From helping develop the talent of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series stars Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez, and Bubba Wallace Jr., the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Driver Development Program, alongside Rev Racing and owner Max Siegel, is one of the most successful driver combines in the country.
“When the combine began in 2006, there were 14 different organizations across the country that were given a stipend from NASCAR to develop drivers,” said Siegel. “Car owners came from all over the country. I was the president of Dale Earnhardt Inc. at the time, and we participated. Fast forward to now, and I’m in my 11th year managing the program.”
Since Siegel took over managing the program, he’s been able to limit inconsistencies with equipment and improve the process for helping drivers grow.
“We wanted to standardize everything and house it within a race team so that the industry could come and look at the progress of the program and the drivers as well,” said Siegel. “When we began to manage it there were no pit crew members or drivers that had participated on a national level. Every year we’ve seen the competition grow and seen interest in the pit crew program skyrocket.”
Among the drivers that have come through the program are Larson, Suarez and Wallace Jr. Wallace Jr., an African-American, Suarez, a Mexican-born driver, and Larson, who is of Asian descent, all show that NASCAR is committed to the diversity initiative.
Today, the combine has a very refined selection process. Rev Racing promotes the combine heavily at local tracks and via social media, and has even gotten the NASCAR analytics group and iRacing involved.
“We reach out across the entire sport at the local tracks to take recommendations,” said Siegel. “We want to pique the interest of a young demographic through iRacing and get them into our legend cars and weekly late models and then to the K&N Series. There’s a callout and application process, and we’ve had as many as 100 drivers apply. Applicants are evaluated by 20 industry and team executives and that recommendation yielded 12 competing at the combine this past season.”
From October 22-23, the 12 drivers went through intense on-track sessions (at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida) and off-track training, before six are given an opportunity to compete with Rev Racing’s backing – two in K&N Series and four in the Whelen All-American Series.
“We teach our drivers the importance and what it takes to be a great brand ambassador,” said Siegel. “We try to get them involved with a community so that they can have an impact. Our marketing director plays a huge role in helping them develop their own brand identity. We do a lot of content production and messaging, and they also get a lot of media training. We are constantly evaluating their progress.”
Teaching young drivers the importance of being an ambassador for a brand has caught the eye of corporate America, and sponsors now have a chance to be involved with the next generation of up-and-coming drivers.
“Corporate America has understood for many years that as the demographics of the country change and sponsors want to reach different consumers that they’ll use a number of different platforms to do that,” said Siegel. “When the diversity initiative was launched, it was to reach multiple types of people across the country. The sponsors see a chance to engage drivers, especially young ones.”
In addition to the off-track training, the six drivers that are selected to race for the team have to meet certain on-track goals.
Once the season begins, Rev Racing’s leadership is constantly looking at on-track performances and finishes, but they also dive deeper and analyze how well the drivers are communicating with their crew chief, how they are promoting the team and program and how much they’re in the shop working on the car.
“Mark Green serves as our head of driver development, while coach Phil Horton works on the human performance side of things,” said Siegel. “Our general manager, Jefferson Hodges, reports to me on the drivers’ progress. Based on the progress, we meet with the drivers weekly and monthly and allow them to set goals. With the drivers that have been here for a while, we want them to improve their finishes and have a higher points finish.”
While Siegel wants to see the drivers improve in a variety of areas, he knows that it is also important to set goals for the combine as well. He’s taken into account everything from the team goals, to goals for the combine and the racing industry.
“Rev Racing is focused on growing into Xfinity Series and hopefully Cup Series racing,” said Siegel. “We want to provide as many opportunities as possible for our drivers. Seat time is scarce. Our organization wants to grow, and we want to get young people interested. We want drivers and crew chiefs to have a lifelong connection to the sport. If they’re not driving, we want to see passionate people get involved with the business side of racing, become an executive in the sport or be in the shop working on the car. For me, I want to continue to see the number of participants grow, and I also want the racing fan base to grow and diversify.”