Commentary

BET show looks at diversifying NASCAR

Originally Published: September 1, 2010
By Kelley Carter | Special to Page 2

A few years back, Max Siegel was the man to go to when it came to all things gospel music.

Now? He's all about diversifying NASCAR, and it's not exactly as far off the mark as you might imagine. Siegel ultimately became a high-powered music executive, but his roots are in sports law. The first firm he worked for represented the Seattle Mariners and sports radio stations, and at one point he was lawyer to Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres and Reggie White of the Green Bay Packers.

White, who became one of Siegel's best friends, was the one who introduced him to NASCAR. And even as Siegel was working to help cross gospel music over to a mainstream market, White was calling him every week telling Siegel he needed to get his hands on NASCAR.

"I thought Reggie had lost his mind," Siegel says, laughing at the memory. "Reggie is very, very persuasive and passionate, and so I started to take a look at it -- and candidly, at the end of his career when things were not going the way that he wanted, this was the only thing that got him excited. We wanted to buy a NASCAR franchise. The short version of the story is that that fell apart and Reggie passed away."

But now, Siegel is the man in NASCAR. And at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, a new docu-reality series premieres on BET, "Changing Lanes," that follows Siegel's search for the next great minority or female race car driver. The eight-episode series is narrated by rapper Ludacris, and the ultimate prize is a spot on Siegel's NASCAR Revolution Racing Team.

What made you want to get involved?

"I actually fell in love with the competition aspect of it, and I also felt like the industry as a whole could grow if the industry reached out to a more diverse demo."

BET's an interesting outlet to air it on. What made you want to place the show on BET?

"For me, I thought, with the perception that people had of NASCAR being Southern, not very accessible, and frankly, some would say -- well, many would say -- a redneck sport, and then the perception of BET being the No. 1 African-American platform, I thought it would be quite interesting to have these two industries intersect, and it would be a conversation starter. I thought it would lend credibility to both -- to NASCAR because it adds the credibility of having BET, a new network, and to BET to a potentially new consumer to have NASCAR as a partner in this thing."

It's not just a black show. You have a nice mixture of different types of people represented on this show, correct?

"Yes. That was a huge discussion point about, just by virtue of competition. The real challenge for the show was that this was a combination between reality TV and documentary, you know, like 'Hard Knocks'-ish. Because we didn't cast the show for the entertainment value. This is truly the process to work your way up, and it somehow works for TV, but this is a process that I went through and I go through every year to evaluate talent coming through for my race team."

What is it that you would love for people to get from this series?

"The thing that I want people to understand is that it's available and accessible. I've grown up in the projects in Indianapolis, poor as crap. So my inspirational message is that if I have the ability to access the sport and get to where I am, certainly anybody that has the dream of doing it, it's possible."

What is your role now in NASCAR right now?

"I am, there are others, but I think that I am the only African-American senior owner, so Revolution Racing is a NASCAR franchise and we currently compete on the touring level. My formal role with NASCAR is I managed their Drive for Diversity program, which the purpose of that is to help develop pit crew members and race car drivers who are female and minorities, and I do that through Revolution Racing, which is the NASCAR franchise that I own."

And what's the Ludacris connection? That'll help when it comes to diversifying the fan base of the sport, I would imagine.

"He's also a partner of mine in the race team. He was willing to lend his talent; he's been passionate about racing for a while. It was funny that one of the focus groups that we had, someone in the focus group, I think it may have been Atlanta or Charlotte, was like, 'You know, it would be really cool if you had somebody like Ludacris do a commercial, blah, blah, blah.' So they [were] talking about how NASCAR could position itself and then they showed them a clip of a show, and they flipped out over it."

Kelley L. Carter is an entertainment freelance journalist based in Los Angeles. She can be reached at Kelley@thekelleylcarter.com.

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Kelley L. Carter is an Emmy-winning entertainment journalist who has written for publications including USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, the Detroit Free Press, Vibe and Essence magazines. She also regularly provides expert pop culture and entertainment commentary for outlets including CNN, E! and the TV Guide Channel.

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