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NASCAR, Harlequin Gear Up for Love Stories


By Carol Memmott, USA TODAY



APResearch shows that women who follow Nascar races are more likely to read romance novels.



(Jan. 31) -- Strange bedfellows, indeed. Or maybe not. If it's true that opposites attract, then a licensing agreement between Harlequin Romance novels and NASCAR Inc., should be a marriage made in heaven. The first offspring of this new union, a racetrack romance entitled In the Groove by Pamela Britton, goes on sale Tuesday — just a few weeks before the Daytona 500 on Feb. 19. Two other NASCAR-themed love stories will be published this year: On the Edge by Britton in September and A NASCAR Holiday by Kimberly Raye, Roxanne St. Claire and Debra Webb in November. At least 17 more, by various authors, are planned for 2007.


"It's a partnership between two extremely brand-loyal groups," says Kerry Tharp of NASCAR. "We're trying to reach out and do more to appeal to our female fan base."


NASCAR fans buy $2 billion in licensed products annually. Harlequin devotees bought 130 million books last year.


"It's a very good fit," agrees Marleah Stout of Harlequin, pointing out that women account for 40% of the sport's fan base.


"NASCAR very much portrays themselves as a family-oriented sport, and most romance fiction is about commitment and about the promise of happily-ever-after," says Gayle Wilson, president of the 9,500-member Romance Writers of America.


It's also about making money. Romance titles make up nearly 55% of all paperback fiction sales, generating more than $1 billion in sales each year.


And, Tharp says, NASCAR research shows its female enthusiasts are 26% more apt to read romance novels than women who don't follow NASCAR.


In the Groove features down-on-his-luck NASCAR driver Lance Cooper and ex-kindergarten teacher Sarah Tingle. They meet when his car hits her. She gets a bump on the head. He's driven to distraction. When he looks at Sarah, Cooper "feels like he has been shocked by a loose spark plug wire."


Britton, the author, drag-raced as a teenager and is a popular romance author with a half-million copies of her nine books in print. Dangerous Curves, published last year, also dealt with a racetrack romance.


"NASCAR drivers are heroes," says Britton. "The books' appeal is that you can put yourself in the heroines' shoes."


And then there are the closet romantics.


"We always felt we have male readers who say they don't read our romance novels — but they do," Harlequin's Stout says.





Copyright 2006 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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