Friday, January 29, 2010

Jack is Back

When Miss Sprint Cup, Anne Marie Rhodes, announced she wasn't returning for the 2010 season after three splendid years as one of the most photographed faces in NASCAR, I sensed the proverbial house of cards beginning to fall.

You see, before my own "Clueless New Yorker in NASCAR Country" stories at the very end of The Weekend Starts on Wednesday, Anne Marie was the final fan chapter. Her story stands, of course; little girl loves NASCAR, gazes into Victory Lane to see Miss Winston, and grows up to get her dream job as Miss Sprint Cup. Anne Marie did an amazing job, and won the hearts of many fans. But she's no longer Miss Sprint Cup this year, when the book hits, something I'd blindly assumed would happen.

Like many of the fans I profiled, Anne Marie impressed me. She's a graceful, beautiful, earnest, hard-working, good-natured young lady who loves God and her country and NASCAR. I'd like and admire her even if I hadn't written about her. But I'd be lying to not also recognize I was crushed she'd not be on the circuit, able to talk up The Weekend Starts on Wednesday 2/47 for our ten-month season. Please don't hate me for my sugar plum fantasies of Anne Marie bringing my book into victory lane during the winner-jumps-out-of-the-car TV shot.

What got me on edge was then hearing about Jack Hege. He's the first chapter, the story of a young man falling in love with NASCAR on the beaches of Daytona and then, like a migratory bird, heading from North Carolina to Florida each February, to attend the Daytona 500. He's done it astounding 51 years in a row.

Anne Marie, the final chapter, had chosen to move on to new adventures (she's a talented painter and I can't wait to see some of her work; maybe we'll get to preview it here). And then I heard Jack Hege, chapter one, wouldn't be attending the Daytona 500.

My lord, I thought, I'm a curse.

Was being featured as a remarkable fan in The Weekend Starts on Wednesday like getting on the cover of Sports Illustrated? The Giangola jinx? My book wasn't even at retail and the first and last fan each looked to be inching away from NASCAR. Would everyone in between follow? Tire Man would hang up his Goodyear and show up in the infield in regular clothes? Mike Wright switches from the King to Bobby Allison? Junior's Baby88 Girl shows up at Auto Club Speedway in a Jeff Gordon hat? Tom Cruise starts attending X Games instead of NASCAR races? Miss USA sashays out in a racy Formula 1 outfit?

Well, that's not the case. Anne Marie remains a big NASCAR fan, and Jack is back! Our season opener on Valentine's Day will be 52 years in a row...53 if you count watching the last race on the beach. (Check out his chapter, "A Moment in the Sun" for the tale of his buddy pulling onto the race course, with several cars following down the beach....they had to turn around and come back!)

Last year, Jack, 82 at the time, had his tickets but didn't want to drive to Daytona. Dustin Long, the motorsports reporter for the Greensboro News & Record wrote about an amazing streak of ultimate fandom about to end. A local resident saw the story, offering to accompany Jack to Daytona. In a Krispy Kreme donut shop, the two men hit it off, and Jack had a traveling partner.

Well, Dustin came through again. His recent follow up piece on Hege likely to watch the race on TV made it to an old friend of Jack's from more than 50 years ago. Once more, Jack has a ride, and will be trackside for the Great American Race.

If they want to put The Weekend Starts on Wednesday on the cover of Sports Illustrated, maybe we can break that curse, too.

Friday, January 22, 2010

My Dad Writes Rubbish, Part 2

My daughter Gaby has yawned through most of this book-release excitement.

Today, she made a $10 wager that her book would outsell mine. I reminded the girl I have a pretty good head start. Mainly, I actually have a book.

While a major New York publisher is mildly interested in the manuscript of her psychologicial horror novel, CYANIDE SMILE, and in fact while an executive at said publisher took a lunch meeting with young Gaby to serve up a few plot tweak suggestions, and in fact said, "This is very good, period; not 'good for a 14 year old' but just plain good," and furthermore went on to say a veteran editor may take a good hard look at the pages of CYANIDE SMILE if the changes were made, Gaby has no book deal yet. My daughter is pretty confident. She offered her pinky, and the bet was made.

Suffice it to say, Gaby the aspiring writer hasn't been overly impressed about the publication of her dad's book, outside of lighting up in seeing her name in the Acknowledgements, and thoroughly enjoying my own stories in the back of the book, especially "Wardrobe Malfunctions."

However, we reached a turning point today. When Gaby found out The Weekend Starts on Wednesday is on sale directly below the Dexter DVD on the Showtime Store's web site, she was PSYCHED. All smiles. Wants a screen shot. Her dad is now officially a cool author, thanks to a fictional serial killer.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Say a Prayer for Wessa

The sky always opens on me in Charlotte.

Heading to my first really big national interview, I was caught in a southern downpour. But it was fine. On the radio, no one knows you’re soaking wet.

As I sat down for Dave Moody’s afternoon drive show at Sirius XM’s studio outside Charlotte, a pack of Extenze Male Enhancement awaited me. They had to be for me, positioned on the console in front of my microphone. Sitting behind the wheel moments earlier, listening to the rain slam the rental car’s roof and Moody’s booming voice talking up “Andrew Giangola’s great new book,” I’d been on top of the mountain. And now, putting the headphones on, looking at the capsules I’m regularly told I need in spam e-mail, talk about cutting a man down to size…so to speak.

Actually, Moody didn’t place the penis enlargement pills there; the Extenze came from a previous guest. Hey, a race car is a pretty good place to advertise just about anything, even stuff that doesn’t work. Not that I know that from experience.

I was short of breath from the post 9.11 asthma and the general terror that strikes before a mike is opened, not because of the Extenze. Back in the hotel room, meditating to clear the cobwebs, the toilet started flushing on its own, scaring the bejesus out of me. It would be difficult to get phased when there are irregular ghosts in your room.

We got rolling, and it went really well. Dave was genuinely excited about the fan stories, and thought it was cool NASCAR let me tell them in my own voice. On a day when new rules were announced to let the boys have at it, you could say NASCAR is letting the drivers drive and the writers write. I even got in a dig on Al Qaeda.

Amazingly, Moody knew many of the fans in The Weekend Starts on Wednesday. Dr. Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, NASCAR’s “Science Lady” has been a guest on the show, as has up and coming driver Paulie Harraka, a whip smart student at Duke. Dave had been to Bob’s Party Bus and had met Tire Man. A veteran of the infield where many reporters don't trod; very cool.

Through the power of Social Networking I’d been able to alert the fans in the book and my own Facebook and Twitter friends about the appearance. Our Weekend Starts on Wednesday Facebook Fan Page added about 100 fans within hours of the interview. One fan emailed to say he’d ordered 10 copies from Amazon. Heck, I gotta go on the radio more often!

One question was especially tough: which fan story is my favorite? There are so many great stories; every fan is special in his or her own right. Along with CPL. John Hyland, I mentioned Wessa Miller, the Lucky Penny Girl, who on a Make a Wish gave Dale Earnhardt her lucky coin, “helping” him finally win the 1998 Daytona 500 after years of heartbreak and futility.

Well, I just learned that Wessa, who was born with spina bifida, had been suffering bad seizures and is in the ICU unit of a Kentucky hospital. As her dad Booker told me, Wessa is tough, she never complains. Getting to know the family in the course of writing The Lucky Penny Girl chapter, I found Wessa to be a girl with extraordinary faith and courage.

But she needs our help. She made it through a Code Blue today. Tonight, please say a special prayer for Wessa Miller.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sippin 'Shine With Mario Batali and Rachael Ray

One of the most fun fan stories to write was slurpin' moonshine and gallivanting in a generally carefree way with Mario Batali and Rachael Ray at Texas Motor Speedway.

Here's a (nonalcoholic) taste of that tale, which just went up on the track's web site -

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Eagle Has Landed

The best presents sometimes come late. Today's package from a factory in China by way of Motorbooks in Minneapolis is an advance copy of "The Weekend Starts on Wednesday."

To be honest, I wasn't a in love with the cover the publisher chose. NASCAR had produced a version using a photo of an orange sunset behind a race track that was dark, ominous and dramatic. (My daughter Gaby said it was great, "if you want the feel of going off to war." She nailed it.)

The white cover Motorbooks chose uses a kid as the main visual. But this isn't a kid's book, I reasoned. (Although I act like I'm 12 in some parts, only three of the 40 or so fan stories prominently feature children.) Plus, I was informed by a friend in publishing "white covers don't sell unless you're Al Gore." (I'd gladly take Al Gore's book sales but wouldn't trade my professional life for his now, as entire villages in South America are on the verge of being wiped out in this record cold, along with the Florida Orange crop. Isn't it funny all the dignitaries delayed in getting to the global warming conventions because of historically frigid weather.)

Then I ripped open the package and got my paws on the book. Man, that cover looked perfect. The book was heavier than I'd have imagined. Those on the train can use it as a weapon should trouble stir. The publisher invested in thick, glossy paper you'd never dare dog ear. (The pages are the quality of a coffee table book. But it's smaller, 6" x 9". An expresso table book?) The color photos pop -- about 75 in all. (I am growing to regret using a toothless one of myself for the story, "My Doctors Only Want to Talk NASCAR." Not a smart career move, but who needs a career.)

All in all, it looks SWEET.

The book sits next to my computer. I keep picking it up, thumbing through, smiling like a baboon. Since I began writing on bathroom walls in school, I always wanted to be a "published" author. The feeling is satisfying, and I can't sit still.

I'm going for a run and will be careful. Giddy days of happiness and good fortune are generally when one's thoughts are off in CandyLand and you get flattened by a bus.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Best NASCAR Fan Email of The Year

If you were able to order a NASCAR fan over the phone, with Mike Wright, you'd say, "I want one as big as they come."

Mike is hard core. In "The Weekend Starts on Wednesday: True Stories of Remarkable NASCAR Fans" we focus on his relationship with Richard Petty. (I don't want to say "obsession," which produces end-game images of straight jackets and Nurse Ratched. Mike is a decent fellow, a hard-working long-haul trucker. He's a patriotic, funny, down-to-earth guy -- a loving husband and now a good friend. He just happens to love NASCAR and Richard Petty, so much so that he's gotten the King's autograph more than 100 times. And the King has never turned him down.)

Mike just sent me the following e-mail. I know it's only January 1. We are still in the single figures on college and pro baseketball players arrested on gun charges. College bowl games are under way, and Twilight Zone Marathon episodes are still running with little Billy turning the drunk Perry Como fan into a jack-in-the-box and wishing neighbors into the corn field. But still, though it's early yet, let's call this the BEST FAN EMAIL OF THE YEAR. Here's Mike's note to me:

Karen and I didn't do jack last night for New Year's. Even though she asked me to try and stay up till midnight, I didn't get off the road till late, and woke up at 3:00 am on the couch with the remote in my hand. Oh well.

I did have a very nice New Year's day. Karen went to spend the day with her mother, and I had the house to myself. I decided to watch the 1979 Daytona 500. Karen found the DVD on a rare sports film web site. It's the original broadcast of that race, flag to flag with no commercials. I had not seen the whole race since I watched it with my dad in 1979.

Of course, any NASCAR fan knows knows what happened: Yarborough and Allison wrecked each other on the last lap, and The King won his sixth of seven Daytona 500's.

You would have thought I was watching it live. I was on the edge of my seat with 20 laps to go (even though, of course, I knew what was going to happen).

On the last lap, I was jumping up and down, the dog barking, the cat ran and hid. It was wild. I went and dug from the closet an old Richard Petty shirt and hat from when he was still driving, and packed a cooler full of beer. I'm going to celebrate in a big way something that happened 31 years ago.

Complete insanity. Some may say I've finally lost it...Call the guys with the butterfly nets, we've got one ready for Belleview.

Damn, life is good. How many days until the Daytona 500?