By: Deb Broadwater
The 2000’s era of NASCAR, right at the turn of the century, is arguably one of the biggest eras of the sport. The popularity boom left NASCAR and its drivers open to tons of sponsorship and had merchandise creators scrambling to catch up to the demand of NASCAR items for every type of fan. Commercials, video games (yes, I’m talking NASCAR Thunder), driver’s faces on products (I’m looking at Dale Jr on a Maxwell House coffee tin right now), and so much branded merchandise. NASCAR Christmas decorations, yes please! NASCAR shoes, purses, living room suites, bedspreads. In the 2000’s, you could have it all, and most did. If you wanted Jeff Gordon cereal or Dale Jr. KFC buckets full of chicken, you got it. Flea markets on the East Coast are full of the remains of the 2000’s NASCAR boom and its flea markets that led me to the one thing I had no idea existed until recently: NASMANCE.
NASMANCE, a name coined by Fast Lap podcast co-host Chrissi Luttrell and I, are NASCAR romance novels. It’s ironic to Chrissi, that she used to laugh about her mothers-in-law’s obsession with Harlequin novels, only to find herself knee deep in the NASCAR variety of those very same books. Let’s rewind. A now friend of mine, Daniel McFadin, posted a tweet about finding a collection of the novels in his local flea market. As an avid reader, Chrissi tagged Matthew Burroughs (my editor) and myself in the tweet, and off to the races it went. The novels were quickly purchased, researched, and discussed on multiple podcasts. How I missed this massive combination of both my worlds, NASCAR and books back in the 2000’s, I’ll never know, but now I’m up to speed. One book caught our attention in particular: In High Gear, by Gina Wilkins was bought and read.
“Some secrets aren’t ever forgotten…
Since the early days of NASCAR, the Murphy and Grosso families haven’t been exactly friends. In fact, “bitter enemies” might be more accurate, with tales of deception, cheating and even suspected murder. But driver Kent Grosso—who’s still hearing about his grandfather’s decades-old grudge—has a few closeted skeletons of his own.…
Professional photographer Tanya Wells thought she knew Kent pretty well, but it turns out Kent’s been hiding a few details from her. To make matters worse, Kent’s been getting anonymous e-mails from someone who’s a little too familiar with the Grosso family history…and isn’t above a little blackmail!
Now the past is coming up fast in Kent’s rearview mirror. Question is, can he swerve in time to avoid a deadly collision?”
This book is perfect for the casual racing fan. It’s informative with easy-to-understand dialogue, and a very catchy plot that keeps the reader wanting more. Considering there are 40 books in total bearing the NASCAR/Harlequin name, there’s plenty of reading and rabbit holes to venture down. I was lucky enough to speak with Gina Wilkins, author of 4 of the books in the collection (HEARTS UNDER CAUTION, ALMOST FAMOUS, SEASON OF DREAMS (a novella in the NASCAR Holidays 2 anthology) and IN HIGH GEAR), about her experiences.
We started with easiest question. How did she get involved with this project?
“I received a call from Marsha Zinberg in Canada, an editor with whom I had worked before and had met on multiple occasions. The first thing Marsha asked me was, ‘Do you know anything about NASCAR?” A little confused about why she’d asked, I replied, ‘Do you want me to tell you the top ten drivers in points position for this season? Because I can.’ She laughed and said apparently I was a fan. She then described the proposed program and asked if I would like to be included. Obviously, I jumped to accept this new and challenging offer!”
Gina went on to explain how she became a NASCAR fan.
“When my son was 8 years old (now a 32 year old physician), he was given a rainbow #24 die cast car. Not long afterward, he saw a race playing on the TV and shouted, ‘There goes my car!’ A rabid Jeff Gordon fan was born, and before long his two older sisters and I were watching with him every weekend. We each chose our favorite drivers and teams (this lifelong Arkansas resident had to root for Mark Martin). We had so much fun watching and loudly cheering. Though my ‘kids’ are grown now, I will always remember those Sunday afternoons with a (wistful) smile.”
NASCAR was heavily invested in this novel series. Gina discussed with me how she researched for her novels and an experience she’ll never forget. We also touched on whether any of the characters in her book were based off real life NASCAR drivers.
“Knowing they would be edited and then approved by NASCAR, I did a ton of research before writing my four NASCAR books. I read every book and article I could find; I still have quite a few NASCAR related books in my library. Our NASCAR liaison was always available to answer questions. But the highlight of my research was a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina with several of the other authors in project and our editor. We were treated to a tour behind the scenes at Roush Racing, where we were all especially fascinated with the fabrication process – Mark Martin’s cars from several races were lined up right in front of me! Afterward, we were allowed to walk through Carl Edwards’ hauler. That was one of my favorite parts of the trip because it gave me a glimpse of the day-to-day life of the crew on the road. We were then taken to the racetrack, where several drivers were practicing. Yes, I recognized a few of them and even saw a thankfully minor one-car wreck on the track. I couldn’t believe how loud the place was, especially in the pit area! Several scenes from my books came from that fun and informative day. I was certainly influenced by the NASCAR participants I had grown to ‘know’ through interviews and racing coverage, but I can’t specifically point to a character based on one single person. All the larger-than-life personalities in the racing scene were inspiration for this romance writer.”
I can’t be the only one wishing for more NASCAR novels. While there are some incredibly well-written selections of fan fiction out there, I can only imagine how well a fresh NASCAR book series would do in the current fan arena, where new fans are reminded of how incredible the 2000’s were. I think we all can agree, a resurgence of the past in that regard would be welcomed with open arms.
Thank you to Gina Wilkins for speaking with me on your experiences.