African-American Owner Winner of NASCAR Championship

Earlier this month (November 4th)) Kyle Larson, a driver for Rev Racing, won the 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Championship. At face value one wouldn’t know the significance of that accomplishment. However, the implications are deep. Kyle Larson, a Japanese American driver, is a graduate of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Program (D4D), and Rev Racing, the team for which Larson drives, is owned by Max Siegel, a brilliant sports mind who leads and manages D4D and who happens to be African-American. BSO interviewed Siegel to learn about his background, D4D, and Rev Racing.

Who is Max Siegel?
I have been a sports and entertainment executive for the last 23 years. I started off as a sports lawyer, working for a firm which represented the Seattle Mariners, national governing bodies for Olympic sports, and broadcast companies. I developed a law practice that represented the late Reggie White, Tony Gwynn and Terry Cummings. I was also a record executive with Tommy Boy records and a member of the global management team of Sony BMG. While at Sony, I was in the middle of purchasing a NASCAR team with Reggie White, Ronnie Lott, and Eddie DeBartolo. But two weeks before we were to announce the purchase, Reggie passed away. I stayed at Sony for another 1 ½ years, but left when I was invited by Teresa Earnhardt to become the first African-American President of a NASCAR franchise with Earnhardt Racing. After my tenure there I launched my own race team and started managing NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity (D4D). This will be my 5th year managing this program.

Tell me about your early interest in sports.
I’m a former athlete. I was recruited to play sports in college and was an academic adviser to athletes. A lot of my friends went on to play sports professionally, but I’ve always been interested in the transition from the playing side to the business side.

How did you first get involved with NASCAR?
Growing up as a kid, I used to go to the Indianapolis 500. Reggie White and I were best friends and he was very passionate about racing. After he retired, Reggie White told me that there was a lot of opportunity in NASCAR for people of color.

Was your interest in NASCAR fueled by opportunities for diversification?
What I found out quickly is that NASCAR is a multi-billion dollar industry and that there are many career opportunities there, whether you’re an engineer, a mechanic, a lawyer, a doctor or an electrician.

What is the D4D program?
D4D focuses on recruiting and developing talent and providing the necessary skills for drivers and crew members to succeed. It is also designed to broaden NASCAR’s appeal. Rev Racing is the competition arm of the Drive for Diversity Program (D4D). I currently have 6 teams. Of a couple hundred people who apply for the program, we’ll select six persons. Training is rigorous. Once selected there’s a full-time commitment. Team members are required to workout 3 to 4 days a week, put in 20 hours in the shop, and do simulated driving. We do performance evaluations – everything from nutrition to psychological testing. So what we’re developing here at Rev Racing is probably one of the premier training models. So far, we’ve placed over 20 minority and women candidates on the pit crew side throughout NASCAR.

Where is the D4D located?
The Drive of Diversity Program is run out of my race shop in Concord, N.C.

How many aspiring drivers have gone through the D4D program?
About 20-30 drivers and 40-50 pit crew members.

How successful has NASCAR been in attracting minority hopefuls and helping them advance up the ranks?
I think the program has gotten better every year. It’s been a really important initiative for NASCAR. In my opinion there is more awareness, and now we have a good pipeline of young drivers who can make a big name for themselves on the national level. I think frankly that once someone makes it on the national level you may see the same phenomenon as the Williams sisters or Tiger Woods when it comes to creating interest in the sport. We just won our first championship with Kyle Larson. That was exciting. Just to have someone successful who has been through this training model we’ve created…. As an African-American owner, it is an honor to achieve something like that.

What made you want to own your own race team?
My mother was a strong believer and the one thing we were never allowed to do was complain about how bad things were. You either leave or do something about it. As an owner, although it’s challenging, I do have some control over my destiny. I am able to make a contribution and if I can take the risk and be successful, perhaps I can inspire others.

Where so you see Rev Racing in 5 years?
We want to continue to build on our current success, keep perfecting the model and become the go-to organization to develop talent.

What do you do in your spare time?
I go to a lot of my sons’ little league games and my daughter’s gymnastics. I enjoy spending time with my family. To me that’s why I get up in the morning and do what I do.