Siegel says DEI, Junior still working on deal

DEI president of global operations Max Siegel says all sides are talking openly to each other about Dale Earnhardt Jr. staying with the team. That includes owner Teresa Earnhardt, Junior's stepmother, writes Angelique S. Chengelis.

Updated: March 6, 2007, 5:06 PM ET
By Angelique Chengelis | ESPN.com

Max Siegel, president of global operations for Dale Earnhardt Inc., said business dictates that contract negotiations with Dale Earnhardt Jr. be resolved soon.

Still talking
David Newton
Kelley Earnhardt Elledge, the chief negotiator on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s behalf in the driver's ongoing negotiations with Dale Earnhardt Inc., said Tuesday that NASCAR's most-popular driver is still in negotiations with DEI -- and DEI only.

Elledge explained that, contractually, there is an allotted period of time during which DEI can exclusively negotiate with Junior.

They're still in that window, Elledge said.

She did not specify when that window closes, but did say she anticipates Junior's future will be finalized soon.

"It is our intent to have our plans for 2008 wrapped up by May, June at the latest," Elledge said. "We are still in discussions with Dale Earnhardt Inc."

-- Marty Smith

And what exactly does that mean in terms of a timetable?

"If I had a goal, it would be by May," Siegel said in a telephone interview. "That's probably what makes sense."

Siegel said dialogue among DEI owner Teresa Earnhardt (who founded the company with her late husband, Dale Earnhardt) and her stepchildren (Kelley Earnhardt Elledge and Dale Earnhardt Jr.) has been open and candid. Elledge is business manager of her brother's JR Motorsports and his negotiating partner.

"I wanted to cut through all of the clutter to see what needed to be addressed," Siegel said. "We've done that. The tone of the conversation last week between me and their team was very positive. Everyone is working on a solution to keep Dale Jr. at DEI. Everyone would argue the continuation of this business is a top priority. If not, [Dale Earnhardt Jr.] could have walked away and driven for anyone else.

"I'm encouraged and excited about resolving this positively. I feel good about it."

He has not yet formalized plans and would like Elledge's input, but Siegel said he hopes all the major players involved will be present for the next major meeting.

Elledge did not return a call left at JR Motorsports.

"There is a plan for everybody to be back at the table soon," Siegel said. "There can't be any deal that happens where everyone is not sitting at the table. That's everyone's objective."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said last month he wants majority ownership of DEI, a company with a net worth of $57 million, according to Forbes magazine. Some in the sport believe that is an extremely conservative figure and DEI could be worth as much as $100 million.

During an interview last month on ESPN2's "NASCAR Now," he was asked if a 51 percent stake would be enough. Dale Jr. replied that "100 percent would be nice."

Siegel said his work in this negotiation process has not been about finding an appropriate combination, say, giving Dale Jr. 30 percent of the company for now and increasing his hold through the years.

"It's not a percentage kind of thing," Siegel said. "I am optimistic there is a business arrangement that will satisfy everybody."

Dale Earnhardt Jr., right, and sister Kelley Earnhardt Elledge
AP Photo/ Harold HinsonDale Earnhardt Jr., right, and sister Kelley Earnhardt Elledge have been fully engaged in recent talks according to DEI president of global operations Max Siegel.

If Siegel is anything, he is optimistic, unflappable and determined.

He is more than aware of all the major components, not to mention the personalities, involved in making this deal work while preserving the legacy of Dale Earnhardt Sr. He has repeatedly told all involved that public opinion and emotion must not have any role during this process.

"We're all trying to get a rhythm and figure out how we can work together efficiently," he said. "They've been fantastic in terms of brainstorming. It's actually been very exciting to have them engaged. It's been a healthy process.

"There is no way anybody will walk away until we've explored and exhausted every possibility. People throw around DEI as though it's just a team. DEI and the family business is a diverse enterprise. The fact [Dale Earnhardt Jr.] is asking to control his destiny does not offend me. He deserves a right and a desire to have an impact on his future. What I'm trying to do is to have everyone understand what that means."

Siegel said he takes exception to reports that Teresa Earnhardt has distanced herself during the negotiating process.

"Contrary to what people think, Teresa is involved," Siegel said.

He said Elledge and Dale Jr. have been very much involved with infrastructure issues at DEI the past few weeks, so much so that Siegel described their involvement as "diligent" and "refreshing."

"The tone of the discussion is, 'Can we come up with a solution for everyone,' " Siegel said. "They're all -- regardless what is reported about their differences -- they're all concerned about the future of this company."

It is that future that Siegel is eager to begin expanding. He comes from a music and entertainment background and sees the potential in digital entertainment and developing original programming, to name a few things on the to-do list he intends to explore.

Clearly, if Dale Earnhardt Jr., the sport's most popular driver, is on board, Siegel's grand plan for DEI has a much better opportunity to reach fruition.

"I want to respect his professional needs and accommodate him to excel commercially," Siegel said of Dale Earnhardt Jr. "His career flourishing and the heart of this business is in everyone's interest."

Angelique S. Chengelis is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage.