DEBORAH CROMBIE: Okay, it's Tuesday, we have a long week ahead of us, and I think we need a little excitement. As in VROOM VROOM, get your blood pressure up and your heart racing excitement. All it takes for me is this first line from my buddy Tammy Kaehler! If you haven't read Tammy's books featuring Kate Reilly, race car driver, you are in for a big treat. Tammy has gotten close to her character in a way that most writers only dream about, and this year she has totally topped it. She's got a job at--Well, I'll let Tammy tell you.
TAMMY KAEHLER: “Green, green, green! We are green for the Indianapolis 500!”
My heart pounded at race speeds. A voice broke through the static in my headphones. Patsy, a friend and pit spotter shouted, “Tagliani’s got a problem, he’s in the pits.”
Crap, I think. That’s one of my drivers. I’m already screwing up my job!
I’ve had a lot of opportunities over the last dozen years that other people would sell organs to experience. Like sitting down with hall-of-fame racing drivers to learn how to drive certain tracks—and finding out who pees in the seat of the race car and who doesn’t (yeah, it’s a thing). Like getting a ride around a race circuit from Mario Andretti. Like swapping book recommendations with a woman who drives 230 mph.
Like sporting an all-access credential—the kind money can’t even buy—for the Indy 500 last year.
But my story gets better. The 2016 race wasn’t just any Indy 500, it was the 100th running of the iconic motor race, and the place was overflowing. With something approaching 350,000 people. (Seriously.) They said one of every 1,000 people in the United States last May 29 was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They said IMS represented the 30-somethingth largest city in the country that day. It was packed.
But wait, my story still gets better. I wasn’t just attending the race. I was in pit lane—working for ESPN. And I was terrified I would do something wrong.
My job was to be a backup pit spotter—a representative of the network broadcasting the race who monitors a certain set of pit spaces, teams, cars, and drivers. In my case, I had the last dozen cars in the 33-car field. The top twenty were covered by other pit spotters, plus on-air talent and cameras. My cars/drivers were those least likely to have hot stories, so I didn’t have talent or camera. Just me and my nerves.
I wandered up and down my portion of pit lane throughout the race, collecting information about pit stops, problems, changes made to cars, and so forth. Once, I legged it to a particular pit to get an answer Patsy and her on-air guy needed. Occasionally, I reported when a top-20 running car of mine was headed for a pit stop.
Mostly, I sweated and worried. And had an absolute ball.
BE IN THIS MOMENT! I kept reminding myself. ENJOY THIS, RIGHT NOW!
And I did. I’m aware just how rarefied the air is I get to breathe. I mean, who gets to work the pits for the Indy 500?!
What’s more astonishing—or worse, if you’re one of those people who’d climb over my twitching corpse to take my spot—is that growing up, I didn’t know a thing about the Indy 500. Or racing at all. I was working for a mortgage company that started sponsoring racing, and I went along to the races because they needed help. That was the start of my insider access…and the start of Kate Reilly.
I started in a smaller, less well-known series. With less-known teams and drivers. As I’ve written more books and done more research, I’ve met more and more people. One person led to another, who led to another, and suddenly, I know a woman who races in the Indy 500. In fact, Pippa Mann not only races in the Indy 500, but she’s also a reader! (She’s my unicorn, basically.) She enthusiastically became my primary source for KISS THE BRICKS, set at the Indy 500.
Just as suddenly, when I needed access last year to research the new book, it turns out I knew the right people who were willing to recommend me for the job in the pits. And the best part of this story? They recommended me again for this year.
So come Sunday, May 28, when The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indy 500, takes the green flag again, think of me. I’ll be the one stressing, sweating, and grinning ear-to-ear in the pits.
DEBS: I'd never have thought someone could turn this die-hard horse racing fan into a car racing fan, but Tammy did just that with her first Kate Reilly book. She makes you feel what it's like to be in the seat of the little, fragile metal shell, careening around the track at nearly warp speed. And there's a cracking good mystery to make it even better.
Here's a little snippet from KISS THE BRICKS, the 5th Kate Reilly mystery:
After the first practice session for the legendary Indianapolis 500
motor race, Kate Reilly is stunned to discover she was the fastest
driver—but she’s more surprised to learn she wasn’t the first woman to
top the speed charts in the race’s 106-year history. That feat was
accomplished in 1987 by PJ Rodriguez—who shocked everyone by committing
suicide ten days later.
When the press, bloggers, and social
media go crazy over the connection, Kate loses her identity—suddenly
everyone’s comparing Kate and PJ, calling Kate PJ, and wondering if Kate
will kill herself, too. Except that PJ’s family claim PJ was murdered,
and they want Kate’s help finding her killer and restoring her
reputation. Thirty years after the fact.
In the days leading up
to the iconic race, Kate takes to the track for practice sessions,
fulfills sponsor obligations, promotes the race for the IndyCar series,
and plays peacemaker between the warring sides of her family. She also
digs into PJ’s experience in the Indy 500 paddock and uncovers pervasive
prejudice and chauvinism—then and now. With investigative help from
“Special Team Kate,” she’s on the trail of potential suspects for PJ’s
murder…and then one of them turns up dead.
Kate prepares to run
the biggest race of her life at the same time as she narrows down the
clues to two murders, all while fighting for her voice and identity in
the storm of media attention. But will the past stay buried or will
history repeat itself and leave Kate fighting for her own life?
Meg Gardiner says, "Smooth, quick, and punchy, KISS THE BRICKS pulls readers into the high-octane drama of the Indianapolis 500. The racing feels authentic and intense, but what propels this novel is the compelling mystery," and I agree.
Here's more about Tammy: When Tammy Kaehler discovered the racing world, she was hooked by the contrast between its top-dollar, high-drama competition, and friendly, family atmosphere. Mystery fans and racing insiders alike have praised her award-winning Kate Reilly Mystery Series (Dead Man’s Switch, Braking Points, Avoidable Contact, and Red Flags), and Tammy takes readers back behind the wheel in her fifth entry, Kiss The Bricks. She works as a freelance writer in Southern California, where she lives with her husband and many cars. Find out more: www.tammykaehler.com.
DEBS: I love the title of this book, and the cover is fabulous! Tammy, do you have input on the cover?
READERS, Tammy will be dropping in to answer questions about KISS THE BRICKS, and about racing. (I'm not sure I want to mention the whole pee-in-the-seat thing, but, really?)
So tell us if you are racing fans, REDS and readers. Have you been to the Indy? It sounds amazing, and I want to hear more!
(And I know what I'm going to be doing on May 28th. I'm going to be glued to the Indy 500, hoping to catch at glimpse of Tammy.)