Jennifer Satterfield-Siegel teaming up to diversify NASCAR

Jennifer Satterfield-Siegel chats with NASCAR Cup Series driver Darrell Wallace Jr., an alumnus of the Drive for Diversity program. Christy Gormal Photo

When Jennifer Satterfield-Siegel began attending NASCAR races in 2007 with her husband, Max Siegel, then president of global operations for Dale Earnhardt Inc., she noticed that they often were the only African-Americans in the pits.

"It made you stop and wonder why there were not more women, more minorities involved in the sport," said Satterfield-Siegel, a pediatric dentist at Special Smiles Pediatric Dentistry in Zionsville, Indiana.

About the same time, NASCAR needed help with its Drive for Diversity program. NASCAR executives were familiar with Siegel from his position with DEI and his efforts to get NFL Hall of Famer Reggie White involved in the sport before White's unexpected death in 2004. When Siegel left DEI in 2009, NASCAR contacted him to revamp its Drive for Diversity program. Soon, Rev Racing, an auto racing team that competes at the regional level of NASCAR, was a reality, with Drive for Diversity as a centerpiece.

"Max had the background that we felt was complementary to the program," NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton said. "He had the concept [of Rev Racing]. When we had the opportunity to sit down with him, we were able to mold that into both of our visions."

Satterfield-Siegel was involved with the project from the beginning.

"Because of who Max and I are, we believe in giving children opportunities, encouraging young people and helping them reach their dreams," Satterfield-Siegel said. "That was already a part of our DNA. To be able to marry that with racing is how we came up with Rev Racing."

The couple also started the Rev Racing Motorsports Academy in Indianapolis for ages Kindergarten through 16, which provides activities that introduce young people to the sport.

In the past decade, Rev Racing has worked with minority and female drivers and pit crew members. Alumni of the program include Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez and Darrell Wallace Jr. Last year, Brehanna Daniels became the first African-American female pit crew member. Currently, 36 graduates of the program are crew members at the sport's top levels: Cup, Xfinity, truck and ARCA series.

"I think when you merge talent and opportunity, the sky is the limit," Satterfield-Siegel said. "We don't just put you on the track. We also help develop you in media relations."

Helton noted that NASCAR and Rev Racing work together to select each year's NASCAR Drive for Diversity class. They study each candidate's résumé, watch candidates' on-track performances and watch how candidates conduct themselves at dinner and in meetings. Helton said he believes Satterfield-Siegel's experience as a pediatric dentist benefits Rev Racing.

"She can communicate very easily and very well with multiple generations, but particularly younger generations," Helton said. "She's a well-organized lady who has a lot of intelligence and personality that comes with it, and it complements the program."

At the beginning of each year, Satterfield-Siegel tries to call each new driver in the program, introduce herself and explain her involvement in the team. Occasionally, there are activities, such as meeting with a group of children with autism at Bristol Motor Speedway before the April 14 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race.

"I like to explain ... when they're driving my car what that actually represents because the kids [back home] in Indy are watching who drives the car," Satterfield-Siegel said. "Understanding what my practice is all about should make you ... want to do the best you possibly can. In my practice, I have patients that are healthy, thriving and doing really great. And then I have a population of patients that have special challenges. For some of them, walking is a huge accomplishment, talking is a huge accomplishment."

Satterfield-Siegel admits that she would like to be more involved with Rev Racing, but she has a balancing act that includes her dental practice and the couple's three children.

"When Max is gone, I have to hold down the fort because our kids are still in school," she said.

Satterfield-Siegel doesn't foresee racing being any of her children's primary occupation.

"My oldest son is 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, so he doesn't quite fit the prototype of a driver, but they are all interested in different aspects of the team," Satterfield-Siegel said. "A lot of people don't understand how many different disciplines it takes to run a race team."

Satterfield-Siegel believes the misconceptions about the sport and a lack of exposure have contributed to the lack of diversity in racing. She also believes women and minorities sometimes have a perception that there isn't a place for them in the sport.

"[But] I think the biggest thing is just exposure, just understanding the hierarchy of the way the sport's developed," Satterfield-Siegel said. "People don't necessarily understand the strategy or what's going on on the track. You don't understand it if you haven't been exposed to it. Just not being exposed to what NASCAR is all about, we lose a lot of potential fans."

Exposure to NASCAR is something Satterfield-Siegel incorporates into her dental practice. When she discovers a patient is a race fan, she asks if he or she knows that she owns a race team. She then shows the patient the team on the Internet and tells him or her how to become involved in the sport.

"The thing that is surprising to some of them is that I know what I'm talking about, that I can talk in-depth when it comes to NASCAR," she said.

Satterfield-Siegel believes that NASCAR is becoming more diverse.

"I can remember in 2007, maybe there was one African-American person in a pit crew," she said. "We have had such great success with them graduating from our program and being placed on teams. Now you walk through the pit, and you would never believe that at one point there was only a handful of African-Americans or women or minorities that had jobs as pit crew members."

Satterfield-Siegel admits that the impact Rev Racing has had on the diversity in NASCAR makes her feel "awesome."

"It's not the kind of thing that you walk around with your chest out, claiming this kind of victory," she said. "Max and I are those people behind the scenes that help push people up, and then we get to sit back and watch them receive the glory. They know exactly where they got started or who helped them get to that next level. It feels awesome to be a game-changer."

Deb Williams is a North Carolina-based writer and former editor. She has covered auto racing for United Press International, USA Today and The Charlotte Observer. She has more than 30 years of experience covering motorsports and was the 1990, 1996 NMPA Writer of the Year.