Hailie Deegan was puzzled. She had come to stock-car racing from the rough-and-tumble world of off-road racing, the place she thought-about herself to be simply one of many guys. Off-road racers slammed into each other and knocked one another over, then left the monitor and laughed about it.
She discovered stock-car rivals, additionally principally males, to be totally different. She would drive in a straight line down the center of the monitor and be put into the wall for no obvious purpose, and nobody hung round after the race to chortle about it. Or even talk about it.
“I was trying to control it, but I just went from being swung at, to swinging,” Deegan mentioned. “That’s what stock-car racing is. You hit someone, or you get hit. That’s something I had to learn. It’s a key factor in why I’m so aggressive. I don’t want to have to hit you. But if you’re going to hit me, I’m going to hit you.”
Deegan, who turned 18 in July, is the highest-profile lady driving in NASCAR since Danica Patrick. A common within the Ok&N Pro Series, which is basically the rookie league of stock-car racing, Deegan has gained three of her 35 races. She additionally has pushed in 4 races within the ARCA Menards Series, one step up, with two top-10 finishes.
But whereas her advertising potential to NASCAR is apparent, and her household’s enterprise is racing — her father, Brian, is an expert freestyle motocross rider whose profession has included forays into automobile and truck racing — Deegan and her mother and father are content material to go sluggish along with her profession. For now.
“I think our biggest fear is watching what’s happened to many other drivers who have moved too quick,” mentioned Brian Deegan, an X Games gold medalist. “There’s numerous circumstances that go into that. Some drivers have solely a lot cash, and so they have to get there and take an opportunity. Some sponsors are solely going to go so lengthy. Some sponsors are like, ‘We want you to go to the big show, because that’s the place the worth goes to be.’
“With Hailie, being a feminine racer and having the abilities to win, we’re hoping that individuals can run with us at a tempo the place we’re saying, ‘O.K., let’s maintain her down and let her study as a lot as she will, as a result of there’s one shot at it once you get there,’” Brian Deegan added.
Hailie Deegan, who was home-schooled and obtained her highschool diploma throughout driver introductions earlier than a 2018 race, is already a star. She has cultivated an lively following on social media, and now has 468,000 followers on Instagram, the most of any NASCAR driver, and more than 64,000 on Twitter.
But she and her family know a high profile means little without results, and so, wary of moving too fast, they have kept a tight safety net around her. Deegan is always accompanied to races by a relative, most often by Brian but sometimes by her mother, Marissa, or Marissa’s father.
“We don’t want to see some teenage boy come in and throw her life out because, you know, they’re 17 years old,” Marissa Deegan said. “She’s worked so hard to get to this point. We want to see her make it to that level.”
Deegan says she knows she has plenty of fans who want to see her succeed, but she also knows she has detractors. Each of her K&N victories has come as a result of her nudging aside a competitor on the last lap of the race, so she has been criticized as not “racing clean.”
“You’re never going to make everyone happy,” she said. “There’s always going to be someone who says something about you on Twitter. You just focus on all the people who do support you. With negative people, it’s not me who has the problem. It’s them.”
Besides, she said, she has had enough to worry about on the racetrack. Deegan started from the pole position in her first K&N Pro Series East race of the season, at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida, but finished 16th. She had only one top-10 finish in her first six starts.
After she pushed aside her teammate Derek Kraus in the last 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.”
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