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Author's auto racing novels are literacy outreach

Bemidji author Will Weaver, center, describes his adventures with "Bookmobile," on the auto racing circuit. Weaver has written a series of youth novels about auto racing. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Team Weaver Racing has added a second vehicle to the fleet for the 2009 dirt track season, just as Bemidji author Will Weaver publishes his second in the motor novels series.

The first motor novel, "Saturday Night Dirt," won acclaim as a book that can attract youngsters, especially boys, who are interested in auto racing but not much drawn to reading.

"Give the teachers something to hand a kid who says, 'There's nothing for me to read,'" said Weaver Thursday during a demonstration at Bemidji High School. "We're looking for books that represent their life."

The second novel in the series, "Super Stock Rookie," which will be available at Bookworld and B Dalton in about two weeks, is the story of a young driver who gets some big breaks and has to come to terms with success.

Weaver said he pitched the idea for the series to New York City publishers Farrar Strauss Giroux about four years ago. The idea is to use actual race cars named "Bookmobile" to attract young people's attention to promote reading and urge teens to finish school.

"Motor sports are not much represented in literature," Weaver said.

The intersection of racing, books and school is a unique niche, Weaver said. Team Weaver Racing runs the only cars he knows of sponsored by a publishing house.

"It was a big stretch for them to do this," Weaver said.

To capture the authentic world of motor sports, Weaver took high performance automotive courses at Northwest Technical College and helped build a Mod 4 to race in the 2007 season. His driver was Skyler Smith, now 18, and the son of Bill Smith, automotive teacher at NTC. Skyler continues to drive for Team Weaver Racing, now in a bigger car, a 200-horsepower Midwest Modified.

"First season, he survived - we survived," Bill Smith said. "Second season, he won track championship."

The original "Bookmobile" is now driven by Ev Barrett, a 21-year-old woman from Red Lake.

As Bill Smith drove the roaring Midwest Modified into the service garage at BHS, students gathered around.

"That's the noise that gets them all excited," said Andy Olson, BHS automotive teacher.

"A car like this looks expensive," said Weaver. "It is, and it isn't."

Bill Smith said "Bookmobile" cost $10,000-$12,000 to build, but he and his sons built a car using junkyard salvage on a $300 budget and had $100 leftover.

Weaver said he gleans materials for his motor sports series from the race track fans and from his pit crew. He also includes authentic northern Minnesota details, such as the osprey nest perched on a light at Bemidji Speedway.

"No one can do this alone - you've got to have a team," he said. "We've got friends who help out in the pits. Teamwork is a cliché, but when you see it in action, it's a beautiful thing."

Weaver has used his motor sports novels and "Bookmobile" race cars as outreach around the Midwest. He recently toured in Iowa and was scheduled to go to Texas until the H1N1 flu scare closed the schools there. Next year, he is booked for tours of Illinois and Kentucky, where he said one in three youngsters is illiterate.

The motor novels series also received a boost from ABC's Good Morning America, Weaver said.

"They said - and I appreciate it - this is not a book just for boys," he said.