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Fast cars and romance

A couple of years ago, a Harlequin editor I’d worked with on several projects in the past gave me a call. “What do you know about NASCAR?” she asked. Without hesitation, I replied, “I can tell you the top twelve drivers in points this season. What else do you need to know?” “You just answered my question,” she said with a laugh.

She explained that Harlequin and NASCAR were collaborating on a series of romances set in the world of stock car racing, and she asked if I would like to participate. It sounded like fun, so I signed up. I spent the next few months immersed in research. I read Mark Martin’s NASCAR FOR DUMMIES and Jeff Hammonds’ REAL MEN WORK IN THE PITS, among other biographies and behind-the-scenes books. Another book I can highly recommend is SUNDAY MONEY by Jeff McGregor. It’s a funny, on-the-road account of a year the author and his wife, neither overly familiar with the sport, followed the NASCAR circuit in an RV. Although I was a fan, I had never attended a NASCAR race and I wanted to make sure I did all I could to make my writing authentic.

The highlight of my research was a trip to Lowe’s Motor Speedway in North Carolina with my editor and four other NASCAR writers. We were taken on a tour of the Rousch Racing headquarters and of the track during a practice session. Both tours were fascinating. It was so exciting to walk through the fab shop and explore inside Carl Edwards’ hauler. And the track was eye-opening — or should I say, ear-splitting. You really can’t imagine how loud those cars are until you’re standing at the track with those huge, hungry engines screaming around you. Almost the first thing I saw upon arrival was a car hit the wall, so I heard that nervewracking noise, as well. Fortunately, no one was hurt. I saw the rows of haulers with famous faces milling among them, the frantically busy garages, the intense concentration focused on every detail of the cars’ and drivers’ performances. It really brought to life what I’d seen on my TV screen every Sunday.

I had become a NASCAR fan almost by accident. Some ten years prior to my editor’s call, my son — who was about seven then — had received a Jeff Gordon racecar (the old rainbow paint scheme) as a gift. My son happened to glance at the TV soon afterward and saw “his” car circling a track. When his car won that race, he was thrilled … and a Jeff Gordon fan was born. Because my son was so excited about the sport, I started watching with him, as did his two older sisters. It wasn’t long before we were a family of NASCAR fans, all with our own favorite drivers. We spent many lazy Sunday afternoons in front of the TV with popcorn and books (we’re all readers), cheering and booing and playfully arguing about whose driver was the best. Now that my two girls are out on their own and my son is in college, I still miss those afternoons, so I will always have a soft spot for NASCAR as a family activity. Little did I know then that I would be writing books set in that world with the official NASCAR logo blazened across the covers!

My first two NASCAR books, HEARTS UNDER CAUTION and ALMOST FAMOUS (both available through eHarlequin.com), were connected to each other, but not to any of the other NASCAR books that year. I also wrote a NASCAR Christmas story, SEASON OF DREAMS, for 2007’s A NASCAR HOLIDAY anthology.

Last year, we collaborated on a different type of series in which all of the books were connected. Set within several fictional racing family empires, the series began with book one, my own IN HIGH GEAR, which was released in February, 2008. IN HIGH GEAR introduced hero Kent Grosso, a third generation driver who has already won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, and his father, Dean, still an active driver in pursuit of his own championship title. A mystery is introduced in that book — someone is blackmailing Kent, but who? And how will it affect his relationship with the woman he loves, and whom he had hoped to marry? The blackmailer’s identity is revealed in a later title, OUT OF LINE by Michelle Dunaway. Other books in the series center around Kent’s family members, competitors and associates and their own quests for love among the grueling schedules and relentless fame of NASCAR. It was a lot of fun — and a lot of work! — to collaborate on this series with so many talented writers. We spent hours emailing each other with questions and details, making sure we got all the details right, all the characters’ voices consistent. I compare it to writing for a television series — the setting and characters are established, but each author brings his or her own voice and creativity to the collaboration.

My final book in this miniseries is RISKY MOVES, available in stores in November. It is the story of Tobey Harris, a young crew chief who has had to step in to lead Kent Grosso’s team in mid-season when the former crew chief was fired. Tobey has to prove his readiness for this position to the team, to the fans, and to himself — all while becoming more deeply involved with P.R. rep Amy Barber, who is trying to juggle her demanding career with sometimes overwhelming family responsibilities. It’s a bad time for both Tobey and Amy to fall in love — but winners in love, as in racing, sometimes have to take the biggest risks.

As I said in my last post, I’m writing yet another NASCAR-connected story now, another novella which will appear in the 2009 NASCAR Christmas anthology. It doesn’t even have a title yet, but it’s about another dashing driver — this one who finds escape from fame and pressure behind a Santa Claus costume. I’m having a lot of fun with it. I don’t have any more NASCAR books scheduled, because I’m concentrating on some new ideas at this time, but I’m still a fan. And who knows? Maybe I’ll want to visit the racing world again sometime soon. Those larger-than-life heroes and heroines of NASCAR are just hard to resist …

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Award-winning, best-selling author of women's romance fiction.

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