Spending time with Chris Economaki – 1994 Inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame

Back in the early 90s, I was head of marketing for Gallery 500 – an automotive art gallery and museum based just north of Toronto. I spent a considerable amount of time everyday coming up with events and activities designed to expose the gallery to a global audience of automobile and race fanatics.

One of our successful major events included a fund-raiser for the Gilles Villeneuve Museum in Berthierville, Quebec. We had teamed up with them, got some great memorabilia, as well as some cool things from other supporters. We had Gilles’ helmet and suit, Formula 1 trophies, his Direct Film Formula Atlantic car and a Ferrari T312T5 F1 car. We would have a kick-off event and sale with a portion of proceeds going to the museum. Erik Tomas and Raceline Radio did a live remote show from the gallery. It was cool and we raised some money.

The exhibit would run for three months or so and then would move to the Toronto Auto Show.

Somewhere during the run for the exhibition at the Gallery, the USAC midgets were scheduled to come to the Skydome. The radio promos talked about Kenny Schrader, Tom Sneva and other open-wheel stars – plus – Chris Economaki would be doing the on-event play-by-play announcing of the event. Cool!

Chris Economaki encounter # 1 – With the knowledge that Chris was coming to Toronto, I came up with a plan. I called his office and simply offered to pick him up at the Toronto airport and drive him to his hotel. I told him that we’d be driving right past Gallery 500 and that I had a bunch of Gilles Villeneuve memorabilia that I just knew he’d like to see. My goal was to get some coverage in his column in National Speed Sport News. So, he cautiously agreed…. but he agreed.

So, fast forward… I pick him up and we head westbound on the 401. Try as I might, I could not engage him in any conversation. I think that if he would have said anything, it would have been “Don’t talk to me”. Might have been the mullet? Anyway, as we were coming up to the DVP, he finally spoke…. “Why the hell do all you Canadians drive with your damn headlights on during the daytime??” And for those of you that know Chris, read that quote as if he is saying it to you – doesn’t that just sound like him? Awesome. I discuss the concept of daytime running lights – just like Sweden I explain – and we resume radio silence.

We get to the gallery, and he finally engages me. He asks lots of great questions. As a lot of you know, he always carries a camera and he snaps a bunch of pics. I ask him for a picture of him beside the Ferrari and he happily obliges.

On the drive to the hotel, we’re best buddies… finally! We’re discussing family, Canadian beer, hockey, AJ Foyt, daytime running lights and of course, Linda Vaughn.

The USAC midget event comes and goes and that’s that. A few weeks later, Gallery 500 gets a great pop in his column – mission accomplished!

Chris Economaki encounter # 2 – About 7 months later, at the Speedway Club at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, an event took place to announce the “Driver of the Quarter Century”. There were 10 nominees including RICHARD PETTY, A. J. FOYT, DON GARLITS, DALE EARNHARDT, DAVID PEARSON, DARRELL WALTRIP, CALE YARBOROUGH, AL UNSER, RICK MEARS – and the winner – MARIO ANDRETTI. Most of these guys, if not all – were there. Gallery 500 was a ‘table sponsor’ for the event and as such, I was fortunate enough to attend. Prior to the formal proceedings, the bench racing and cocktails were flowing. And then, you know what happens when that someone special enters a room? People stop talking, glance over, point and nod their approvals and admiration. You guessed it…. Chris Economaki had arrived. By plain dumb luck, I was right at the door as he had entered. I approached him like anyone who approaches an “old friend”.  “Hey Chris… it’s me… Jim Bowie” I enthuse – but get nothing in return. “From Gallery 500 in Toronto…. Remember?” I ask, less enthused. “Oh…. Yeah….. Right…. Yeah…. (long pause, looks me over)”. Just when I think it’s coming back to him, he says….

“Yeah…. Can you get me a scotch and water kid?”

“Yes Sir Mr. Economaki”… and I was damn proud to do it!

Chris is 91 now and I hope that someone writes a book about him one day. I just cannot imagine the stories. There will never be another like him.

Thanks for everything Chris Economaki!

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There’s an Elephant at the Hockenheimring

Brandrenaline Blogs – 




I attended the finale of the Formula BMW ADAC Championship at Hockenheim in October of 2004. I was running the North American version of the Championship for BMW NA. And, as our season was over, it was a great opportunity to see how the German Championship operated – especially since BMW Motorsport (Munich) was large, and in charge.

Despite being surrounded by literally hundreds of millions of dollars in supercars, hospitality set-ups and the Hockenheimring itself, it was a shy, seemingly recluse, 17-year old with a mouth full of braces that kept my attention.

And although he had already clinched the Championship, Sebastian Vettel was laser-focused on finishing the season on the top of the box.

The brilliance of Formula BMW was that it required participants (kids aged 15 – 21) to learn about fitness and nutrition, sponsorship, marketing, PR and of course, racecar dynamics.  The Championship had its age restrictions so that old fat rich guys didn’t mess with this true driver development program. You see, BMW had created Formula BMW to feed drivers into their Formula 1 program. And by having four different Championships spread around the globe, they had the opportunity to snag the very best in their net when these future World Champions were just starting.

One of the really truly amazing elements of this concept was the team and driver hospitality set up that accompanied each series.

This was the hospitality set-up, used mainly by wannabe racers honing their PSP skills.

 If you ever saw Penske Racing’s hospitality set up, or Cal Wells’ from the PPI days in the 90’s, they were pretty spectacular – but nothing like these kids had. You can see from the photos that this was world-class. Most kids – coming up through the ranks of racing – eat their lunch under a 10 x 10 eazy-up on a table that has been handcrafted by stacking used racing slicks and a square piece of oil-stained plywood on top.

I bring this up, and wanted to show you these photos of this fantastic hospitality because if I wanted to study the drive and determination of Vettel, I had to leave the opulence of the BMW Hospitality tent and hover outside his race team’s set-up like a groupie.

“Sebastian!!.. Oh Sebastian!… come out, come out, wherever you are!!”

Even then, sightings were rare. You see, Vettel was working. At 17 years and 3 months of age, Vettel was studying data, grilling his engineers and trying to get better. While the other drivers were playing video games, picking their nose and looking at girls, Vettel was working.

Coming into the weekend, Sebastian had already won 16 of 18 races. This was a phenomenal accomplishment in a spec series.  His strategy was so simple that you and I could win with it. Qualify on pole position and then, at the start of the race, get out front and let the rest of the kids crash and bang and fight over second. Simple.

He had just won his 2nd race of the weekend, and the Championship. This was not celebration – this was debrief.



He won both races this October weekend.

He was awarded his Championship trophy in a rather low-key ceremony in the hospitality tent by Dr. Mario Thiessen.  The accolades were in German, but it didn’t matter. Nobody could hear any of it because the DTM cars were on track.

Throughout the weekend, there was something else that I couldn’t help but notice. To me, it looked like maybe, just maybe, there was something else going on that could end in tears.

Although Sebastian’s car had the colour scheme and graphic design that indicated that he was in fact, supported financially by BMW, there was also an elephant at the ’ring.

The largest branding on Vettel’s car was not BMW – it was Red Bull.

The smiley faces indicated race wins – he ran out of space. The “Red Bull” represented the elephant.



Who owned the rights to Vettel? Red Bull also had a global driver development program.

How is this gonna play out?

In 2007, Sebastian was named as the test driver for BMW’s Formula 1 team. Was this our answer? He stepped in for the injured Robert Kubica at the Indy GP – drove brilliantly into the points – and then abruptly in July, he was ‘released’ by BMW and replaced Scott Speed at Red Bull’s Toro Rosso.

Why would a German automobile manufacturer racing in Formula 1 release a German superstar race car driver? Methinks that they had no choice and that the wide-awake, energetic elephant had first dibs.

And the rest is history.

Did the loss of Vettel from BMW’s stable have anything to do with BMW leaving Formula 1? Was the global economy a convenient excuse to cover for the “one” that got away? I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure. I do know that public statements and press releases are rarely designed to tell us what really happened.

Maybe Dr. Thiessen will write a book one day.  If he does, I doubt that there will be an elephant, or a bull, on the cover.

Question or comment? – add it here… or email me at jb@brandrenaline.com