Surprise move for Labonte
Published 4:36 pm Friday, January 16, 2009
The wheeling and dealing in the NASCAR world continued this week. A highly visible team executive left for greener pastures, a former champion found a new home, and some new sponsorship money finally came into the sport.
Max Siegel, president of global operations for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. since early 2007, announced this week his resignation from the floundering company. Siegel came to DEI in the middle of Teresa Earnhardt’s failed negotiations with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., to remain with the family business. After Junior decided to leave DEI, he credited Siegel for at least making an effort to keep him in the company.
Siegel, the highest ranking African-American in NASCAR, is taking over NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, based out of an Indianapolis, Ind., law office. This program works to develop females and minority race drivers and was started by late pro football player Reggie White.
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I have made it no secret I believe that Teresa Earnhardt has run DEI into the gutter and although Siegel did nothing to reverse that trend, he at least kept the company on the track. He orchestrated the buyout of Ginn Motorsports, which afforded DEI to have Mark Martin under the banner for a year, but not much else.
He was also instrumental in the merger with Chip Ganassi to create the new Earnhardt Ganassi Racing organization. Time will tell how this marriage will work, but putting two companies together that were on life support will not equal one strong team.
In a surprising move, 2000 champion Bobby Labonte announced that he would drive Hall of Fame Racing’s No. 96 car this season. It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Labonte would end up with the aforementioned EGR, so this move came out of left field.
Not only did HOF Racing announce a new driver, but also a new technical alliance with Yates Racing and a new sponsor, Ask.com. The internet search engine company is bringing some much needed sponsorship money into the sport, as the downturn in the economy has definitely tightened the purse strings.
As a result of Labonte’s signing and the Yates agreement, it appears that David Gilliland—who joined the top series in 2006—is on the outside looking in with less than a month before the Daytona 500. Last season, Yates ran the 28 and 38 teams with Travis Kvapil and Gilliland as drivers. Neither team had full sponsor support. This season, the Yates lineup will include Paul Menard in the Menard’s-sponsored No. 98, Labonte in the 96, and Kvapil in the 28.
I was hoping that Labonte would be able to get the Petty No. 43 back into Victory Lane when he signed with The King two years ago. Here’s hoping that he will be more successful in the Fords of Yates Racing this season. He is one of the good guys in the sport.