Thanks to John Whitson for passing along the following item from the New York Times’ Charles McGrath. Surely I’m not the only person who wishes Harold Robins had lived long enough to incorporate a stock car theme into one of his works?

Last year, with Nascar™s approval, Harlequin successfully published three Nascar-theme books, including one in which the heroine, an ex-kindergarten teacher, falls in love with a Nascar driver after first being hit by his car and then driving his enormous motor coach from race to race. The company is now embarking on a 16-book paperback series, all of which will have Nascar settings, and the first and last will feature cameo appearances by Carl Edwards, a real-life Nascar driver who has consulted with the author, Nancy Warren, to help create a suitable fictional representation of himself. [Mr. Edwards finished 23rd in the Daytona 500 on Sunday.]

Here at the Daytona International Speedway, two days before the Daytona 500, Mr. Edwards, who when he is not appearing in novels is probably most famous for victory-celebrating back flips off the rear of his racecar, appeared at a speed-dating event organized by the publisher. Some 50 men and women, roughly divided between Harlequin fans and diehards who belong to the Nascar Members Club, sat at a big U-shape table and, waved on by a checkered flag, moved over every few minutes to talk to someone else. They ranged in age from 20-somethings to people who had possibly begun dating back in the dirt-track era. Most of the men wore caps, and many of them had on racing jackets as well.

It was not clear whether any of these participants experienced the same life-changing emotions felt by Kendall Clarke, the mousy-seeming heroine of the first novel in the new series, perhaps not coincidentally called œSpeed Dating. Clad only in a demi-bra, high-cut panties and a slip, she finds herself sitting in a sports car next to the fictional Nascar driver Dylan Hargreave on the night when she is supposed to receive the Sharpened Pencil Award given to Actuary of the Year. œShe™d never done anything this wild in her life, she thinks. œOh, it felt good.

Kate Duffy, the editorial director of Kensington, another big publisher of romances, said she was a little skeptical. œCertain things are hard to translate into romance fiction, she said. œMusic and dancing, for example. What I™m concerned about is I don™t know a whole lot of romance readers who love Nascar the way they love ˜American Idol,™ say. Sports is just not something we talk about at our big romance conferences.