Twenty-six-year-old Rissi Palmer has placed herself on fast track to stardom with a passionate country sound that is more than evident in songs such as "Country Girl" and "Hold on to Me" from her self-titled debut album.

Speedway fans will have a chance to see and hear her live May 10 during her ARCA RE/MAX Series "Drive Smart! Buckle-Up Kentucky 150" prerace concert. Palmer will take the stage at 6:30 p.m., and race time is set for 8:00 p.m.

"Rissi Palmer is passion," she said. "I feel very passionate about the things I do in my life and I don't do it if I don't feel passionate about it."

She began developing her talent as a teenager in pageants in her native St. Louis, Mo. By age 20, she had signed a Nashville, Tenn., song writing deal. While performing at a New York City club, her musical talents and vocal skills caught the ear of a CBS Television "Star Search" executive that offered her a tryout for the talent show. She made her way to the finals of the competition, judged by country great Naomi Judd, who encouraged the singer to decline a recording deal with noted accomplished pop producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to explore her interest in country music.

"The thing I love about country music is that it's relatable to every person. Everybody's had their heart broken, everybody's been in love and everybody has a family of some sort. Everybody can, I think, identify with the morality and the spirituality of country music. It's music for the people," she said.

Her deep love for music has its foundation in her mother, a Patsy Cline admirer who exposed her daughter to a variety of music in their home.

"Some of my earliest memories of music around the house involve my mother, she loved country music. I remember cleaning the house in our pajamas on Saturday mornings. She'd throw on a Patsy (Cline) record and we'd sing along all day.

"I started singing at a very young age. I remember my mom showing me my baby book. The two-year-old record noted a doctor writing, 'happy, healthy baby - sings constantly.' So, I always knew I wanted to be a singer. Although I lost my mother at a very early age, her love for music that has stayed with me," Palmer said.

Palmer claims a variety of artists as her major inspirations. She drew on those musical personalities to develop a style all her own and while co-writing nine of the 12 songs in her debut collection.

"It's a really personal album for me. I think, as a new artist, you have a responsibility to bring something unique to the table. I feel like my music is a mixture of all of my influences. There's some contemporary country, there's some traditional country, there's some R & B, there's some gospel, there's some pop. So, I think that the listener will gain a better understanding of who I am as a person and what's influenced me as an artist whenever they hear my music."

Her ethnicity helps her both gain publicity and generate interest, but once curious listeners enjoy the quality of her voice, vibrant personality and upbeat stage presence, they quickly become fans.

"Being an African American country singer has its advantages and disadvantages. Definitely, people pay attention. Everybody is more prone to listen and to give you an opportunity to perform because they want to see if it's for real. It has its ups and downs, but, I'm okay with it because I'm willing to go up against anybody to really let them know where I'm coming from with it," she said.

Her music and bid for stardom has been the subject of feature stories in such prominent publications as "Country Weekly," "The Wall Street Journal," "Parade" and "Vibe". She's also been featured on Great American Country (GAC) Television, National Public Radio, Country Music Televison Insider News, Tavis Smiley, Delta Airlines In-Flight Radio, Sirius and XM satellite radio services.

Along with her independent label 17.20 Entertainment, she's also taking genuinely new approaches to marketing her genuinely new sound. Her "Country Girl " single was played more than 800,000 times on the well-trafficked Myspace Web site and was a top-five selling Starbucks EP on the popular iTunes site.

"I look at the people I admire, like Nora Jones. Nora Jones' album had a slow burn, but when it got up there, it stayed up there. Word of mouth built that record. I'm hoping that's what happens with me. I'm a new artist, I'm on an independent label and I'm doing something different. It's definitely going to be one of those things where people by the album one day and it'll be 'oh girl, listen to this CD,' or 'man, you gotta hear this.' Hopefully, it'll build momentum that way and people will come to the party and stay."

She also mixes in traditional methods of exposing new people to her music from time to time like her first performance on the revered Grand Ole Opry stage June 22, 2007, where she paid tribute to a musical role model and her mother by performing Cline's "Leavin' on Your Mind."

"It's so surreal to walk out on that stage and have your name in the program, it was unreal, like a milestone. I didn't cry as much as I thought I would. The circle, I cried the hardest when I stood there because all the people I look up to stood there. It was fun, they were a great audience, extremely receptive and into it," she said.

Should Palmer's star continue to rise at its current pace, she'll soon make use of the Grammy Award acceptance speech she wrote at age 12 that lays sealed in an envelope inside the cover of her Bible.

Learn more about Rissi Palmer and experience her music online at www.rissipalmer.com.

Tickets for the "Drive Smart! Buckle-Up Kentucky 150" can be reserved online through the Tickets pages of this Web site, by phone at 888-652-RACE (7223), through Meijer stores and Tickets.com outlets and by visiting the Kentucky Speedway ticket offices at 400 Buttermilk Pike, Suite 100, in Ft. Mitchell, Ky., next to the Montgomery Inn Restaurant or the Sparta, Ky., Fan Center located off of Interstate 71 Exit 57 and Ky. Hwy. 35 N.

Speedway gates will open at 3:00 p.m., on May 10 with ARCA Lincoln Welders Truck Series qualifying on the paved quarter-mile track. ARCA RE/MAX Series qualifying follows at 3:30 p.m., and the ARCA Lincoln Welders Truck Series returns for the "Kentucky 100" at 5:00 p.m.

Story by Mike Schmaltz

~ Kentucky Speedway ~