NASCAR attempts a romantic spin

Friday, November 18, 2005

Dick Trickle retired too soon.

The longtime NASCAR driver, whose name provided years of entertainment for sportscasters and frat boys alike, would have fit right in to the brave new world of NASCAR endorsements: NASCAR-themed romance novels.

The new project, in conjunction with romance publisher Harlequin Enterprises Ltd., kicks off with "In the Groove," to be published in late January, right before the Daytona 500. It's an attempt to appeal to a female fan base that isn't likely to be wooed by Caterpillar and Lowe's. Of NASCAR's estimated 75 million fans, roughly 40 percent are female.

Gentlemen, start your emotions.

"When the wife or girlfriend goes to get a book about NASCAR, so many times it's a book that they would get for their husband or boyfriend," said Kerry Tharp, NASCAR's director of public relations for licensing. "Now, maybe they can get a book that they would be more interested in and still have the NASCAR storylines."

The novels will feature NASCAR themes and have the NASCAR logo on the cover. The first will be written by Pamela Britton, the author of such works as "Tempted", "Cowboy Lessons" and "Dangerous Curves." NASCAR established a set of editorial and style guidelines for the novels to help protect the sport's image.

The sport's fan base has shifted from regional and male-dominated to coast-to-coast diverse, Tharp said. But he acknowledges that romance novels could be seen as a departure from the good-old boy culture that built NASCAR into the behemoth it is today.

"You've got to realize where your sport came from, and the roots, and be respectful of that," Tharp said. "Yet you also want to grow your sport, so I think you've got to be smart in what you do."

The mind reels at the possible permutations if this takes off:

--Fabio as the Grand Marshal of the Daytona 500.

--Dale Earnhardt Jr. swapping Budweiser for Celestial Seasonings.

--The traditional champagne-spraying celebration in Victory Lane being replaced by a long bubble bath.

--Kurt Busch resolving his problems by writing heartfelt notes on scented stationery instead of punting whoever he's mad at into the wall. (Wait. That one's not such a bad idea.)

Yes, the times they are a-changin'. The sport that over the years has had such family-friendly sponsors as cigarettes, hard liquor and erectile dysfunction medication will now be jumping headfirst into romance novels. Only one question remains:

Who's the first to drive the Harlequin car?

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