Two for the Road is a hangout for mystery writers Tammy Kaehler and Simon Wood to chat, reminisce, gossip, speculate and argue about all things motorsport.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Gratitude

by Tammy

(Simon and I will be taking this Friday through the New Year off, so this is my last post for 2011.)

Yesterday I spent some time putting together a montage of photos from this year's travel and events, and doing that made me incredibly grateful for the experiences I've had this year and the friends I've made.

I've gotten to see some incredible racing and share my book with drivers and racing pros, such as Andrea Robertson (right) of Robertson Racing, who ran regularly in the ALMS last year and, in June, was the first woman to stand on the podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in some 60 years. I've had industry insiders tell me "you got it exactly right, and I'm going to give this book to my wife to explain to her what I do for a living." And I've had strangers tell me they'd never read racing fiction they liked, until my book.

Every one of those moments thrilled me. It's been a long year of learning what it means to "be an author" and more, to be a promoter of myself and my book. And it's been hard to balance blogging, traveling, promoting, and speaking with a day job and a home life. But I am so incredibly grateful to everyone who's helped me and encouraged me along the way ... those of you who comment on this blog, Simon who partnered with me here in the first place, Steve our honorary blog partner, the reader who told me my book inspired him to apply for a library card again.

Thanks to my fellow racing fans, especially the ALMS Chicks, Barb K., Kevin and Mike, and many others. Every time you include me in a tweet, I smile and remember meeting you. (See you at the GPLB 2012!) I just can't tell you how thankful I am that you believe in me and Kate and want to help me spread the word. Writing is a solitary activity, but racing (especially fandom) is such a community, and I love that something outside the racing norm (I mean, mystery fiction?!) can be embraced by you all.

I wrote Dead Man's Switch because it was the book I wanted to read. And mostly, as I look back over the adventure that was 2011 and my debut as an author, I'm simply glad that other people want to read it too. Here's to a lot more racing fun in 2012! (And Simon, maybe we'll actually see each other next year....)

Thank you, happy holidays, and best wishes for 2012 to one and all.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Road Ahead

SIMON: I’ve been wondering about the future of motorsport—developmentally, ecologically, commercially.

Motorsport has been a stable sport for the past 60 years or so, but the rising price of gas and dwindling stockpiles, I’m not sure where the sport will be in twenty years. For the sport to survive, I do think the sport will have to adapt—whether than means switching to alternative fuels, alternative power plants—whatever they may be. We've already seen it when it comes to diesel engines, but the sport might have to be more radical than that for its own good. If the sport can find a way of being on the cutting edge of technology that'll go some way alleviating the sports less than green credentials.

But I do have a fear that the money will run out before the world’s oil supply runs out. I entered racing in 1990 just as the last major economic recession. Grids were healthy, but sponsorship was scant. But as the recession got its teeth into the disposable income, grids dwindled. I remember F3 grids dropping to less than 20 cars and even F1 couldn’t fill a grid. Well, I’ve noticed the grids are shrinking again. Touring cars and F3 can’t boast the competition level they did 20 years ago. It’s understandable. The cars are more expensive to buy and operate. And I don’t think all the euro and international series haven’t helped. Britain, Germany, France, etc. had very strong domestic championships, but once a euro series usurped them, costs ballooned and domestic championships suffered. I do wonder for the sport to flourish it will have shrink its ambitions.

That’s my thoughts, how about you, Tammy.

TAMMY: Racing really is stereotypically about conspicuous consumption, it's it? I find it especially fascinating to consider the sport (and business) of racing from an outsider's perspective, which is where I started just a handful of years ago. My husband (who doesn't care for sports much and prefers building to tearing down) still shakes his head over the "waste" of destroyed/wrecked cars and equipment (and even people). One one level, I'm also concerned about if racing will survive a shrinking economy and scarcity of resources. Maybe we'll lose the middle tier, and only have the top and bottom levels where those (aka, factory efforts) with the most and least resources compete. For instance, events like the 24 Hours of Le Mons races do very well these days, with their cap on $500 cars. That's something anyone can get involved in, easily.

On the whole, however, I think racing will find its way, will be reinvented as it needs to be in order to continue. People love to race (right, Steve Ulfelder and others?), and they're going to participate with their extra $500, $5,000, or $500,000. They also like to be entertained, and whether it's the crashes or the technology and skill (or both) that keeps them watching, racing has millions, maybe billions, of fans. I don't see the industry fading away with that kind of interest.

I also think there's something to the marketing and research and development value of racing. Marketing is easy: NASCAR fans will buy products that sponsor their favorite teams, and I bet many of the rest of us are at least influenced by what companies choose to put their money in our favorite form of racing. That's also the old "race on Sunday, sell on Monday" philosophy, that proving the car in a race will make the street model more attractive to consumers. Perhaps that's less true these days, but it's true to an extent. I believe, too, that manufacturers can develop and test equipment in a race environment that will eventually benefit street cars (that's one of the main points Corvette Racing will make, given half a chance), and I think car companies and suppliers will continue to see value there.

But I agree with Simon that the sport will have to work on its "green cred." It'll have to start leading the way developing energy sources, instead of just consuming them at an alarming rate. (The ALMS is the leader in that so far, I think, with its partnership with the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency and a challenge for the greenest racers at each event.)

But what do the rest of you think? Will racing adapt and survive? Where will it go from here?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pit Stop

By Simon

HOT SEAT, the second in the Aidy Westlake mysteries is in the bag. It’ll be out in the UK in March and out in the US in July. So like Tammy, I’m mulling over story ideas for books three and four. Not only am I thinking about the books, but I’m thinking about some storylines for some novellas featuring Aidy. I think it would be fun to write short and intense adventures featuring, Aidy, sprint races if you will.

When it comes to new stories, I’m not short on source material for ideas. The paddock was always a great place for rumor, gossip and urban legend. And I haven’t forgotten what I heard and saw from my time. The great thing about writing fiction is it doesn’t matter if any of the colorful on and off track exploits I heard and witnessed are true or not, because I can take those scenarios and twist and turn them into mysteries.

Another area for me to mine is the past. I love reading autobiographies and biographies about drivers and teams. I always find something in every book. A reference to an incident or an event will stop me in my tracks and make me wonder how that incident would be handled now. For example: In 1958, Juan Fangio was kidnapped Castro’s rebel forces before the Cuban Grand Prix. That’s an amazing story that you don’t hear much about. Transpose that to today. How would the kidnapping of Sebastian Vettel be handled now? I don’t know, but it would make an interesting book, wouldn’t it? It’s not always a big story like Fangio’s kidnapping that will get my engine revving. Even a passing remark or anecdote will catch my attention. All I’m looking for is a motive for someone to commit a crime. I’ll come up with the means and the opportunity.

There's a lot of stories that can be told about the motor racing world. You just have to clear away the grease to find them. :-)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Off-Season Upheaval

by Tammy

Racing's off-season (that of any sport, for that matter), is always an interesting time, and this year is no exception. At least one historic team is closing up shop (Newman/Haas Racing in IndyCar), and at least one championship driver is out of a job for bad behavior (Kurt Busch in NASCAR). There is good news, too, with different teams expanding to new series (Dempsey Racing running both Grand-Am and ALMS), new cars (the Corvette DP for Grand-Am), and new sponsors coming on board.

I watch all of the news reports with lots of interest and no little concern, because I write about a fictional driver and race team in the real racing world. That means I'm constantly hoping nothing dramatic happens to the races and series I'm writing about between one season and the next. For instance, while I was selling my first book, Dead Man's Switch, which is set at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, not only did the track get renovated and restructured, but so did the ALMS class structure (I decided to keep those as written and hope the reader understands).

Another for instance: last year at this time I was worried that the ALMS wouldn't return to Lime Rock for 2012, which would have ruined my plans for launching the book at the race it was written about (fortunately, all systems were a go). At least the race schedule is set for 2012, so I know that the races I'm writing about for the second Kate Reilly Racing Mystery (Road America and Road Atlanta; publication in March 2013!) will stay on the schedule at least this year.

Of course, even if there's the possibility for changes in the racing world messing up my careful plans, there's equal opportunity for more real-world stories to inspire Kate's adventures. A driver fired for swearing and temper? A championship-winning team that fires its crew chief? Sponsor dollars dictating which young driver gets a job over more-qualified (but unsponsored) colleagues? Golden. (And what always happens, for the last one.)

So these days, I'm writing, but I'm also watching the racing world carefully, ready to see what other funny business comes to light. What stories are making you the most interested or excited for the 2012 season?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Memorabilia Wish List

Tammy’s done a runner on me today so I’m all on my lonesome for our Friday discussion. Seeing as the cat is away, this mouse will play. A couple of weeks ago, Tam Tam and I discussed potential Christmas gifts for a gear head. This week, I want to be selfish and I want to talk about things I want—namely racing memorabilia. I have a wish list that I hope will get fulfilled if the gods are play kind.

1. A brick from the Indianapolis Speedway. The track owners from time to time give out a brick from the Brickyard. I’d like one piece.

2. I could be greedy and ask for a complete grand prix car, but mother taught me to be better than that—besides I don’t have the room—so I’d like just the steering wheel from an F1 car. I’m thinking maybe from Nigel Mansell’s Williams (either from his ’92 championship winning car or from the Williams Judd or from Johnny Herbert's Benetton).

3. Finally, I’d like a Jim Clark collectible. It doesn’t have to be big—a racing suit or a helmet would be nice, but I’d settle for an autograph item. Just a little something that would crown my collection of photographs and books I have on the man.

That me. What about you? What piece of dream memorabilia do you have on your wish list?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Guest Spot: Laleh Seddigh - The Fastest Woman in Iran

Heidi Noroozy guest spot replaces my scheduled piece today. Heidi belongs to the same Sisters in Crime chapter as me and this piece she was writing caught my interest.

Laleh Seddigh - The Fastest Woman in Iran

Iran is a country of excellent drivers. If you’ve ever climbed into a Tehran taxi and saw your life flash before your eyes as the driver wove madly in and out of traffic, headed the wrong way down one-way streets, ignored red lights, and seemed bent on breaking the sound barrier, this statement may be difficult to believe. The statistics would back up your impression: 28,000 fatal accidents per year nationwide, according to 2008 figures. And yet to simply survive everyday traffic in an Iranian city, a driver must have great reflexes and strong driving skills.

One of Iran’s most fearless drivers is Laleh Seddigh, the country’s top female race-car driver, who can negotiate congestion on Vali-Asr Avenue as easily as she does a racetrack. Her friends joke that she learned her skills on the streets of Tehran, where anything goes.

Seddigh (whose first name, Laleh, means tulip in Farsi) is the eldest of four and the daughter of an industrialist whose four factories produce furnaces and engine parts. She learned to drive at the age of 13 and totaled her first car at 17, when she smashed into a tree and broke her leg in four places. (Yes, I know that doesn’t sound like good driving, but she improved.)

She began her racing career in 2000, at the age of 23, but was only allowed to compete against other women at first. Then, in 2004, she petitioned the Iranian Racing Federation to let her participate in men’s races. Her timing was good. The reformist era under President Khatami had not yet come to an end, and many of the restrictive Islamic rules were being relaxed, with Internet cafes, coffee bars, and women in tight-fitting hejab common sights in Tehran. Seddigh explained to the board that separation of the sexes was not in keeping with the president’s reform efforts, and she pointed out that the Federation officials would enter the history books as the people who allowed men and women to race together.

Still, she needed clerical approval, so Seddigh and her father asked an ayatollah to issue a fatwa (religious degree) stating that male and female race-car drivers competing together was in keeping with Islamic principles. The ayatollah agreed with the stipulation that the female athletes adhere to the Islamic dress code. Not a difficult proposal, considering that even the men are covered from head to toe in helmets, gloves, and fireproof suits.

When her petition was approved, Seddigh became the first female athlete to compete against men in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, not only in auto racing but in any other sport as well.

But she still had more obstacles to overcome. After completing her first mixed-gender race, in which she placed third, not one of her competitors congratulated her, and she was disciplined after waving to her jubilant female fans. Every time she wins a race, the TV networks suspend live coverage of the awards ceremony to avoid giving her publicity. You’d think the lack of coverage would make her victory seem a much bigger event that it actually is. After all, when does live programming ever get interrupted except to announce a huge event: a devastating earthquake, the death of a president, the signing of a peace accord?

In 2007, Seddigh was banned from racing for a year for a technical violation. Under international racing rules, every car must have its engine sealed prior to entering a race to ensure that no illegal modifications are performed at the last minute. When Seddigh’s first-line car developed mechanical trouble, she used an alternate that had no engine seal. Although she received advance approval for the alternate car, after the race, the Iranian Racing Federation ruled that she’d been competing in the wrong category and imposed the year-long-ban. This event occurred after the conservative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, took office, which raises speculation that the Federation was looking for a way to get rid of this high-profile, female competitor.

Seddigh protested and pointed out that men had also used alternate cars with unsealed engines in previous races but had only been fined for the violation not banned from the sport.

These days, she’s back on the circuit, though. Earlier this year, Seddigh earned her International Racing Driving License during the BMW School Series in Bahrain and can apply her skills at the international level.

Now that Laleh Seddigh has not only broken through Iran’s formidable gender barrier but made it onto the international circuit as well, we can expect to see a lot more of the fastest woman in Iran.

Heidi Noroozy writes multicultural fiction set in Iran and regularly travels to the Middle East for research and inspiration. In the Islamic Republic, she has pondered the ancient past amid the ruins of Persepolis, baked translucent flat bread with Kurdish women in the Zagros Mountains, dipped her toes in the azure waters of the Caspian Sea, and observed the dichotomy of a publicly religious yet privately modern society. Her short stories have appeared in several anthologies, and she is seeking publication for her suspense novel, Bad Hejab, in which an Iranian-American P.I. pursues justice for the murder of her journalist cousin while navigating the bewildering, male-dominated society of Tehran. Heidi can be found at where she writes about Persian culture on Mondays.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Writing About the Crashes

by Tammy

I've felt a bit ghoulish the last few days. You see, I've gotten back to my work on the second book in the Kate Reilly Racing Mystery series, and it starts with a bang. Literally. It starts with a wreck. So I've been searching for videos of crashes and trying to understand what each driver involved was thinking and trying to do, what went wrong with their plans, and what went wrong with other conditions, such as weather, surface, traffic, etc.

In some ways, it's a fascinating abstract problem. It's all too easy sometimes to watch something like NASCAR and think of the cars as easily regenerated items. I mean, that's not too farfetched, right? We see them, good as new, week after week, no matter what kind of crumpled mess they end up in the week before. And since NASCAR drivers are so rarely hurt badly these days, crashes seem almost fun.

I won't go into the terrible reminders we've had this year that crashes are often very serious, and can be deadly. I'll just say that safety has come a long way.

I haven't found a video of exactly what I want to happen in Kate's crash (suffice to say this accident needs to result in specific outcomes), but I've watched a couple others to get a feel for how an out-of-control car moves in the location I've chosen, as well as around the rest of the track.

Those of you who know racing have already figured out the track I'm working with: Road America (track map above). And I'm betting you've all also figured out what turn I'm talking about. Yes, the Kink, where GT2 Corvettes reach more than 145 m.p.h. and pull up to 2.6Gs. Through a turn. As Jan Magnussen said of it, “If you’re willing to take a risk, you can gain a lot – or lose a lot. That makes it really exciting.”

Exciting is one word for it. Just ask Katherine Legge, who walked away only mildly bruised from a spectacular wreck in the 2006 CART race.

Though I feel like I'm protesting too much, I'm really not someone who enjoys the wrecks, except for what they tell me about what a driver is thinking and trying to do ... and getting wrong. I guess I'll have to live with a bit of ghoulishness, in pursuit of the story I want to tell.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Dream Teams and Matchups

All we're left with of racing for 2011 is our memories and dreams. So that's what we're talking about this week, the dreams we have. Specifically, the "dream teams" we'd like to see, whether that's drivers with cars, drivers with each other, drivers and series ... you name in. In fact, you should name it and tell us what you think.

TAMMY: I've got a couple dreams of drivers and races, and a dream of a competition I'd like to see.

1. F1 drivers, Michael Schumacher in particular, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I'd like to see how "the greatest drivers in the world" handle one of the toughest endurance races in the world. Just look at how Michael Waltrip's mind was blown by participating in the race this year for some indication of how different and exciting a race it is.

2. NASCAR at Laguna Seca. Wallowing walruses of cars in the corkscrew. Need I say more?

3. A U.S.-series-based Race of Champions. The Race of Champions is a competition that takes place in December each year, in other countries, where two drivers from each (most?) countries around the world compete on an indoor course in four different cars. I've only caught the show once, because it's not usually televised here, but it was FANTASTIC. I want to see champions from every U.S. series (even if those champions aren't American) competing head-to-head like this, in a variety of cars. I think that would be unbelievably awesome.

I'd settle for the real Race of Champions being televised here. Sadly, I don't think that's any more likely than my other dreams. Simon, what would you pay good money to see?

SIMON: Tammy and I park our cars in the same garage when it comes to racing dreams and fantasies.

1. My dream pairing is in the realms of fantasy, but Tammy didn’t set any rules. If I could wave a magic racing wand, I’d have Prost and Senna share the same car in the 24hrs of Le Mans. Excitement and fireworks and that would just be in the pit garage. :-)

2. I’d like Grand Prix racing to return to the US, but instead of butchering Indy or cobbling together some street race, can we have it as one of the US’ fabulous driver’s tracks such as Road America or Mid-Ohio.

3. I think I mentioned the “Winter Series” that used to occur in the 90’s in the UK. It was a 4-race series run in December at two different tracks. It featured a couple of the entry level racing formulas and sports cars. It was a nice idea, but weather in the UK isn’t the best place for it, but it is for the lower half of the United States. How about a short race series spans the circuits from Florida to California in December and January involving Indy Lights and a couple of other series types. It would satisfy my racing addiction and give the circuits some additional income.

Those are our dream matchups, but what about you? What would you like to see happen?