When I first heard that Harlequin had teamed up with NASCAR to cover romances, I thought it was a very savvy business move – I just didn’t realize I’d be one of the writers involved. I was invited to write one of the books and while I was still on the phone with the editor, the characters and the storyline popped into my head – a pampered daddy’s girl who’s always had everything handed to her on the sponsorship side and a down-to-earth rookie driver who’s fought his way up the ranks. It’s always a good thing when characters show up wanting their shot at happiness.
Now color me strange (please hold all cheeky comments on that), but the other appealing factor was it had to have a romance and sexual tension, but it also had to be written at a PG-rating level. No on-page sex. No “earthy” language. Uh, both of those things are a given in all of my books. Plus this was a longer word count than I’d ever written. This was an opportunity and a challenge for me to write outside my norm, to tell a story that would appeal to NASCAR fans who’d perhaps never read romance before, and likewise to interest romance readers who weren’t necessarily NASCAR enthusiasts.
I hopped on-board.
And I quickly learned an important thing. You can like NASCAR racing and you can watch it but there’s a whole lot to know beyond that to write about people who live in that world because it is a world unto itself. It very quickly slapped me upside the head that I needed to do some major research. I do actually research pretty much every book that I write whether it’s location or jobs or professions, but this was way beyond and above any kind of research I’d had to do before.
I bought lots of non-fiction books about NASCAR and read. The fam and I went to a race at Talladega and sat in the nosebleed section and when it got rained out on Sunday, we won the Bad Parent Award by keeping our kid out of school and going back to the Monday make-up race. It was very cool to “experience” a race at the track, although I could have definitely lived without the horrendous traffic. There’s a reason they fly the crew members in and out.
In May 2006, a group of us met in Charlotte for a tour of Roush Racing headquarters and the Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Here we are, all assembled for dinner the night before:
Front, L to R: Carrie Weaver, editor Marsha Zinberg, Ken Casper, (Back) Gina Wilkins, Wendy Etherington, Yours Truly.
What an amazing experience to go through the garages where these cars are being built and fine-tuned, to see the assembly crews at work, to realize the depth, scope and sophistication behind those Saturday and Sunday races. We also got to tour one of the haulers – those big transport vehicles that take the cars to the track. It was kinda mind-boggling when the tour guy told us that when that hauler pulls out heading for a race, fully loaded down, you’re watching one million bucks pull out of the parking lot.
When you think garage area, grease and oil and well…dirty immediately comes to mind. Uh, no. People, we are talking pristine. You couldn’t buy a spec of dirt or oil. It was cleaner than my kitchen floor. Actually, it was probably cleaner than my kitchen table.
And here’s the inside of Carl Edward’s hauler at Roush.
And outside the hauler…
Then it was over to Lowe’s Motor Speedway where the Busch Series cars were practicing. It didn’t matter that we were there with NASCAR personnel. No one’s going in the in-field without registering and picking up a band at the Credentials office. Here we are sporting our wrist bands:
And who could resist the opportunity to stand in Victory Lane when the other guys have to fight it out on the track for this opportunity? Not us.
My other research trip was to Atlanta Motor Speedway in October. Fellow writer Wendy Etherington and I were lucky enough to get “cold passes” which granted us entry to the garage area and pit road until an hour before the race began and a pass to the NASCAR skybox which overlooks the start/finish line.
Here’s a pic of the crews setting up the pit boxes early in the morning:
Inside the NASCAR Nextel Cup Garage trackside:
and a crew waiting to take the car though to have it checked out by tech:
I’ll have to say the research was incredibly interesting and brought a nice authenticity to many of the scenes. When the hero or heroine is in the hauler, it’s authentic. Skybox? Check. Plus my husband and daughter were green with envy.
No. I did not meet any of the drivers and that suited me just fine. Tucker Macray, the hero who is a rookie driver, is totally a person I built in my own head. He’s not based on or inspired by any driver out there. Tucker was so firmly in my head, I didn’t want to muck that up. Plus, I’m actually kind of shy -- no snorting from any of the playfriends -- yes, I will talk your ear off once I know you, but otherwise…. Other than “Hi, nice to meet you” I doubt I would’ve managed to say much more. And third, the kind of things I’d want to ask any of the drivers, they wouldn’t want to answer because it’s the kind of “crawl into your head” stuff a writer wants to know.
Despite the research when all is said and done, it’s a love story set against a NASCAR backdrop. For two people with such different backgrounds, a stock car driver who attributes racing with literally saving his life and a pampered heiress, I really felt as if this hero and heroine were meant for each other, which at the end of the day is what it’s all about.
When I say I grew writing this book, I mean it literally. By the time I finished the revisions, I’d packed on ten pounds and I hit Harlequin’s deadline but I was nearly a month past mine. Of course, you’ve got to factor in that in the middle of revisions my mother fell and shattered her arm and had to have surgery and I figure ten pounds was a better deal than a nervous breakdown.
The book is done and I’m on to the next one and I get this cover:
I wasn’t sure whether to cry or laugh hysterically. I decided on both. Surely, the cover gods couldn’t have deserted me so horribly on a book I’d worked so hard on and sacrificed ten horrid pounds for.
Voila, a month later, I learned that the cover had been scrapped in lieu of this one!
Woohoo!! Thank you, cover gods, thank you!!!
Okay, so I’ve blathered on enough. I’d love to answer any questions you might have except I AM NOT telling how much I weigh.
P.S. You can learn more about Jennifer and her books at her website and be sure to visit The Soapbox Queens, her group blog.
This just in! "I'd like to share the Harlequin NASCAR love...and read...by giving away a free copy of The Rookie to two visitors today."