Hailie Deegan will compete for DGR-Crosley in Thursday night’s K&N Pro Series East race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the team announced Monday.
Deegan, 18, competes full-time in the K&N West series and has made 12 starts in the East Series the last two years. All her K&N starts have come with Bill McAnally Racing.
This will be her first start for the team co-owned by David Gilliland, who fields two K&N cars and three entries in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
Deegan will drive the No. 54 Toyota with sponsorship from iK9. She’ll have Ty Gibbs and Tanner Gray as teammates.
“It’s awesome that we were able to work with DGR-Crosley on running the K&N East race at Bristol,” Deegan said in a press release. “They have top-notch equipment and people within their organization. Every weekend they are competing for wins, and as a driver, that’s all you want — a chance to win.”
Deegan, who has three K&N West wins, has made two Bristol starts in the East Series. She finished 22nd last year and 16th earlier this season after a wreck.
The Bush’s Beans 150 will air live at 6:30 p.m. ET Thursday on fanschoice.tv and will be broadcast at 7 p.m. ET Aug. 21 on NBCSN.
Hailie Deegan on Dale Jr. Download: ‘I’m a racer, not a model’
Hailie Deegan is fast on her way to becoming a household name in NASCAR racing. The K&N Series star has won two races this season (plus one in her rookie campaign last year) and her name and talent continue to draw attention in the sport.
The Southern California native appeared on this week’s Dale Jr. Download with Dale Earnhardt Jr. – the show airs today at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN – and showed maturity above her 17 years of age, both as a race car driver and observer of the sport.
One of the biggest surprises during the podcast was when Deegan was asked by Dale Jr. who are some of the drivers she tries to pattern her own racing style.
“Watching a lot of old footage, it’s been your dad,” Deegan told Dale Jr. about his father, Dale Earnhardt. “A lot of it, just watching those old races, I love the aggressive drivers. I like Kyle Busch, I love his driving style. He might not have the most positivity off the track, but I do like his driving style.
“You see him at some of the tracks and just his lines he runs are just crazy, the mad momentum he’s able to build at some of these tracks. Watching him in the Trucks Series just blows my mind. When you think of the heavy hitters like Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton, the guys that have been there for a long time, you think they’re the best, you can’t get any better than that, and he goes out there and just whoops them all and you’re like how did he do that? How did he come from all the way in the back to where he’s leading by five seconds?
“It’s just stuff that doesn’t happen, he can do. He’s one guy I look up to where I want to have his driving style.”
The teen driver has not only built her reputation and platform on the race track, but also off-track as well, particularly with a very savvy use of social media that has attracted nearly 50,000 followers on Twitter, where she proclaims “Not your typical 17yr old girl.” She also has 425,000 followers on Instagram and more than 100,000 likes on her Facebook page.
“I love social media,” Deegan said. “I think people in NASCAR don’t use it enough and there’s so much you can do with it. There’s this platform where you don’t need announcers telling the story. You can do it yourself. If you want to state your opinion if somebody’s wrong, you can do it on social media.”
Other highlights that Deegan will cover in today’s Dale Jr. Download on NBCSN:
* On how she wants to be recognized as a race car driver, not just a female driver: “I would use the female card more if I wasn’t winning. I just want to win. I want it all to be on the track. … I take every race like my ride is on the line, like it’s my last. I don’t get sponsors when I finish second. My sponsors aren’t happy when I finish second. They’re happy when I win.”
* Deegan also notes that “In the end, I’m a racer, I’m not a model, obviously. I lost about a foot of my height for that. And in the end, I’m not trying to be one. I’m trying to be a real person. Try to be a racer. You don’t see Jimmie Johnson out here modeling, you don’t see Kevin Harvick modeling, so why should I be if I’m trying to be an upcoming racer trying to make it in this world.”
* Deegan hopes to make her NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut either this year or next – and already has a 2020 race at Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway in her sites: “I really want to race Eldora next year. I don’t want to make the mistake. I feel like I have one shot personally at this and to be a heavy hitter. I want to be the best I possibly can be and not think I should have spent a couple more races or did a couple more tests. I don’t want to have any regrets. When I go, I want to be sure I’m ready. I think Eldora would be a good place to go to next year, for sure.”
Aggression has been the hallmark of Hailie Deegan’s three victories in the K&N Series.
Deegan believes it’s also crucial to any female driver’s NASCAR success.
“A lot of people assume about being a girl that they’re a little more laid back, they’re not as aggressive. They’re still trying to get to the same level of a guys’ aggression,” Deegan told NBC Sports’ Kathryn Tappen in the latest episode of the “On Her Turf” podcast. “But I think even if you ask other guys, they’ll say I’m an aggressive driver just because I know what it’s going to take to make it. And I see why a lot of these other girls haven’t made it, and I don’t want to make the same mistakes.
“I just want to make sure I do everything right. Because it’s going to take every piece. There’s a reason why there isn’t a ton of girls racing NASCAR. It’s not like there’s no reason why. There’s obviously a reason why. So I just have to do everything right to make sure that I can make it to the top level.”
There have been some Southern California mornings of 100-degree heat when Deegan said she wakes up thinking, “Oh God, I don’t want to run several miles,” but she pushes through because of her goal to become a winner in NASCAR’s top series.
“I think you have to have your priorities straight,” she said. “Are you focusing on looking good at the track or performing at the track? There’s a difference.
“You have to have every single priority straight. Are you there during the week to train? Or there to hang out with friends? There are so many pieces to the puzzle, and you have to be an aggressive personality. There are quite a few girls that just don’t have the aggression in their personality.”
“I feel like I grew up in a very aggressive family, and my dad being from the motocross industry,” Hailie Deegan said. “It’s an aggressive, very tough sport. So that’s where I learned it from him. A lot of other girls don’t have their dads in racing, especially since I came from that motocross scene, it’s a lot more rough and tough. That’s how I was built up.”
She also learned to avoid bonding too much with other drivers.
“You don’t have any friends when you’re on the track,” said Deegan, who turns 18 next month. “Racing is competitive. They’re like frenemies. Everyone is there for a position to make it in the top series. You’re all competing for those positions, and it’s not like everyone will get one.”
CONCORD, N.C. — A man leans his head into the window of Rajah Caruth’s race car. Caruth does not know him.
The man bows his head and prays, just as he’s done with the other drivers.
Shortly afterward, Caruth cranks the 125-horsepower engine and guides his white No. 13 Legends car from the staging area to pit road. Rain earlier rid this June night of humidity. The heat that baked drivers during the day is bearable as the sun sets behind the Charlotte Motor Speedway grandstands.
While Caruth and 18 competitors wait for the first semi pro feature of this year’s Bojangles’ Summer Shootout, an official walks between the rows of cars fist-bumping each driver.
“For those folks to come up and say ‘you got this’ or ‘good luck,’ that was pretty cool,” Caruth later said.
Clad in a plain black uniform and helmet, Caruth focuses on staying calm inside his car before he takes a monumental step in his racing journey.
Then comes the order to start engines. Each car, a 5/8-scale version of the NASCAR modifieds that ran in the sport’s early days, fires off with the buzz of bees on to the quarter-mile track.
As Caruth weaves his car from side to side to warm the tires, a thought strikes him.
“OK, we’re in it.”
Just what it is, Caruth doesn’t know.
He’s seen what’s about to happen for years but never from this viewpoint. His previous racing experience came on a computer with a reset button. There is no such button here.
Days shy of his 17th birthday, Caruth is about to start his first race.
A first-generation NASCAR fan who traces his interest in the sport to the 2006 animated film “Cars” that included characters voiced by Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip, Caruth wanted to be a driver. He wore a Jimmie Johnson uniform for Halloween in the second grade. But with no tracks near his Washington, D.C. home and the prohibitive costs to enter the sport, even for his two-income family, Caruth settled for racing on a computer, hoping to follow the path William Byron took to NASCAR’s premier series.
While many of NASCAR’s top drivers were racing by the time they were 8 years old, Byron did not begin until he was 14, gaining his experience with an iRacing simulator. When Byron hit the track, he quickly succeeded. He won the K&N Pro Series East title at age 17, a Truck series rookie record seven races at 18, the Xfinity championship at 19 and Cup rookie of the year honors at 20 last season for Hendrick Motorsports.
Byron notes that others can follow his unusual path.
“It’s still based on the interest that you have and the will to kind of make it happen,” he said. “If they are expecting to just decide they want to go race at age 14 … it’s going to be difficult for them to make it work. But for me, I had studied it for years and watched it.
“Once I was 14, I was well ahead of my time even though I hadn’t been in something. I think there are a lot of kids out there that have a lot of potential that I’ve seen on iRacing and just racing against them, that would do very well in a situation if they could get there.”
Caruth’s quest does not take place in a vacuum. He is a part of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Youth Driver Development program and is the only one of the four who came from iRacing. The other three have actual racing experience. While there are various avenues to NASCAR, Caruth’s path will become a gateway, says a Toyota Racing Development executive who oversees the company’s driver development program.
“In the long run … I’m thinking three to five years, the simulation investment and the time and effort to find new top-level talent, it will come from simulator racing,” said Jack Irving, senior manager, commercial director for Toyota Racing Development, whose duties include TRD’s driver development program.
Three to five years is too far away for Caruth. Now is his chance, piloting a car similar to what former Cup champions Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Joey Logano once drove.
Five days before Austin Dillon wins the 2018 Daytona 500, Caruth prepares to race. On foot. It is the day of the District of Columbia State Athletic Association indoor track meet. He will compete in the 800-meter run.
A seventh-place finish is not the day’s most significant event for Caruth.
Instead it is the conversation he has with his father, Roger.
As others compete, Caruth and his father discuss Caruth’s racing future. The previous summer Caruth drove go-karts in a league at an indoor facility located between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. He had not raced in the winter.
“I was a little stressed just because of trying to figure out what I could do,” Caruth said.
He presents various options to his father. One is for the family to purchase a Legends car or something comparable. The costs, though, are too much. Another option is to find sponsorship, rent a car, and run whatever races they can afford. iRacing also is debated.
iRacing is viewed as the best option. Caruth will upgrade his setup. He buys a steering wheel and eventually purchases a new computer, spending more than $1,000 combined on those items, but it is still much cheaper than buying a car or renting one for multiple races.
Instead of going to a track, Caruth will race from home.
As simulator technology and racing games improve, they provide a way to train and evaluate drivers. Still, there are limits to racing solely on a computer.
“The actual models are becoming so good,” said Toyota’s Irving. “What hasn’t been mastered yet — and will be — is the feel of the car in your home systems. … To get a full immersion simulator, it’s still almost the cost of a race car.”
Irving acknowledges that there remain challenges even with the simulators Toyota, Ford and Chevrolet have for their drivers in NASCAR, IndyCar and other series.
“You only get so much out of that,” Martin Truex Jr. said of using a simulator to prepare for last weekend’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway, which he won for a second consecutive year. “All the visual cues are there, but you don’t have the feel, the sensation of speed, the G-forces, the rises and the falls, all of that.”
Even without that, Irving says iRacing can reveal talent, particularly a driver who succeeds in different types of racing on it.
“You need to be able to race in multiple disciplines,” he said. “I think a simulation racer that we’re going to be able to engage with is going to have to be really, really good on dirt, really, really good on the rally race, really, really good on the road course, just absolutely exceptional on multiple modalities because their adoption of being able to learn. That is going to be important, no different than the great drivers (that) can typically get in anything and race.
“If Kyle Busch decided to run (a midget car) in the Chili Bowl, I think he would do quite well just because he’s a gifted race car driver. No different than Kurt Busch at the (Indianapolis) 500 and that kind of stuff.”
Kyle Busch credits his success to understanding his car. That goes back to when he started racing.
“My vehicle understanding and the reasons why I’m somewhat successful at what I’ve done is a huge credit to my dad,” Busch said. “Growing up in the shop, working on the cars, building the cars, understanding what springs were and meant and how to rate them and what corner to put them in, shocks, cambers, casters – all of that sort of stuff, I learned.
“I built my cars from the ground up with my dad. I tore my Legends car apart one off-season when we were done racing for the year. I ripped it all the way down to the ground because I thought if I strip it, he will be OK if I wanted to paint it, to repaint the chassis and kind of go through everything. I stripped it all the way down and was like, ‘Alright, I’m ready, let’s take it to the paint shop.’ He was like, ‘Nope, I’ll buy you a can of spray paint and you can put it all back together by yourself.’
“Everybody has their own different paths of how they grow up and how they understand things and what they understand.”
Caruth seeks to gain such knowledge as he also learns to race.
The green flag waves.
Caruth starts the 25-lap race at the back of the 19-car field since this his first start.
He passes three cars on the first lap.
He passes another car on the second lap.
On the third lap, a car makes contact with Caruth’s, sending it into the SAFER barrier. Caruth falls to last.
He fights the car’s handling and goes a lap down 10 laps into the race.
Eight minutes after Caruth took the green flag, the race is over. He finishes 17th. The contact with the wall bent the right front ball joint, control arm and spindle, making the car hard to turn.
To understand the challenge Caruth faces, look at his competition. Jason Alder, who turned 16 a couple of days after winning this race, began competing at age 6. Alder started in go-karts, moved to Banderlos and is in his third season in Legends car. This was his first win in a Legends car at Charlotte. For as challenging as it has been to reach this point, he knows the difficulties Caruth may experience.
“Racing is really about the passion behind it,” said Alder, who is nearly a year to the day younger than Caruth. “If you have the passion and the determination to continue in the darkest of times, you’re always going to look to the bright side even when you’re learning.”
Caruth is not dejected with his result.
“I cannot wait until tomorrow,” he said.
It’s another chance to race.
Caruth is not alone in his quest. There are those who can relate to his journey.
Max Brady and his brother Kenny both didn’t start racing until four years ago. Max was 15 and Kenny 13. Before then, their racing experience consisted of racing video games on their Xbox. They’ve since moved to iRacing.
Max and Kenny understand that a racing simulator or game can help a driver but also know it can’t prepare a driver for everything they’ll feel once they are strapped into their vehicle.
That’s not an excuse to fail. Max recently won his first Legends car race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Kenny won numerous Banderlo races in three years there before driving a Legends car this year.
Still, Kenny faced challenges with the move to Legends cars. He finished 21st in his first race. The next race, which Max won, Kenny finished eighth.
While Max and Kenny don’t have as much experience as some of their competitors, they have more than Caruth.
“Being so new to it, it’s going to take some time to learn race strategy and how to keep the car clean, racing around others, being consistent, knowing how to make moves, when to make the moves,” Kenny Brady said. “He’s going to learn as he goes.
“When I started out, I thought if I just got in the car and I was fast, I was going to win right off the bat. It’s so different.”
Kenny is confident Caruth will excel as he gains experience. Kenny has been friends with Caruth for a couple of years. He and Max helped Caruth transition to iRacing last year so Caruth could have better results.
Kenny also has seen Caruth’s ability in a go-kart. Caruth and his dad went to Georgia in late May and Caruth raced with Kenny at an indoor karting facility.
“I was impressed,” Kenny said. “Rajah was on my tail. I beat him twice. He beat me twice. I was very surprised at how well he did, how smooth he was.”
Those traits were evident at the combine to select the Drive for Diversity youth development drivers earlier this year.
“We wanted him to build speed,” said Matt Bucher, director of competition for Rev Racing, which operates the Drive for Diversity program. “I think we got him within three- or four-tenths of where the fast guys were.”
Caruth showed enough talent, despite his lack of experience, to earn a spot in the program.
Although Rajah Caruth’s racing uniform contains no sponsors, no website address and no stripes or other designs, it’s what is inside that matters this night to him.
He wears a Bubba Wallace T-shirt he got when he and his family attended last year’s Cup playoff race at Richmond Raceway.
Wallace is competing this evening in a different division, a night after he ran the rain-delayed Cup race at Michigan International Speedway.
Caruth wants to talk to Wallace but doesn’t want to appear starstruck. Instead, Wallace approaches.
Caruth, coming off his first career race the night before, and the 25-year-old Wallace, who is in his second full season in Cup and has been racing for nearly two-thirds of his life, talk mechanics. Caruth is trying to get his braking down and maximize his car’s speed in the center of the corner. Wallace offers a few tips.
“Getting it from him just helps me understand it a little bit more,” Caruth said.
Chase Cabre also is here this night helping the Drive for Diversity drivers. Cabre is coming off his first career K&N Pro Series East victory June 1 at Memphis International Raceway.
Cabre knows that it will take time for Caruth.
“The difference between here and what’s he used to … everything happens very fast,” Cabre said. “Once he learns the speed factor, the feel, the smells and it all slows down for him, he’ll start to get one thing after another.”
Caruth’s night has its challenges. In qualifying, debris causes an oil leak but Caruth doesn’t recognize the issue. He stays on track, fighting the steering wheel. The back of the car acts as if it wants to slide, a result of the oil getting on the tires. The problem is found and fixed in the garage in time for the semi feature. He finishes third in that race. In the feature, he starts 17th among 21 cars.
On the schedule, Caruth’s race is to take place after the school bus race among local principals and before the “Chicken Dance” contest. A bus oils down the track, delaying Caruth’s race, so the chicken dance proceeds. After it ends, the track is still not ready so the “Hokey Pokey” is played on the track’s speakers to keep fans entertained.
When Caruth gets on track, he notices an issue with his shifter and comes to the pits before the green flag. He loses a lap before the issue is resolved.
Even though he’s not on the lead lap, he battles another car in the final circuits. The duel goes through the final corners. Caruth is passed just before at the finish line. He finishes 17th.
It is in this race that Caruth gets his first taste of being hit from behind.
“That was a pretty cool experience getting moved, honestly, to feel it physically what it feels like so I know moving forward if I’m getting pushed or it’s a good shot,” Caruth said. “He was getting me square except for the last time he got me. He got me a little squirrelly. It was fine.”
That’s what they call “just racin.”
Caruth’s first two nights have had their ups and downs but he’s staying true to a philosophy he picked up from Hailie Deegan, whose personality and K&N Pro Series West success — two wins this year, one point out of the series lead — has increased her popularity
“I have little goals, kind of like what Hailie Deegan did this last year,” Caruth said. “Little goals week by week and they ended up adding to her race wins.”
Caruth’s progression of goals are to run a clean race, finish in the top 15, finish in the top 12, score a top 10, finish in the top seven, score a top five and eventually win. They are listed in his phone.
He is ready for his third chance to score a top-15 finish. Caruth starts 20th.
He charges to 15th in two laps.
He climbs to 14th.
A couple of laps later Caruth is 13th.
He moves to 12th.
Coming through the second turn, Caruth deftly bumps the car ahead of him, moving it up a lane. Caruth zips by to take 11th with the veteran move.
Caruth goes on to finish 12th. Another goal met.
But after the race, he’s unsure of what to do next. He looks for the car he bumped out of the way to talk to the driver.
“I don’t know if I should apologize or what,” Caruth later said. “I didn’t do it right. I got him up out of the groove but my right front caught their left rear so it knocked the wheel slightly out of my hand. I just held it.
“I was full intent trying to move him. I wasn’t trying to hit him hard. It was to the point where I could tell he was already free. If I hit him too hard, he would have spun out and I would have (been penalized) and gone to the rear. In iRacing, I hate hitting people.
“Today kind of helped me realize that OK, I’ve got to get physical.”
Hurry up and wait.
Tuesday night marks Caruth’s fourth race of the season and it’s his longest night. His class will run the final race of the evening, one slowed by multiple red flags in other divisions.
When it comes time to race, Caruth is ready. As he makes progress, the handling on his car becomes more difficult. The car wants to break free.
Oil is overflowing on to his tires. He spins in Turn 1. Caruth keeps his foot in the gas to turn the car but sees it headed for the curb and stops the car. The caution is out. Caruth heads to the pits. The hood is opened and engine checked. He’s sent back out.
It’s a caution-filled race and Caruth moves up as others have problems.
When the checkered flag waves, he is 10th. He will be scored ninth when the winning car fails inspection.
In less than three weeks, Caruth has gone from a teen who raced solely on a computer to going on track and scoring a top-10 finish in a 20-car field.
This is a night to celebrate. He and his father head to Friday’s so Caruth can get some chicken fingers and watch the video of his race from the GoPro camera mounted on his car. There’s much to savor but also much to learn.
“It’s been a crazy first leg of the journey,” Caruth said, “but I’ve got still go more to go.”
Noah Gragson won Saturday’s K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma Raceway in overtime under caution after Ryan Preece was black flagged for a restart violation.
Gragson, who competes full-time in the Xfinity Series, earned the win after battling back from his own restart violation in the first segment of the 57-lap race.
The race needed three overtime attempts to reach the checkered flag. The second was setup by a Lawless Alan wreck that resulted in a red flag. The final attempt was created by a Bill Kann wreck on the ensuing restart.
It was the restart from the Kann accident where Preece was deemed to have jumped the start.
Gragson restarted third and passed Daniel Hemric to put himself in position to inherit the win.
“Hell of race,” Gragson told NASCAR.com. “I was very fortunate to have a really fast Switch Camaro thanks to Jeff Jefferson and Jerry Pitts at Jefferson Pitts Racing. … Kind of had a little bit of adversity there in the middle of the race. Got called for jumping the start as the leader. Never really heard that one before.”
Ryan Preece said he was “pissed” and called the penalty “bull(expletive)” and declared “we won that race.”
“On the restart before that I was rolling it pretty fast and Daniel I think was restarting in second gear,” Preece said. “I heard that coming to the (final) green, so I backed down at the restart, I slowed down. … Maybe it looked like it, but I didn’t go any sooner.”
When asked if he would talk to NASCAR, Preece responded, “What are you going to do? I mean it’s their playground, it’s their sandbox. They’re going to do what they want. They manipulated the race at the end of the day. We won that race.”
Gragson was one of five national series drivers competing in the race.