Multitracking

As CEO of USA Track & Field (USATF), Max Siegel leads the national governing body for American athletics, one of the country’s most popular sports. Though the organization encompasses everyone from sprinters to high jumpers, if Siegel were ever to choose an event to compete in, it would probably have to be the decathlon.
That’s because just as decathletes excel at a wide range of disciplines, Siegel has proven himself to be adept across a variety of sectors during his successful career. Athletics tracks. Motor racing tracks. Music tracks. Siegel has been involved in all of them as he has pursued opportunities in the sports world, entertainment and agenting.


Over the last decade at USATF, he has helped the organization generate more than $600 million in revenues, supporting programs and initiatives that maintain the United States’ elite international track and field standing. It’s a multifaceted role, involving everything from representing the U.S. on the world stage at major events to working out how to deal with pole vault poles being held up in customs when the team visits another country.


While the athletes USATF represented may have been diverse when he first arrived there, the organization itself was far from it; just five other Black people there. “I knew that as the world started to change and I looked at the diversity of our athletes and if we were going to perform at the level that they were, we had to go out and build the best and brightest,” he says.


Today, Siegel and his chief operating officer are the only two Black chief executives in the entire U.S. Olympic movement. Some 44% of USATF staff is minority and 56% of the leadership is female. There is also diversity of experience: Siegel’s brand manager is 28 years old while his chief of sports performance is 78. “For me, when you go to solve a problem or you try to be innovative or you try to create, it is critically important that you’re hearing from a lot of different voices.”


No safety net
Siegel has risen to the top from difficult circumstances. He grew up in an entertainment family; mom was a singer, while his Jewish father signed The Beatles to their first American deal. There was a “brutal” divorce, after which his father kidnapped Siegel and his sister; he didn’t see the rest of his family for seven years. His father died when he was 12, when Siegel moved back to the housing projects in Indianapolis. “Just all kinds of dysfunction,” he recalls. “I basically said, ‘Listen, if I am ever blessed with an opportunity or a platform, I’m going to use it to make it better.’”


The first African American to graduate with honors from Notre Dame Law School (“which let me know that no matter where you come from, you can compete with the greatest”), Siegel started out as an associate attorney at an Indianapolis law firm. His sister, who worked in radio, introduced him to rising gospel artist John P. Kee for whom he brokered a groundbreaking deal, despite having no background in the industry.


That led to positions as president of Warner Music Group’s Tommy Boy Gospel label and later Zomba Gospel’s Verity Records. Through that involvement he came to the attention of NFL star Reggie White, who became Siegel’s first sports client and later suggested he check out the opportunities in NASCAR, which opened up another door.


Siegel credits some naivete, “not really knowing what you’re getting yourself into,” and a little bit of fear with driving him. “I never had a safety net,” he says. “So, if I was not successful at something, there wasn’t someone who was going to bail me out. So what I tried to do my entire career was to let my work speak for itself.”


He studied others who had been successful and realized that, first and foremost, he had to have some kind of skill that could impact an organization in a positive way. “And then the second thing was that you had to collaborate with people,” he says. “I’ve never seen anybody accomplish anything on a huge scale where you didn’t do it with someone else. I started to realize that, as I built my network and I invested in helping other people, they wound up helping me.”


Develop a network
Over the years, Siegel has gotten used to being a rare Black presence in leadership circles, though it saddens him. “I think that as people of color, we have got to elevate one another when we get in those rooms and create opportunities to bring up the people along.” For those following behind him, he encourages them to “believe that you belong,” even though it can be daunting. He goes on to share two things that have helped him survive and thrive.

No matter where you come from, you can compete with the greatest.

MAX SIEGEL


“You have got to surround yourself with a group of people that support you, that lift you up, that keep you grounded, that give you really good feedback,” he says. “And then you have got to stay focused on why you are doing it, what you’re doing it for, every single day.”


It’s also important to remember that part of being a leader means that you can see things other people can’t see. “So the expectation that you’re going to be embraced, that you’re going to be accepted, or that people are going to be kind to you… throw that out the window.”


Stay true to your principles, he adds, and keep believing that you belong. And remember that, no “You have got to surround yourself with a group of people that support you, that lift you up, that keep you grounded, that give you really good feedback,” he says. “And then you have got to stay focused on why you are doing it, what you’re doing it for, every single day.”


It’s also important to remember that part of being a leader means that you can see things other people can’t see. “So the expectation that you’re going to be embraced, that you’re going to be accepted, or that people are going to be kind to you… throw that out the window.”


Stay true to your principles, he adds, and keep believing that you belong. And remember that, no matter how successful they may be, those around you “put their pants on the same way we do every day. They’re human beings, and it’s about relationships.”


Mentors are important, he says. “You have to have people that help you learn along the way.” Most importantly, you need to have some skill and match it with passion. “If there’s a skill or an area that you’re passionate about, you’ve got to perfect that and be able to demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about, you’re going to make their job easier and you’re going to fit on their team. I don’t think that there’s one particular skill, but if you are looking to get into an industry, look at all those ways you can contribute and demonstrate that with the experience you’ve got.”


Driving change in NASCAR

Max Siegel’s first reaction to the idea of getting involved in NASCAR was that it was crazy. “My father’s Jewish, I’m Black,” he said. “There are no opportunities for us there.”


But he found there were, first as global president of Dale Earnhardt Inc. and then in leading NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program. He also founded minority-owned Rev Racing, for which Cuban American Nick Sanchez won the 2022 ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America) Menards Series championship.


Siegel’s NASCAR efforts have been widely credited with helping open up interest from and opportunities for minorities in the traditionally white sport, including placing almost 90 minority pit crew members in the national touring series and developing minority drivers. “It’s important for us to look at these nontraditional opportunities,” Siegel says. “When they say representation matters, it matters. You look at an executive or a crew member or a driver that looks like you, it really is inspirational to say, ‘Hey, I could do it.’”


His Rev Racing involvement has been “a money pit,” he admits. “Sometimes you wake up wondering why you’re doing it, but when you see a Bubba Wallace be able to get them to ban the Confederate flag or you see people at Morehouse or Spelman that didn’t realize you could be a race engineer or crew member, that’s what gets me up in the morning to do it.”