Gracie Trotter became the first female to win a race sanctioned by ARCA when she captured the ARCA Menards West race Saturday at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“I’m at a loss for words right now. My first year in ARCA, out West, far from home – it just really means a lot to me,” Trotter said after her first series win.
The best finish by a female in ARCA Series history had been second. Shawna Robinson (1999 at Daytona), Erin Crocker (2005 and ’07 at Kentucky and 2006 at Kansas) and Hailie Deegan (2020 at Daytona) each finished runner-up in an ARCA race.
This is the first year that the West Series has been sanctioned by ARCA. It was previously known as K&N Pro Series West. Deegan was the most recent female winner in that series. She won three times. Deegan scored her first career West win in 2018 at Meridian (Idaho) Speedway. That victory made her the first female to win in that series. Deegan went on to win twice more in that series in 2019.
The 19-year-old Trotter is a third-generation racer. She drives for Bill McAnally Racing. Trotter began competing in go-karts at age 8. She was the first female to win the Young Lions Legends Cars division at Charlotte Motor Speedway, capturing the title in 2017. This is her first season in the ARCA Menards West Series.
She took the lead on Lap 54 with a three-wide pass.
“I kind of got a little lucky there,” Trotter said. “The two front cars were battling side by side. I took it three-wide, a little sketchy at first, but I made it stick.”
She went on to lead 95 of the 150 laps.
Trotter also competes for Rev Racing as part of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program. She won her first Late Model race at Hickory (North Carolina) Motor Speedway on Sept. 13. The win made her the fourth female to win a Late Model Series race at the historic 0.363-mile track, which opened in 1951.
A replay of Saturday’s ARCA Menards West race will air at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday (Sept. 30) on NBCSN.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — An effervescent 18-year-old, who channels the sport’s pioneers in spirit and aggression, moves closer to leading a NASCAR movement.
But Hailie Deegan does not take this journey alone. With family close by and female competitors watching, Deegan’s rise through stock-car racing could open more driving opportunities for women. As long as she continues to succeed.
Such marks are just the beginning, her father, former motocross superstar Brian Deegan, says.
“She’s going to be a pioneer to break down all these barriers that haven’t been done yet,” he told NBC Sports after celebrating his daughter’s Daytona performance.
“I’m excited that no girl has won yet because there is a chance to set records. That’s what our house has been about, setting records and creating new opportunities and just breaking down those barriers. I think she’s got a cool road ahead of her.”
Deegan’s Daytona performance came 10 years after Danica Patrick’s heralded stock-car debut at the same track. Patrick’s arrival raised hopes that more women could follow her to NASCAR, but those aspirations vanished as funding faded and results waned for many. Eventually, those obstacles sidelined Patrick. Deegan, who moved from Toyota’s development program to Ford’s program in the offseason, is poised to shake up the sport.
Others can’t wait, including Jennifer Jo Cobb, who has competed in the Truck series since 2010 minus the resources Deegan has.
“What I do hope is for her success,” Cobb told NBC Sports, “because what I’ve always wanted to see happen is for a woman to have the money so that we could prove that with the right resources it can be done.”
When Patrick made her stock-car debut in the Daytona ARCA race a decade ago, she was one of a series-record six women in the 43-car field. That Daytona Speedweeks also saw a female in the Truck race (Cobb) and two women in the Xfinity race, including Patrick. A few months later, Patrick was one of four women to compete in the Indianapolis 500.
“I thought it was super exciting,” Kenzie Hemric told NBC Sports of so many women racing in top levels in 2010, a year before she made her ARCA debut. “I thought, ‘Gosh, all these women are getting these chances and it’s going to be so good for me.’
“I thought I would be right there with them in a couple of years.”
Although Patrick had won an IndyCar race, led the Indianapolis 500 and appeared in multiple Super Bowl commercials, her move to stock car racing helped attract more attention.
“The way I liken Danica in NASCAR at the time is if we had a female quarterback playing for one of the major NFL teams,” said Norma Jones, who wrote a dissertation in 2016 on Patrick in NASCAR for her doctorate in philosophy at Kent State University.
Jones said among Patrick’s biggest impacts was showing that a woman could reach the heights of auto racing.
“If you can’t imagine something to happen or if you can’t place that there,” Jones said, “then it’s an impossibility for you.”
Kenzie Hemric, whose last name was Ruston before she married NASCAR driver Daniel Hemric, also was a pioneer. She was the first female driver selected to the NASCAR Next program, which highlighted rising young talent. Kenzie Hemric was selected in 2013 and ’14. Among the drivers also chosen then were Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Preece and Cole Custer.
Hemric competed in K&N Pro Series East from 2013-15. Her first series race came a few weeks after Patrick won the 2013 Daytona 500 pole. That would be among the highlights for Patrick, who never finished better than 24th in the points before completing her NASCAR career with the 2018 Daytona 500.
Patrick, who did not have any stock-car experience before 2010, was a victim of unrealistic expectations that had a far-reaching effect, Hemric said.
“I think fans, sponsors and everybody expected more results out of her that weren’t necessarily achievable,” she said, “and I think just falling short on those unrealistic expectations made it really hard for other women and sponsors to help other women at that time.”
Lack of sponsorship left Hemric without a ride in the ARCA East Series after 2015. She ran Super Late Model races in 2016 but never made it back to NASCAR as a driver.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
McKenna Haase scans the living room in the Indianapolis home she rents and sees a sprint car seat, midget car seat, asphalt car seat, her racing helmet and seat belts.
Haase, who turns 23 Thursday and again will race sprint cars this season, became a race fan after a chance meeting with Kasey Kahne at a Nashville, Tennessee mall when she was in the third grade. Her passion for racing grew and she later convinced her parents to let her compete.
She became the first female to win a sprint car race at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway, which hosted its first automobile race in 1901 and is home to the Knoxville Nationals. Her victory came in 2015, a day before she graduated from high school as class valedictorian. Haase has won at Knoxville four other times.
One of the points Jones discussed in her 229-page doctorate dissertation about Patrick in NASCAR was the role of women in a masculine sport. Jones wrote that “women sporting competitors talk about desiring to be perceived as just athletes, without the gender identification.”
So does that mean recognizing Haase as the first female to win at Knoxville merely reinforces gender divides instead of celebrating a significant accomplishment?
“The local people are probably sick and tired of hearing that phrase (track’s first female winner) over and over again, and even myself it’s like I want to just be known as a really good race car driver at this point,” Haase told NBC Sports.
“Now, are there other first female records that I’d like to break? Absolutely, because there is something to be said about going someplace that nobody has ever gone.”
She acknowledges that “it’s not like we need special treatment or anything like that, but we are at a disadvantage, so to be able to overcome something like that to accomplish something is special.”
Haase says there are numerous challenges competing in a male-dominated sport.
“It starts out fine until the next thing you know you get up into those higher levels and there’s that strength difference, there’s that bravery difference and there’s like a passion difference and a priority difference in what (female drivers) want to do with their lives,” she said. “Another challenge, I guess, would just be obviously the men in general. Now you’re looking around and there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of men at the track and one female.”
While she admits the obstacles can make the sport “very frustrating at times,” she said she races because “I was designed to be where I am for a reason.”
Those reasons include youth racers. She started the Compass Racing Development program in 2015 to give kids a chance to race an outlaw karts. She’s had about 10 children compete in that program, including four girls. Haase also will launch Youth Racers of America Inc. and plans to host a national motorsports camp in Indianapolis in December for 300-500 youth racers.
The idea for Youth Racers of America stemmed from a paper she wrote at Drake University on the economics of motorsports.
“I basically did a study on where I think our sport is missing and what our greatest value proposition is,” she said. “All my research tied back to youth motorsports and the lack of support in that area and support for the future of the sport.”
“IT’S FUN TO DO THE IMPOSSIBLE”
The poster came from T.J. Maxx and hangs in Jennifer Jo Cobb’s office in a race shop that barely holds five trucks and various parts and pieces.
A black high heel shoe is on the white poster. Above it reads: “The question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me.”
On the opposite wall in Cobb’s office is a smaller framed poster with words over a giant lipstick kiss imprint that states: “Life is tough and so are you.”
“These are my sources of inspiration,” Cobb said. “I need to be reminded.”
Racing has not been easy for the 46-year-old Cobb, who has made 190 Truck starts and 31 Xfinity starts. Only Patrick (252 starts) has been in more national series NASCAR races than Cobb, whose team is beginning its 10th season.
She has done it with minimal resources. Even a week before Truck teams were to arrive in Daytona, Cobb needed to find wheels for her race truck, a driver’s uniform and possibly a hauler to transport her vehicle and equipment to Daytona because her team’s hauler was not operational.
Cobb is undeterred by such difficulties. She just thinks back to how her father, Joe, whom she calls her hero, raced.
“He had less money than anybody else he raced against,” she said. “Driving into the racetrack, just my mom, my dad and me at like 10 years old … and this moment is as clear as day for me, there was one tire on dad’s open trailer tire rack.
“I’m looking around and my mom’s commenting, ‘Look at all the tires these guys are bringing’ for local dirt racing. I said, ‘Yeah dad, why do we have only one tire?’ My dad’s response was ‘Because that’s the spare for the trailer, and if we break down we have to have that.’ ”
Cobb recalls that her father won that night.
“He taught me, not even realizing it, some really huge life lessons, that created my character, which is never give up,” Cobb said. “I say all the time I probably don’t belong here. I know I don’t. This is a sport for people with a lot of money.”
Even with the financial hardships and one top-10 finish in her Truck career, if a younger female sought Cobb’s advice on racing, she would not dissuade that person.
“Look at all the things that people have said were impossible,” Cobb said. “My favorite is it’s fun to do the impossible. How many times was Walt Disney told that his little mouse dream was ridiculous. If you ask me, it’s nobody’s business to discourage you.”
At a time when many teens attempt to navigate life’s complexities, Hailie Deegan experiences often take place in public.
She makes those challenges seem easy, often smiling, laughing and full of energy. Deegan is not afraid to share amusing experiences on social media including the time last year she put the wrong fuel in the van she drove and faced a repair bill in the thousands of dollars.
But it’s not always so much fun having everything you do watched.
“Trust me, it’s a lot of pressure,” Deegan told NBC Sports. “It’s a lot that comes with racing, Being a girl in racing does bring attention. … At the end of the day it has its pros and cons. When you’re doing good, it gets you noticed. When you’re doing bad, it tears you down. That’s how racing is.
“Racing is kind of like the craziest roller coaster you’ll be on, emotionally. It takes a toll on you because you’re going to have lot more bad races than good races.”
Deegan’s victories have been memorable for more than the historic value. She made contact with the leader on the last lap in all three ARCA West races she’s won. Twice Deegan took the win from a teammate, including at Colorado National Speedway last June. Deegan, echoing a sentiment from generations of drivers, said after that win: “If you take a swing at me, I’m going to take a swing at you back.”
Deegan acknowledged after her runner-up finish at Daytona last week “that one thing I regret from the past two seasons was making more enemies than I should have. Carrying more grudges than I should have. That is something this season, especially coming to the ARCA Series and a lot of news drivers, I want to stay away from that and have people on my side.”
Especially young girls.
“That is always cool having little girls come up to me and say they want to be a race car driver one day,” Deegan said. “That motivates me more because you know what you are doing is right and all the work you are putting in is worth something.”
Deegan finished second to Self in her first ARCA race at Daytona International Speedway. Deegan’s finish tied Shawna Robinson and Erin Crocker for the best finish by a female in an ARCA race. Robinson finished second at Daytona in 1999. Crocker placed second three times, the last time in 2007 at Kentucky.
Her father couldn’t stop smiling. He and wife, Marissa, embraced Hailie after the race with Marissa shouting “awesome!”
“Her day will come,” Brian Deegan said on pit road of his daughter. “She’s got momentum. The main thing with her is she had a lot of momentum at the beginning of last year. Once she gets momentum, it’s on. She doesn’t want to lose. She’ll work 18 hours a day. She’ll work at the gym, study tape. She’s serious. We’re on a mission.”
Saturday’s mission for Deegan was to learn. She ran in the top 10 most of the race and learned from spotter Eric Holmes, who encouraged her at times and told her what not to do other times.
Most of the incidents were behind her in Saturday’s 80-lap race but one happened in front of her. She was pushing Chuck Hiers through Turn 2 when the contact turned Hiers and sent him into the wall.
“There were moments where I thought, ‘God, I shouldn’t have done that,’ “ Deegan said. “And there were moments when it was like, ‘Okay, that is good.’ People have to keep in mind we are ARCA racing. We aren’t Cup racing. We aren’t Xfinity racing. Most of the people here are here to learn and eventually get to that level and work out the kinks at this level.
“I think I learned a lot of good takeaways from this race. Some things I could have tried and been more aggressive on, but everything I did in this race got us that second place finish.”
Next for Deegan and the ARCA Series will be March 6 at Phoenix Raceway.
“I feel like the first race sets the tone for the season,” she said Saturday. “Having a good first race can help keep the ball rolling and help the guys at the shop. When you are on a nice, positive high level, you bounce that off each other and the work ethic and it just helps for the rest of the year.”
CONCORD, N.C. — Fourteen years after her racing career ended, Shawna Robinson got to experience a first at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
On a hot September day, the former NASCAR driver arrived on the track’s pit road as one drop in a sea of pink.
Robinson, 54, wore a pink shirt identical to those worn by numerous other women who covered pit road, signifying their status as survivors of breast cancer. They were all there to help paint the track’s pit wall pink ahead of NASCAR’s Roval race weekend.
For Robinson, the first woman to win a NASCAR sanctioned race (Charlotte/Daytona Dash Series’ AC Delco 100 at New Asheville Speedway on June 10, 1988), it was the first time she’d attended the “Paint Pit Wall Pink” event to promote Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Robinson, who once suffered from Stage 3 breast cancer, has been in remission since 2015.
“It’s just an honor to be a part of this,” Robinson told NBC Sports. “You just see the courage of all these survivors and you know the process you go through once you’re diagnosed, it’s a journey.”
October is significant for Robinson not just because of her experience with cancer. In January 2014, two months before her diagnosis, her father-in-law Dale Clark passed way after a short battle with prostate cancer.
“We had just lost (Dale) and the next thing you know, I have the same oncologist and I’m doing chemo in the room that he did, and my mother-in-law’s there with me,” Robinson recalled. “Things just come full circle. It’s been really, really tough on everybody losing Dale and then for me to get through the process and then for (son) Tanner.”
Six months after her last radiation treatment in September 2015, Tanner was diagnosed with testicular cancer just before his 20th birthday. He’s now cancer free and pursuing a career as a professional gamer.
“We were able to catch it early,” Robinson said. “Him going to chemo was probably harder. I went through chemo for three years, he went through it for six months because it was such a different type of treatment.
“Just to see him go through that and the frailness was really, really tough. But he’s cancer free. When I lost my hair, he shaved his head (to give moral support). Little did he know a few years down the road he’d be losing his hair due to chemo.”
Robinson shared a lesson that came to mind seeing her fellow survivors gather at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“Life never will be the same again, but you’re fortunate,” she said. “It changes the person who you are and I feel that it makes you a better person. It makes the life that you’ve lived even that more grateful to have another day to live it.”
After not having raced since she failed to qualify for the April 2005 Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, Robinson is still finding ways to live within the racing community. And that’s not including being a member of the National Motorsports Appeals panel.
“I think I got part of it from my mother, who was very much into decor, and I grew up as a little girl going to flea markets and antique stores and my dad was the racer,” Robinson said. “Every weekend was at a race track.”
Robinson “dabbled” in design when she took a two-year hiatus from racing in the 90s to have her two children, Tanner and Samantha.
“Really just word of mouth, it just really picked up with, ‘Would you help me do this, would you help me do that?'” Robinson said. “Then I went back into racing in ’99 and then basically got out of it in 2005. (Going back to design work) seemed like the next step to go to.”
Robinson describes her style as “very eclectic,” as she likes to “take old patterns and mix them up. I’m a little mixed up, so I guess that works well for me.”
Anyone with familiar with JR Motorsports’ headquarters in Mooresville, North Carolina, might have seen her work.
“Still to this day if you see any kind of interviews with the crew or the team it’s on the blocked wall in the back with all those colors,” Robinson said. “I was literally on a scaffolding painting those squares. It’s pretty cool to still see that. I worked very closely with Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. and Kelley (Earnhardt Miller). Everybody kind of did their race shops in red, black, silver. He wanted to go a totally different route and we used a lot of earth tones and odd colors. It’s a very homey feel to that shop and it’s a very family feel with JR Motorsports. …
“I created that atmosphere and to see it 10, 15 years later and it’s still standing. A lot of times when you go to a job you did in the beginning or early on and you go back to it and you think ‘Oooh, I could have done this different.’ I don’t feel that way, I feel like it’s really held its beautiful look that it has.”
For Robinson to focus on her new endeavors, she believed she had to “pull the door down on that world” of racing, which saw her make 72 starts in national NASCAR races, become the first woman to win a pole in the Xfinity Series (Atlanta 1994) and be the second woman to compete in the Daytona 500.
And Robinson is clear “You can’t do racing halfway.”
“Any career you want to succeed at, you can’t do it halfway,” she said. “So I really had to dive into (interior design) and just think I had the support and the clientele because of being in the racing world and people have a trust with you. Giving you the key to their house or giving you the opportunity to go in and work with their things.”
The club of woman who have competed in NASCAR is small, but Robinson has high hopes for the latest woman to grab the sport’s spotlight, Hailie Deegan.
Thirty years after Robinson, Deegan became the second woman to win a NASCAR sanctioned race last year when she won at Meridian (Idaho) Speedway in the K&N Pro Series West. She’s added two more wins this season.
“She seems like such a confident girl,” Robinson said. “There’s no question she’s a hard driver that’s not afraid to put her nose (in a tight spot) to get to the next spot. I think she’s got a ton of potential. The fact that she’s running with Toyota support and she’s running different K&N races, she can pretty much get into anything and drive it. I think that’s going to be her saving grace.”
Robinson has never met Deegan. If she does, what would she like to talk to her about?
“I hope she knows who I am would be one thing,” Robinson said with a slight laugh, “or who I was.”
Even if Deegan doesn’t know who she is, plenty of people still remember her career.
Robinson said she gets autograph cards in the mail “every day and get people that want things signed or just want to know how I’m doing. I’m happy about all that. They’re still very, very supportive.”
Rising NASCAR star Hailie Deegan: ‘I put my helmet on the same way everyone else does’
At an age where many of her peers are learning to drive or getting a driver’s license for the first time, Deegan not only has been driving race cars and off-road vehicles for nearly a decade. She also has become one of the rising young female stars in NASCAR racing:
In late September, she became the first woman to win a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race (Meridian Speedway in Meridian, Idaho).
In so doing, she became only the second female race winner in NASCAR history, joining Shawna Robinson, who won three races in 1988 and ’89 in the now-defunct NASCAR Dash Series.
Deegan wrapped up the season by winning K&N Pro Series West rookie of the year, finishing fifth in the final standings.
And now Deegan has her sights set on not only winning more races in 2019 but also to capture the K&N West championship. If she does, she’ll add another page to her NASCAR history book, becoming the first female champion in any NASCAR series.
“I’m not done, I still have so much more to accomplish,” Deegan told NBC Sports. “It’s like there’s a ladder, and this is the first step up the ladder.
“You don’t feel accomplished when you get that first step on the ladder. You feel accomplished when you’re on top of the ladder. I want to be on top, and I’m going to do everything in my ability to get there.”
A straight-A, home-schooled student who graduated high school at 16, Deegan begins her second full season in the K&N Series on Sunday at New Smyrna Speedway (to air on NBCSN on Feb. 13 at 6 pm ET), just a few miles from where she hopes to race one day: Daytona International Speedway.
Deegan drives for one of the most successful K&N teams, Bill McAnally Racing, with primary sponsorship from NAPA Auto Parts and Toyota.
“I don’t want to be cocky, but I want to win a championship and feel that with my team, I have the ability,” Deegan said.
When she and her team arrived last September to race at Meridian Speedway — a quarter-mile paved oval — she already had compiled two runner-up results and seven other top-10 finishes in her first 11 starts (she finished the K&N West season with 12 top 10s in 14 starts).
But she was hungry for that elusive first win.
“We just really had to find what worked for me, what crew guys worked well with me, and who didn’t,” Deegan said. “I think we figured that out halfway through the season, and from that point, we were running in the top three or top five almost every single race.”
Deegan and her team felt so confident about the Idaho race that they broke into song and dance beforehand to the driver’s favorite song, Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady”, to get pumped up.
It’s a habit she picked up from her motorcycle and off-road racer father Brian Deegan, who also listens to music to motivate himself before his own races. One of Hailie’s crew members brought a portable speaker to continue playing the song as the team paraded and pushed her car onto the starting grid.
Deegan started fourth and stayed in the top five the entire race. On the final lap, she applied a textbook bump and run to then-teammate Cole Rouse two turns from the finish line. She sailed past to capture the checkered flag and put her name in NASCAR’s history books.
The winning maneuver was not happenstance.
“We went into that race with aggressive intentions,” Brian Deegan said. “We knew it was a short track, flat, so we went to the go-kart track and practiced bump and runs. We must have practiced 1,000 of them.
“It’s a fair race move. You just have to perfect it so you don’t knock a guy out. We went into that race and planned to do that move. When it came down to the last lap, I was like, ‘Hailie, you know what to do. We can make friends later.’”
While Rouse was initially upset at being knocked out of the way, he soon cheered for such a big achievement.
Good job to a badass girl @HailieDeegan yeah I was mad at the time about the bump and run but I got over it quick. She’s an amazing girl and amazing talent. I’m happy for her! She made history and I’m a part of it.
Derek Kraus, one of Deegan’s fellow teammates at Bill McAnally Racing, is also 17 and entering his third year in K&N competition with BMR. He’s watched her develop.
“She shows a lot on the racetrack,” Kraus said. “She adapted to it really well and really fast, too. It takes other drivers a little longer than what it took her to get used to K&N cars. It’s way different from what people expect. It’s a heavier stock car. You definitely have to know what you’re doing. She’s worked her tail off to get where she is.”
Kraus, of Stratford, Wisconsin, admires Deegan not just for her ability on the track but also her demeanor off it.
“She always seems to be in a happy mood and is uplifting,” Kraus said. “She’s never down, no matter how bad the night is or what happens on the racetrack. I think I’ve only seen her mad just once, and that’s pretty good for a whole season. She’s a good teammate to have around because she’s always happy and laughing.”
Kraus noted that it doesn’t make a difference that Deegan is female. Once she straps into her car, she’s a racer first and foremost.
“Her being a girl or being my age, once you put that helmet on, everyone’s the same, everyone’s equal,” Kraus said. “No matter if you’re driving against a 15-year-old or a 40-year-old, you’ll never know the difference once you get that helmet on.”
When @HailieDeegan checked social media Saturday night, people talked about her breaking barriers and becoming the first woman to win in @NASCAR's K&N Pro Series.
Deegan got the racing bug from her father, one of the most successful freestyle motocross riders in the United States and the most decorated rider in X Games history.
“My dad has pretty much taught me, he’s built this thing with me, he trains with me, practices with me, goes to the gym with me, we battle each other at the go-kart track,” Deegan said. “We’re so competitive with each other, and I feel like we both make each other better because we’re so hard on each other, just trying to be the best we can.”
Brian and Marissa Deegan have three children who all have become racers. Hailie is the oldest, while 12-year-old brother Haiden is a multiple champion in motocross, and 8-year-old brother Hudson is competing in both motocross and karts.
But it’s Hailie that has been the biggest chip off the old block racing-wise so far.
“I tried to teach her all my tricks and everything it takes to win and the ability to learn on her own,” Brian Deegan said. “My goal is one day (she) will surpass me.
“Hailie rode dirt bikes when she was little, which I thought was a good foundation for her to start on. But when it comes to girls in motorsports, in my opinion, the reality is there’s a lot more opportunities on four wheels than two.
“So (racing cars) is something we worked towards. It’s not by accident. Ever since she was 8 years old, she’s been racing with me. About 2009, we got her into racing trucks and go-karts, dirt, off-road karts. Each year, she got better. Then she started winning races and started winning championships, and it started snowballing from there.”
By the time she was 12 years old, Hailie told her parents she was ready to go all-in as a race car driver.
“That’s when I thought this is going to be her path,” Brian Deegan said. “It really wasn’t just our decision, it was something she wanted to do, and that’s kind of where it started.
“We’re excited to conquer this sport as a family and win the fans over. Hailie is what you see is what you get. She’s not putting on a front. She’s giggly, fun, no bad bones in her body. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her say a bad word. We’re very fortunate.”
Deegan is serious about everything she does racing-wise. That includes how she revels in beating her father in regular go-kart races they compete in against each other – with a lot of good-natured trash talking between them.
“We go and have the gnarliest battles out there; we’ve actually totaled a couple karts,” she said with a giggle.
Brian Deegan also laughs about some of the on-track battles he’s had with his daughter.
“Usually, that’s where you start blaming the cars or tires, the kind of standard excuse by racers,” Brian Deegan said. “You can always find an excuse. We definitely talk crap to each other and give each other a hard time on who’s faster. That’s friendly competition, it’s what keeps you pushing to be better.
“Every day, we talk about racing. Every day, we talk about strategy. Why (and) how we’re going to win, who we’re going to beat and how are we going to do it. That’s a daily deal that we’ve done.”
It’s not every day that a lower-rung NASCAR race can be life-changing, but it certainly was in Hailie Deegan’s case. Not only did her victory in Idaho affirm that she could win a race, the national attention she’s received since might be a lot for a 17-year-old — but not her.
“At the beginning of last year, I was just completely lost,” she said. “I didn’t really know what I’m doing. I’m still learning. I didn’t know where my place is in the stock car world. I was just lost. I didn’t know the terms about the car, didn’t know what to change, and then about halfway through the season, it just clicked, and everything just fell into place.
“Ever since then, we started running up front every single race. Coming into this year, I feel a lot more confident in myself. I know I have the abilities. I know my place. I know what to do now. I know what to work on, and I know my strengths and weaknesses.
“As soon as last season ended, I was ready for it to start back up again. I’d say, ‘How many more months to go?’ I’ve literally been counting the days. I hate the offseason.”
In just a few days, she’ll be back in the driver’s seat at New Smyrna.
Much like what her teammate Kraus said, Deegan’s competitiveness rises to the surface in races. But outside her race car, she has not let the success get to her.
“There’s nothing I hate more than an over-cocky person,” she said. “I have friends that’ll be all cocky and then go out and get their butt whooped. They’re the worst.
“I don’t try to call stuff before it happens, because in the end, it’s not always going to happen. I’d rather be humble and wait for myself to succeed and then take it all in from there.”
While Deegan wants to win a championship, she remains grounded. Her maturity, savviness and philosophy belie her youth.
“My dad has kept me real good at just focusing on racing,” she said. “In the end, success comes with results, and you’ll get everything with results, so let’s just make it easy and get right to the point and get those results.”
Deegan achieved all her goals last season. For 2019, she hopes to earn at least three more K&N West wins and one in the K&N East Series (in which she will run select races), along with the West championship.
Where would she go from there?
“The best is yet to come,” Brian Deegan said of his daughter. “We’re just starting. We’re just getting in it. She has a legitimate chance of being the first girl to win a NASCAR championship, and that could happen this year.”