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Max Siegel, as NASCAR's new diversity program boss, is pulling some surprises

  NASCAR's diversity boss Max Siegel (L), back when he was working with Dale Earnhardt Jr. at DEI (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Max Siegel, NASCAR's man of mystery, comes in from the cold this month, after a year or so on the road selling stock car racing's struggling diversity program – with the kickoff of a TV series on BET.
   Yes, BET.
   Black Entertainment Television, the cable channel targeting young African-Americans....and this NASCAR project for BET is certainly diversity in action.
   It's an interesting gambit: NASCAR on BET is definitely a step away from ABC-ESPN and Fox-Speed.
   And judging from the reaction so far to this thing, Siegel is surely tapping into a different market.
   However the economics of it all – in this season where even long-time loyal NASCAR sponsors like DuPont and Budweiser are cutting racing budgets – may be difficult to discern and dissect.
   Regardless, Siegel is is giving it the good college try....and he's a Notre Dame honors grad, and not unfamiliar with NASCAR (from his days at DEI and his time with the late Reggie White).
   So here's the pitch:  "Changing Lanes" a NASCAR 'reality' show following 10 young drivers trying to crack the notoriously expensive sport. The eight-episode series, which debuted this week, will run Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. ET.
   Think 'Big Brother,' without all the in-house intrigues and angst.

  Max Siegel (second from the right, back row), with NASCAR boss Brian France (L, back row) and the roster of diversity drivers this season (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Of course one problem NASCAR has with these 'reality' shows is that TV and the TV audience love the insider stuff....and this hyper-image-conscious sport and its athletes are loath to get into that rolling-in-the-mud – because, after all, the goal is get Corporate America to ante up some big bucks to sponsor a driver.
   And the Curtis Turner crowd just wouldn't make it today. Heck, even Tim Richmond had a rough time of it, running outside the mainstream.
   Since getting the job as boss of NASCAR's diversity program, Siegel has been criss-crossing the country trying to work deals.
   Talk show whiz Tavis Smiley....rapper-actor Ludacris...Good Day New York.... the NAACP annual Freedom Awards banquet.....every radio and TV show he can wrangle a spot on, Siegel has been busy promoting the new series:
   "Hey, before you head out to church tomorrow, tune in tomorrow to "Strong Inspirations" with Deborah Smith Pollard at http://www.fm98wjlb.com/ between 8 and 10 AM - EST. She doing an interview with me about "Changing Lanes" - 9/1 on BET!"
    "If you missed this interview I did with Louis Green on the DIVERSE BUSINESS SHOW, here's the podcast. Just click and listen...."
    "Hey, catch me on “The Willie Jolley Weekend Show” on XM Satellite Radio on Saturday at 2 pm EST. I'll be talking about the book, KNOW WHAT MAKES THEM TICK and CHANGING LANES Premiere Sept. 1 on BET. Exciting times!"
    "Darrell Wallace as Wallace became the first African-American and youngest winner in NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series...."
     "I was told to quit tweeting in church! I am trying to keep everyone who isn't in church and following these tweets "connected" to church..."
    And surely you've seen that intriguing TV commercial: http://revolutionracing.net/rr/2010/08/11/ideal-driver-commercial/
    Siegel certainly is a salesman and promoter. (He just picked up a 'Spirit of the Prairie awards, celebrating America's trailblazers,' and he's more upfront and aggressive than just about anyone else in NASCAR racing....well, except for Texas' Eddie Gossage.)
   Now will his latest venture, this BET series, all pay off.....and just how is it supposed to pay off? More vis? New sponsorships? Good PR?
    Well, even the New York Times took notice of it: http://nyti.ms/bcb9L6
    The premise of the show (already taped and in the can, of course) is simple – 10 young, promising drivers battling for four spots on Siegel's new race team.

   Some background here:
   Remember NASCAR's Drive for Diversity?
   With the sluggish U.S. economy, even top teams – take Jeff Gordon as a good example – are having a rough time getting sponsorship.
   Far be it from sponsors even considering promising newcomers, like Aric Almirola – who has been fighting an uphill battle to gain a foothold in NASCAR for more than two years now.
   Consider that this year's Sprint Cup rookie class is a class of just one: Kevin Conway, who has struggled, and who just left the Ford camp to drive for also struggling independent Robby Gordon (in something of an odd move).
   And consider that Ford's Lyn St. James, the veteran racer whose own push to promote women in racing ran dry of sponsorship this season and was forced to cancel her annual 'seminar' for top young female racers at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Brickyard 400 week.

   Some more background here:
   Siegel – the Notre Dame Law School honors graduate, who concedes he was a 'non-racing guy,' and whose background was really in the music business (Sony) -- appeared from seemingly out of nowhere in early 2007 when Teresa Earnhardt announced she was signing him up as "president of global operations for Dale Earnhardt Inc.," a rather imposing title. His primary job was to get the franchise, Dale Earnhardt Jr., to sign a new contract with DEI.
   But Earnhardt decided to say no, and moved over to Rick Hendrick's rival operation at the end of that season.
   Still DEI remained a powerful company in NASCAR, with four Sprint Cup teams in the top-35, no mean feat.
   However, DEI, without an Earnhardt at the wheel, began a downward spiral. New sponsorships didn't materialize, and Teresa Earnhardt was forced to merge with fellow team owner Chip Ganassi – and the two operations that once boasted a total of seven solid Cup teams were suddenly down to a two teams.
   Exit Siegel....who quickly moved to take over NASCAR's diversity program, revamping it.
   Siegel, whose friendship with NFL'er Reggie White first got him interested in NASCAR, now runs as Max Siegel Inc. and bills himself as a 'sports and entertainment executive ( http://www.maxsiegel.com/ ), an author, attorney, and film and TV producer, currently running what he calls the 909 Group.
   And he hasn't spent much time at the Sprint Cup tracks this season....too busy promoting this diversity venture.
   Will it work?
   Well, let's watch it and see.

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  Max Siegel's newest marketing venture for NASCAR's diversity program -- BET's eight-week series on promising young drivers.


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