Hailie Deegan was once perplexed. She had come to stock-car racing from the rough-and-tumble international of off-road racing, the place she regarded as herself to be simply probably the most guys. Off-road racers slammed into one any other and knocked every different over, then left the observe and laughed about it.
She discovered stock-car competition, additionally most commonly males, to be other. She would pressure in a instantly line down the center of the observe and be put into the wall for no obvious explanation why, and nobody hung round after the race to chortle about it. And even talk about it.
“I used to be looking to regulate it, however I simply went from being swung at, to swinging,” Deegan mentioned. “That’s what stock-car racing is. You hit any person, otherwise you get hit. That’s one thing I had to be informed. It’s a key think about why I’m so competitive. I don’t wish to must hit you. However should you’re going to hit me, I’m going to hit you.”
Deegan, who became 18 in July, is the highest-profile lady using in NASCAR since Danica Patrick. A normal within the Ok&N Professional Sequence, which is largely the rookie league of stock-car racing, Deegan has gained 3 of her 35 races. She additionally has pushed in 4 races within the ARCA Menards Sequence, one step up, with two top-10 finishes.
However whilst her advertising attainable to NASCAR is apparent, and her circle of relatives’s industry is racing — her father, Brian, is a certified freestyle motocross rider whose profession has integrated forays into automobile and truck racing — Deegan and her folks are content material to head gradual together with her profession. For now.
“I believe our largest concern is gazing what’s came about to many different drivers who’ve moved too fast,” mentioned Brian Deegan, an X Video games gold medalist. “There’s numerous instances that cross into that. Some drivers have best such a lot cash, and they have got to get there and take an opportunity. Some sponsors are best going to head see you later. Some sponsors are like, ‘We wish you to visit the massive display, as a result of that’s the place the price goes to be.’
“With Hailie, being a feminine racer and having the talents to win, we’re hoping that folks can run with us at a tempo the place we’re announcing, ‘O.Ok., let’s hang her down and let her be told up to she will be able to, as a result of there’s one shot at it whilst you get there,’” Brian Deegan added.
Hailie Deegan, who was once home-schooled and gained her highschool degree right through driving force introductions prior to a 2018 race, is already a celeb. She has cultivated an energetic following on social media, and now has 468,000 fans on Instagram, the most of any NASCAR driver, and more than 64,000 on Twitter.
However she and her circle of relatives know a top profile approach little with out effects, and so, cautious of transferring too speedy, they have got saved a decent protection internet round her. Deegan is at all times accompanied to races by way of a relative, maximum steadily by way of Brian however now and again by way of her mom, Marissa, or Marissa’s father.
“We don’t wish to see some teenage boy are available and throw her lifestyles out as a result of, you understand, they’re 17 years previous,” Marissa Deegan mentioned. “She’s labored so onerous to get thus far. We wish to see her make it to that degree.”
Deegan says she is aware of she has various enthusiasts who wish to see her prevail, however she additionally is aware of she has detractors. Every of her Ok&N victories has come on account of her nudging apart a competitor at the remaining lap of the race, so she has been criticized as no longer “racing blank.”
“You’re by no means going to make everybody satisfied,” she mentioned. “There’s at all times going to be any person who says one thing about you on Twitter. You simply center of attention on the entire individuals who do reinforce you. With damaging other people, it’s no longer me who has the issue. It’s them.”
But even so, she mentioned, she has had sufficient to fret about at the racetrack. Deegan began from the pole place in her first Ok&N Professional Sequence East race of the season, at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida, however completed 16th. She had just one top-10 end in her first six begins.
After she driven apart her teammate Derek Kraus within the remaining lap to win a K&N Pro Series West race June 8 in Dacono, Colo., Deegan started her next race from the pole but finished eighth. She was 12th among 20 cars in a July 26 race at Iowa Speedway, and acknowledged she still has miles to go.
“I feel like I’ve been racing for so long,” Deegan said. “I’ve been racing for almost 10 years now, that’s more than half my life. I’m so used to being in this racing world. This is what I want to do. I don’t like doing anything else.”
It was not as if the Deegans did not know what to expect when Hailie moved into stock cars. Brian Deegan toyed with joining his motocross rival Travis Pastrana in stock-car racing a decade ago but decided against it. Still, for years, NASCAR drivers often stopped by the Deegan home to ride motorcycles when the Cup series made its annual West Coast swings.
The family said NASCAR and sponsors, even though they stand to benefit from Hailie’s presence and her pedigree, had been supportive about the family’s decision to have her take her time to learn the craft.
Deegan and her parents are happy she is in a stock car. They say stock-car racing, with roll cages inside cars, is generally safer than motorcycle racing or the off-road racing competitions she used to enter. But Hailie Deegan has acquired a certain fearlessness that should help her as she moves toward the big time.
“She’s never, ever been hurt racing cars,” Marissa Deegan said, knocking on a wooden table during an interview.
“I’ve been in a lot of fires,” Hailie said.
“That’s the only time you made me nervous — and I actually was scared,” Marissa said.
Hailie laughed when she talked about the time the engine in her truck caught fire on the last lap of off-road race. Victory was out of reach, but second place was not. So, she said, “I kept going.”
“I got to the finish line in flames,” she added. “It’s a cool picture.”