Thanks to BET, push for diversity in NASCAR to be televised
Even though the deal didn't happen, Siegel remained excited by NASCAR. His growing interest in the stock car phenomenon and its use as a marketing tool were eventually satisfied when he accepted the high-profile, highly thankless job of president of global operations at Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2007.
His status: one of the most powerful African-American executives in NASCAR history, an organic diversity initiative in a sport institutionally craving them.
His reality: trying to re-sign NASCAR's most popular driver and namesake of the team, whose personal and professional relationship with the team eroded.
Earnhardt Jr. eventually left the team for Hendrick Motorsports, despite expressing an affinity for Siegel, and the vestiges of MB2, bought eventually by
Today, Siegel finally has his own team, Revolution Racing. He's in a far better position to further both his ambitions about the sport and NASCAR's diversity initiative as his 909 Group takes over the management of the sport's sixth-year Drive For Diversity program.
Siegel and partner
"I've always been fascinated by the platform the sponsors have invested [in NASCAR], but I've never felt like the sport has completely maximized its ability to reach out to a broad audience and leverage that platform," Siegel said. "So the balance we've had to strike, being at a place like Dale Earnhardt Inc. and going through all of that is really about maintaining the integrity of the racing program and winning, but also generating the funding that will fuel your racing operation.
"One of the things, by consolidating the program, it allows us to, at the development level, to go out and sell an entire program instead of one Late Model car, one Camping World car, which gives a sponsor a broader spin."
The program will field four drivers in the Camping World East Series, six in Late Model programs and add a "youth component," Siegel said, that could include karts, Bandoleros or Legends cars in conjunction with 600 Racing in the Charlotte area. The entire operation will be housed inside the NASCAR expertise perimeter in Mooresville, N.C., which should abet the flow of talent and information into and out of the organization. And not just for hopeful drivers.
"The concept is you bring someone in young and even if they don't have the talent to progress [as a driver], you introduce them to the sport and other jobs in the sport," Siegel said. "But if you find someone in a kart and you want to move them up, you can move them up. It allows you some continuity and some time to really develop them. NASCAR has been great. We're working closely with the Gibbs organization as well as [Richard Childress Racing] and Hendrick [Motorsports] has been really gracious and helpful."
A national television audience and sponsors are another challenge, but may go largely together. Siegel, a former player agent and music industry executive devised
"We have a collaborative approach to it and we sat down to figure out how to entertain the public and make it really interesting," Siegel said. "It's a media buy for the sponsor and it's also putting these young and relatively unknown drivers in front of pop culture."
Prospects will be paced through challenges each week and judged by a panel including Siegel, NASCAR public affairs executive
"If it's pit crews, maybe it's
NASCAR maintains oversight and marketing ties to the team as in previous years, Siegel said, an acceptable condition considering the series' name is attached to the initiative and its reputation will be impacted by the outcome. Siegel and Story run the daily business.
"I think the one thing we really evaluated really closely was, NASCAR is in a really delicate position," Siegel said. "They want to see the sport grow, but they don't own teams. They are the sanctioning body and they govern it. But they can't put someone in the car."
NASCAR diversity affairs director
"Before it was an apples-to-oranges situation," she said of seeding the diversity candidates to disparate teams around the country. "There are so many different kinds of tracks, a lot of variables with equipment. Now with this academy style there is a lot more consistency."
There is a palpable impatience to field a diversity program product in a Sprint Cup car. Or a Nationwide car. Or a truck. And soon. It hasn't happened yet. Something to show tangible progress.
"The thing people lose sight of is they expect the program to graduate someone pretty quickly and you've got to remember
And scrutiny. NASCAR diversity drivers have at times encountered jealousy from older local drivers who were not afforded such opportunities or equipment at a young age.
"The notion of a silver spoon is largely false because it's very much an earned opportunity. Everybody has had opportunities," said Harraka, a sophomore engineering student who won two races and was named rookie of the year this season in the NASCAR Camping World West Series. "There is no one who has made it anywhere in this world without some sort of opportunity. For me, it was attending Duke University. It wasn't owed to me, but it's the opportunity I got. And every race car driver has had an opportunity that allowed them to move up in motorsports. Likewise, I got an opportunity at BMR and Drive for Diversity, and then it comes down to on-track results."
Siegel said there has been progress in the overall thrust of diversity within the sport. But he's had to be patient.
"I usually get in trouble trying to put a timeline on the track thing," he said. "Since I came in the sport -- and granted, there is a lot of work to be done in the entire sport -- I was actually pretty surprised at the significant progress that the sport has made in areas you don't see ...
"From that standpoint, I was encouraged by that and I've been a pretty big advocate at measuring diversity progress, not just by having a female or minority behind the wheel. That's critically important. I think it will impact the fan base, [as well as] front office, engineers, mechanics, pilots ... all those kind of positions in this sport."
But as everyone around racing knows, there's still a long way to go.