Siegel in charge of Drive for Diversity

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Max Siegel on Wednesday announced he will step down as president of global operations at newly formed Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing to run NASCAR's diversity program.

Siegel will continue to consult Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing on strategic initiatives on the business and marketing side through the new company he has started in conjunction with his former law firm, Baker and Daniels, which has offices worldwide.

"We're really not looking at it as parting ways," Siegel said. "I want to do what's in the best interest of the sport and the company. I initiated the merger discussions [with Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing]. They were two organizations that fit well together.

"Chip being the principal owner is very hands-on. [CEO] Teresa [Earnhardt] has a passion for racing, but really is focusing on the future and growth of the business. I feel this move gives me the best flexibility to accomplish my ultimate goals."

Siegel said he was offered the opportunity to remain at DEI, but wanted to pursue other opportunities to help the sport grow.

Taking over management of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity, which is a NASCAR initiative but not a NASCAR program, was one of those opportunities he could not have tackled while part of the race team.

"NASCAR is an exciting sport," said Siegel, one of the highest-ranking minority executives in the sport. "It's been my desire for many years, even working with Reggie White along with Rick Hendrick, Joe and J.D. Gibbs and Jay Frye, to bring minority participation to a wider audience."

The Drive for Diversity program's goal is to generate minority and female competitors for the sport, not just as drivers but as pit crew members, team officials and executives.

"We are proud to have Max and his team managing the Drive for Diversity efforts," NASCAR chairman Brian France said in a statement. "His strategic, operational and marketing experience will be a great benefit to the initiative and the entire industry.

"We're proud of the accomplishments of Drive for Diversity after just five seasons, and we expect Max's involvement will take the initiative to the next level."

Siegel's goal is to increase the program's credibility inside and outside of the sport, to create mainstream marketing programs and further involve the entire NASCAR industry.

There currently are no full-time minority drivers in either of NASCAR's top two series.

"We have to operationally develop really close relationships with the top-tier teams," Siegel said. "We have to have a very structured program with not only criteria to enter the program, but to make sure teams have equipment and talent to move them forward."

Siegel's tackling of his new opportunity also comes on the heels of NASCAR recently settling a $225 million lawsuit filed by Mauricia Grant, who said she was subjected to racial discrimination and sexual harassment during her two-plus years working for the organization.

Siegel entered the sport prior to the 2007 season following a successful career in the entertainment industry. He faced many difficult situations, including the departure of Dale Earnhardt Jr., the merger with Ginn Racing and now the merger with Ganassi.

His goal is to continue to learn the sport from all aspects and maybe one day get into ownership. He felt stepping away from his role at Earnhardt-Ganassi was the best way to make that happen.

"No regrets," Siegel said. "DEI, it's a great company. They offered me a tremendous opportunity. I plan to have a long future in the sport and continue to work with not only them but other companies on strategic initiatives.

"The bottom line is all the teams have to find a new way to go on the marketing side and really revamp the whole approach to securing financial support from commercial partners."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.