Let me preface the following by saying I’m pulling for Max Siegel. After mentioning an unfortunate 2007 incident with a DEI employee at Dover in a column the following year (see here), Siegel e-mailed me the next morning, and 15 minutes later he was on the phone saying he was sorry. He had much more important things to do at the time than offer an apology I wasn’t seeking, namely save the iconic Dale Earnhardt Inc. after the namesake son ran for his life and Tony Stewart referred to the “Garage Mahal” as a museum.
Siegel made quite the impression with me that day, and I’m not the only person who has noticed what a good person he is. Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t hold too much back, so when he talked regularly about how impressed he was with Siegel even as he was irreconcilably disgusted with the organization, he wasn’t just being nice.
That’s the shame of the Siegel/DEI era: It’s bad enough that African-American drivers have failed to get a fair shake in NASCAR, so it’s simply criminal that a qualified black executive came into the sport and was judged on managing the unmanageable. (Junior told me once during a group interview in New York that he and Teresa couldn’t even come to terms on painting his car skirt red to match his Bud Chevy.) Siegel was doomed.
Now Siegel is calling the shots for Revolution Racing, trying to jumpstart NASCAR’s underperforming Drive for Diversity program. In an attempt to bring a face to some of his charges, he has executive-produced the documentary Changing Lanes, which debuted on BET Wednesday night.
The fact that I wish success for Siegel made me cringe all the more while watching the first episode. The finalists (from last year’s D4D program; the entire series is already in the can) are going to live in a house together? You mean we’re going to find out what happens “when people stop being nice, and start being real”?
That was the tag line for The Real World, which debuted in the early ’90s and for a few years actually earned the title “documentary.” Unfortunately, producers decided it was more profitable to make the stories themselves, suggesting how the principals should handle conflict, often while plying them with large quantities of alcohol, and cutting scenes to create controversy that never happened. Welcome to the term “staged reality,” now starring the likes of Snookie from Jersey Shore.
Because of its predecessors, it’s an uphill battle for Changing Lanes to have credibility. And all I can say about the first episode it that it took the highest-profile driver, Paulie Harraka, and made him look like a head case. When the D4D drivers visited the Charlotte Chase race, Harraka supposedly separated himself from the group because he’s not a team player.
Folks, Harraka was the only driver there who actually has some name cache, so of course he’s going to go say hi to people he knows in the business. It’s called marketing himself. And was he supposed to ignore the fans who came up to him to chat while the rest of the drivers were getting some words of wisdom from Joe Gibbs?
Harraka didn’t trash any fellow competitors that day, didn’t use any foul language, didn’t do anything provocative. Yet, one of his competitors undercut him in an interview, and Siegel essentially agreed. It smelled of fishing for drama.
So, the first thing of notice the show did was marginalize the driver who is closest to making it to the big time? (Harraka just debuted in the Nationwide Series at Montreal.) How does this benefit anybody?