operating the body shop, willing to pitch in wherever needed.
It was after the death of her beloved husband in 2010 that Margaret really became involved in protecting the heritage of NASCAR’s legendary drivers. Working with her good friend Chrissy Pistone, Margaret would help guide journalists like myself through the tough topics and hidden relationships of NASCAR racing history.
Margaret Frank was a very valuable resource to anyone that wanted to know about vintage NASCAR racing and a true leader in keeping the memories alive. She was the epitome of the wholesome American-as-apple-pie type of girl next door. Returning back to our opening analogy, Margaret’s passing reminds me of the chorus of Mclean’s timeless hit; “Bye-bye Miss American Pie.”
Loosing three of motorsports heroes on the same day represents the same sentiment that McLean penned in his magnum opus. The importance of our heroes lost should not be underestimated. What they did was show a couple generations of race fans how to get more enjoyment from racing.
Rest in peace Chris, Dick and Margaret.