Max Siegel ranks as a vested observer of the career arc of one Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., having given the aspiring driver — then a brace-faced teenager — his first start at the NASCAR touring level. Seven years after their first win together, Siegel is quick to note the ironic twist in Wallace’s next step on the racing ladder.
Siegel was both agent and friend to NFL Hall of Famer Reggie White when the two first pursued their goal of a driver diversity program in conjunction with Joe Gibbs Racing and a host of other partners with pro football backgrounds. White’s death in late 2004 deferred the dream of purchasing a top-level NASCAR team, a process that was so far along that the project’s partners already had a driver picked out. That driver was a 20-year-old prospect from Tampa, Florida, named Aric Almirola.
Flash forward to today: Wallace is scheduled to substitute for Almirola during his rehabilitation from a back injury, starting this weekend at Pocono Raceway. Wallace’s relief stint in the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Ford will mark his first venture into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, stock-car racing’s top division, and the first for an African-American driver since Bill Lester’s two starts in 2006.
The fast-forward for Siegel is further realization of his goals for identifying young, diverse talent through his Rev Racing organization. Sunday, another alumnus from the team will reach the sport’s pinnacle.
“I think that it’s a fantastic opportunity for him and the sport,” Siegel said by phone Tuesday afternoon. “Having had him drive for me when he was 15, I know that he’s devoted to growing as a young driver and putting in his time. I think to have Richard Petty Motorsports and the 43 as an alignment is both symbolic and it’s also an amazing platform for him to get more exposure.”
Wallace’s debut start in Sunday’s Axalta presents the Pocono 400 (3 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM) marks the culmination of his steady climb into NASCAR’s major leagues, a journey that began in JGR’s development system and with one of the very first spots on Siegel’s roster. Their partnership paid off early, with a landmark win in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East in his series debut at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in 2010.
Five more victories with Rev Racing followed before he was plucked for full-time duty by team owner Kyle Busch in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, propelling him onto the sport’s national stage in 2013.
“With that success came my career where it is now,” Wallace said in a Tuesday teleconference. “So definitely without that on- and off-track success we had in those two years, I don’t know if I’d be here today. A lot of that credit goes to those guys over there.”
Plenty of racing — and personal growth — has happened in those seven years since Wallace’s K&N breakthrough, a span Siegel called “light-years ago” in some regards. But comparing the Wallace of yesteryear to the current-day 23-year-old driver he has become has given Siegel a validating slice of reflection.
“I think that we recognized when he was much younger that he had the raw talent and the desire to win and that he was a fierce competitor,” Siegel said. “He got tremendous support from his family and other teams along the way, and I think that what I’ve seen is him growing into and maturing into a seasoned driver and also handling the weight of being the first African-American driver in many, many years to reach this level.”
The efforts of Siegel and his Rev Racing team within the NASCAR Drive for Diversity initiative deserve at least a share of the credit. When the green flag falls on Sunday’s 400-miler at the Tricky Triangle, three Rev Racing graduates will be in the field, with Wallace joining former Siegel drivers Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez on the starting grid.
“I think we were very deliberate, strategic and thoughtful about how we structured our development program, both in giving the infrastructure, the training and the seat time to the drivers as well as to let them know that they definitely had the potential to make an international series,” Siegel says. “Yet they needed an opportunity to convince and prove their talent.
“But to me, I think it really speaks volumes of the partnership that Rev has with NASCAR and the team that we’ve put together and the organization that supports these drivers. So it’s really great to see three of our alumni driving in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.”
Siegel is doing his part to make sure his team’s current drivers follow Larson, Suarez and Wallace to the top rung, keeping the pipeline of young hotshots flowing with a six-driver contingent in both K&N and Whelen All-American Series competition. Recent accomplishments by his talent crop include Chase Cabre’s selection last month to the current class of the NASCAR Next youth initiative, and 16-year-old Macy Causey’s history-making Late Model win at South Boston Speedway on May 20.
“When we look at Chase, who’s a great talent, and Ruben (Garcia Jr.), who’s been really consistent this year, and then you’ve got Macy, who as an amazing young woman won her first race, I think it’s really, really exciting,” Siegel said. “I think that it bodes well with NASCAR’s focus on developing a more diverse and younger fan base.
“I think it’s exciting that these opportunities over the next few years will continue to present themselves and I think it’s important that we keep the work up that we’re doing and give these drivers an opportunity to compete.”
One of those opportunities starts this weekend. The magnitude isn’t lost on Wallace.
“This is a huge step for NASCAR, the whole sport in general, for bringing diversity to its top-tier level of NASCAR,” Wallace said. “I’m glad to be leading the forefront of that right now. It just shows that we’re trying to bring in a new demographic. We’re trying to bring in a new face, get a younger generation, no matter what color, what age.”