SBJ/20100830/This Week's News

Diverse cast vies for NASCAR ride on BET show

The show is billed as an opportunity to change the face of NASCAR. Ten blacks, Hispanics and women, all living in one house, competing for a job as a driver in a sport that has been dominated for 60 years by white males.

That competition will play out this fall in “Changing Lanes,” a documentary series produced by the NASCAR Media Group that will air on BET beginning Wednesday. BET has purchased 10 episodes of the one-hour show.

It’s a cross between MTV’s “Real World” and NBC’s “The Apprentice.” “Changing Lanes” examines the challenges of making it as a driver, with one of them being eliminated each week until there’s a lone survivor.

The docu-series headlines the most active fall programming lineup NASCAR Media Group has ever produced. The media group’s shows and movies will appear on CMT, Speed, Discovery, Showtime, Versus, ESPN and BET this fall, giving NASCAR’s media arm more units of programming on more unique networks than it’s ever had.

NASCAR Media Group has been producing “Inside NASCAR” for Showtime all season and it produces more than a dozen shows for Speed throughout the year, but new programming will launch this fall on BET, Discovery’s HD Theater, Versus and CMT.

Top: Revolution Racing’s Max Siegel
(center) with “Changing Lanes” drivers.
Below: Driver Mackena Bell surveys
her competition.

“It’s a culmination of us having a strategy in place to focus on different networks with different types of programming,” said Jay Abraham, COO at NASCAR Media Group. “This fall, you’ll see programs that talk to different audiences.”

A unique audience for NASCAR will come from BET, a Viacom network in more than 90 million homes. Abraham said it was the perfect outlet for a show that highlights NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program.

“We’ve been trying to figure out a way to talk about diversity in a meaningful way for about three years,” Abraham said.

Internal conversations at NASCAR Media Group about Drive for Diversity programming led to discussions with Max Siegel, CEO of Revolution Racing, the NASCAR-supported team that’s trying to launch driving careers for diversity candidates. NASCAR helps fund the drivers until they reach the Camping World Truck, Nationwide or Sprint Cup levels, but stops there because of the potential for conflict of interest.

Siegel, a former Sony executive who formerly ran Dale Earnhardt Inc., used his connections from the music and media world to take the idea of “Changing Lanes” to Scott Mills, president and chief operating officer of BET. Turned out that Mills was a huge NASCAR fan and he paved the way for the show on his network.

“I leveraged every personal relationship I’ve had for the last 20 years,” Siegel said with a laugh, when asked how he convinced BET to take a NASCAR-themed show. “I went to see them four times, Scott is a huge motorsports enthusiast and BET is going through a rebranding initiative to grow its viewership. It’s an unusual but interesting collaboration.”

Paul Brooks, the media group’s president and a NASCAR senior vice president, said: “This is part of our guarantee that the sport is open and welcome to all. BET reaches an audience that’s very important for us and gives the sport a chance to grow.”

Abraham said that NASCAR Media Group two years ago committed itself to creating new programming that would appeal to a broader range of networks than its most loyal client, Speed, which hits the core fans.

This fall, Versus will carry “Next Generation,” a new series of five episodes that chronicles the sport’s up-and-comers. “The Edge: Grand-Am Road Racing” airs on Discovery HD Theater to give viewers a closer look at the 2010 season with a high-quality, behind-the-scenes delivery that caters to HD and a more upscale viewer.

“Petty Blue” is a documentary movie that tells the story of Richard Petty’s family in racing. DVD sales begin in September and the movie will air on CMT in October, reaching more of the core fans. Another NASCAR Media Group-produced documentary on the life of former driver Tim Richmond, who died in 1989, is slated to air in October on ESPN’s “30 for 30.”

The ideas for most of these shows originated from the media group and were taken to the networks. The story ideas, like the one for “Changing Lanes,” typically stem from NASCAR initiatives and what it perceives to be undercovered series or drivers with good stories to tell.

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