NASCAR hit a ringing double on Wednesday, making a deal that puts Max Siegel in charge of managing the Drive for Diversity program.
In hiring Siegel, stock-car racing's leadership took a big step toward bringing a level of credibility to its diversity initiative. But as much as I thnk of Siegel, I will tell you right now that his name and his efforts alone can not turn the hire into the home run that NASCAR needs in this important at bat.
Siegel left Dale Earnhardt Inc., where he was president of global operations, to go back to Baker & Daniels, an Indianapolis legal firm where he'd worked from 1992 through 1994. That firm, with Siegel leading the effort, will take over management of the Drive for Diversity program.
In no way do I mean this to be criticism leveled at Access Marketing, which managed the diversity program in its first five years. The folks who ran the program with that company did about as much as they could have given the level of financial commitment the program has received. You can only do so much with what you get.
I hope Siegel's appointment means that NASCAR is going to get serious about diversity. If that's not what happens, I don't think Siegel will stay on the job very long. I don't think he's going to put up with being a show pony for a program if has no real backing.
I've said it before and I still believe that NASCAR needs to put a lot money behind the whole function of driver development, and diversity is a big piece of that process. Developing drivers of all colors and genders is an investment in this sport's future, and especially in these tough times NASCAR needs to put its money where its future is.
NASCAR officials will tell you that they don't think it's proper for the sanctioning body to pick out drivers to support financially over others. But that's the whole reason the Drive for Diversity program was set up to be run by an outside agency like Access Marketing and now Baker & Daniels in the first place. NASCAR supports the program and then the program picks the drivers and administers the financial support.
That structure works just fine, or at least it could. But NASCAR's level of support could be - and absolutely should be - ramped up.
I think 5 percent of every deal NASCAR has or makes with an "official" sponsor should be earmarked for driver development. If it costs a company $2 million a year to be the "official" tofu of NASCAR, then $100,000 of that should go toward driver development.
That sounds like a pittance, but the 5 percent rule should apply to every deal NASCAR makes - including the title sponsorship deal with Sprint and the television contract. Sprint's deal is supposedly right at $70 million a year. That's $3.5 million for development. The television contract averages about $500 million a year. That's $25 million. (All of that shouldn't come out of NASCAR's share of the TV money - the 2 percent should come off first before the drivers and owners (through race purses) and the tracks get their share. Everybody should be contributing to this.)
According to a list on NASCAR.com, there are about 50 "official" sponsorship deals in place. At $100,000 a pop (and that's just a wild guess), that's another $5 million for development. So we're at $33.5 million. Even if that's 10 percent off, we're still looking at $30 million a year that could be used to help develop young drivers.
I think if NASCAR gave Siegel that kind of nest egg and set him loose, the return on that investment would be huge down the road.
Anybody who compares where DEI is today to where it was when Siegel came on board and hangs that on Siegel doesn't even begin to know the whole story. That boat was already taking on water and Siegel bailed as hard as he could. The fact that there was enough of DEI left to merge with Chip Ganassi Racing had a lot to do with what Siegel did there.
Siegel quickly built a lot of respect in this sport, and it's good for NASCAR that he's staying in racing. No industry needs to lose people with Siegel's talent and character, and NASCAR certainly would have missed having a black man like Siegel working with it on one of the most important issues this sport faces.
I have no doubt that Siegel will go to work addressing those issues. If he gets the backing he should get, I have no doubt he will help make a real difference.