Monday, June 2, 2014

Tammy Kaehler Hits the Indy 500

Tammy Kaehler writes racing mysteries and she's here at Mystery Playground today to report back on her insider trip to the Indy 500...

Ten years ago, I signed on for some extra contract work in addition to the marketing writing I was providing a mortgage company. That took me, of all places, to a racetrack. I knew nothing about racing at the time…. 

Fast-forward three months, four races, and a couple great new friends—women who worked as drivers, instructors, and engineers—and I was hooked. I hatched a plan to share the crazy, fascinating world of racing with mystery readers (รก la Dick Francis and horse racing). It was a few years before the first Kate Reilly Racing Mystery took the green, if you will. But since the publication of Dead Man’s Switch in 2011, I haven’t looked back. 

What I have done is a lot of research. This research can look a lot like me sprawled on the couch, snacks and soda to hand, watching racing on a sunny weekend day (as my husband plays the role of spouse-disgusted-by-sloth). But sometimes the research means I see races in person. 

And sometimes, the research is epic. That was the case over Memorial Day weekend, when I attended my first Indy 500 (see photo for proof). Except that doesn’t give the race its due. Ahem. On Sunday, May 25, I attended the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Though I’m not yet ready to write about my series protagonist, Kate Reilly, racing in the Indy 500, I made the trek to the Brickyard (as the 105 year-old Indianapolis Motor Speedway is known) this year for two reasons: friends I’d not yet met and a whole lot of pink.

The friends part has to do with the tribe of wonderful, enthusiastic, and friendly race fans I’ve found and joined on social media—primarily on Twitter. While I was there, I connected with two dozen people I know from Twitter. All race-crazy, fun people wildly diverse and divergent lives who enjoy hanging out with each other at races and online. Many of them could be readers or resources for future books. Some of them could be (and now are) good friends.

The second reason I went this year was to see a pink car on-track.

I write about a fictional female racecar driver. Pippa Mann is a real-life racecar driver who struggles every year to put together enough sponsorship dollars to fund a racing program for a season. Or for a race. This year she assembled a great group of sponsors all willing to support a great cause: the Susan G. Komen foundation for breast cancer research.

Pippa was kind enough to read my books, spend time talking to me (I almost fell over when she told me, “you really get a lot of it right” about my character), and offer to get me into her garage and next to her racecar at Indy. Plus, the fight against breast cancer is a cause I believe in—so much so that I connected Kate to a breast cancer non-profit in my second book, Braking Points.

All of that meant I had to be in Indy to see the car. So I joined the #PippaGoesPink movement, bought and packed a bunch of pink gear, and headed to the iconic race. I’ll be honest, the first time I saw Pippa rolling out of pit lane for practice? I had tears in my eyes.

One of the highlights of the weekend—because I like seeing how things work “backstage”—was my visit to Pippa’s garage. In a not-really-spare eight minutes between on-camera interviews and meetings with her race engineer, Pippa answered a couple basic questions for me. Then she posed for photos and showed me where she stores her gear and meets with her team. All so I could visualize the scene for Kate’s future adventures.

When Pippa headed off to her next task, I tucked myself in a corner of the garage and observed. I watched crew members wrench on the car, joke with each other, and eat ice cream. I soaked in the sights and sounds. I chatted with a Pippa’s PR person and photographer. I tried to internalize the vibe of the place and the moment.

But honestly, the idea of absorbing everything I need to know about the Indy 500 in one trip is ludicrous. I know I’ll need to go back at least twice to be able to write a book about the race. As I said, writing about it is a long way off. But I’ve made a good start. 

Now that I’m back home, I’m eager to start spreading the word about Avoidable Contact, the third Kate Reilly Racing Mystery, which is due out in August. That one features Kate in a Corvette racecar for another iconic race, the 24 Hours of Daytona. 

I’m also extra motivated to start work on Kate’s fourth adventure (tentatively titled Hot Lap) … where Kate will take her first laps in an IndyCar. That’s the book that will point Kate in the direction of the history, the pomp and circumstance, and the magic of that May weekend in Indy. Start your engines!

In the meantime, if anyone wants to talk racing—whether you’re a fellow fan or you just want to ask what the heck I’m thinking—find me online (my website, Facebook and Twitter)  and find me at the world's largest mystery convention, Bouchercon, this November 13-16 in Long Beach, CA. Guests of honor at this year's convention include J.A. Jance, Edward Marston and Jeffery Deaver.

Before trying her hand at fiction, Tammy Kaehler established a career writing marketing materials, feature articles, executive speeches, and technical documentation. A fateful stint in corporate hospitality introduced her to the racing world, which inspired the first Kate Reilly racing mystery. Tammy works as a technical writer in the Los Angeles area, where she lives with her husband and many cars.


  1. What an amazing trip to make and now I need to check out Kate.

  2. Sounds like you had a ball, what a great trip!

  3. Thanks for a great post Tammy! Loved hearing about Kate and the race.

  4. Thanks for having me here! And yes, it was an incredible trip. So big and fun I'm still recovering more than a week later. :-)