Many drivers have recently begun to sign digital autographs for fans via social media. Similar to a traditional autograph session, where fans bring photos and memorabilia for drivers to sign, fans have been tweeting pictures to drivers with the hopes of getting them to sign the photos with a phone stylus.
The new trend appears to have started on March 13 when a fan tweeted a request for a digital autograph to Hailie Deegan.
Since there’s no racing for awhile. Some guy just tweeted a pic of him and I and wanted me to sign it. So I screenshot it and signed it on my phone then sent it back😂. Not gonna lie, laying in bed signing autographs ain’t too bad
“Some guy just tweeted a pic of him and I and wanted me to sign it. So I screenshot it and signed it on my phone and then sent it back,” Deegan tweeted. “Not gonna lie, laying in bed signing autographs ain’t too bad.”
After Deegan sent that tweet, several fans responded with similar requests for autographs. Deegan continued to sign for them as well.
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.”
William Byron needed just one race to know what his life’s aspiration was destined to be. He worried he’d never get a second chance.
“I did a go-kart race when I was 13 years old,” the 22-year-old Byron told NBC Sports. “I remember … waking up the next morning and having that feeling in my stomach if I never get to race again, I’m going to be devastated.”
Instead, he had to settle for racing on a computer. But he was good, winning 104 iRacing events across two seasons.
By the time he reached 15 years old, Byron faced a dilemma: he was too old to start in go-karts and too young for late models.
One day, after researching various types of racing, William came upon Legend cars as his ticket into competitive racing.
Bill Byron was a bit skeptical about his son’s racing aspirations but placed the onus on his son to convince him. So William, an honor student at Charlotte Country Day School, wrote a five-page paper listing why the little boxy jalopies were the perfect fit for him.
“I think that desire and feeling of, ‘Hey, I could do this,’ is what kind of led me to write a paper about (Legends racing)and persuade people just to get me in a car for a couple of times,” Byron said.
Despite his youthful enthusiasm, his first time driving a Legend car didn’t go smoothly.
“I had no idea how to use the clutch or anything,” he said. “I was really struggling and then once I got on the racetrack, I just felt like this comfort and this calmness about being on the track. I’ll never forget that. I knew then that I could be competitive at it.”
A Legend car is a 5/8-scale replica of cars with body styles from the 1930s and 1940s that weigh between about 1,300 pounds and have motorcycle motors that pump out 130-plus horsepower, depending upon the model and class a driver is in.
Harrisburg, North Carolina-based 600 Racing Inc., produced the first Legend car in 1992. Now known as U.S. Legend Cars and a subsidiary of Speedway Motorsports Inc., the company has built more than 6,000 Legend cars, and shipped them throughout the U.S., as well as 28 other countries, according to the company’s web site.
Legend cars are not only a good training device for racers, they’re also economical. A family can get started in the sport for around $15,000 to $20,000. Legend car races are held at major NASCAR venues such as Charlotte Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Dennis Lambert, who was Byron’s crew chief in Legends racing from late 2012 through mid-2014, said the class continues to flourish because of drivers like Byron and others.
“Parents see the William Byrons on TV that came from Legends and makes them think to put their kid in there and run a couple years and get feedback of them in that style of car, so I think that’s what keeps bringing them back,” Lambert said.
Lambert owns Dennis Lambert Racing, one of the largest coaching and at-track support businesses for Legends cars and drivers in the U.S.
Right from his first meeting with Byron, Lambert wasimpressed with how prepared and inquisitive the aspiring racer was.
“He and his father met me at my house and William came with a notebook and a pen to take notes to see what was going on in Legends and what they needed to do and what their next step was,” Lambert said. “He showed me right away he was all-in to what his next step was.”
Lambert took Byron for his first Legends test at Concord (North Carolina) Speedway in October 2012, the same track where Byron would win the Legends Young Lions National Championship less than a year later.
“He was pretty impressive right away,” Lambert said. “It (transferred) over from the iRacing. It doesn’t necessarily happen like that for everybody, but for him he definitely picked it up right away.”
Byron credits his early success in Legends racing to Lambert’s guidance and influence upon his career. The two remain close friends and Lambert attends a number of Byron’s Cup races each season.
“The confidence as a driver is key, so you have to have the confidence to kind of go out there and do what you need to do. He was always out there coaching me.
“It was tough in the beginning. (Lambert) really didn’t want to work with me because I was so fresh and so clean, I had no races under my belt. It took a little time but he kind of developed me as a driver.”
Three weeks after his first test, Byron entered his first Legends race in November 2012 at Rockingham Speedway, starting on the outside pole and finishing fourth.
But there were still a few bumps ahead.
“I went to Florida to race seven times and I wrecked like five times but I was fast so I was trying to figure that out,” Byron said. “Once it all clicked it was just a lot of fun.”
Byron quickly went from Legends rookie to master in 2013. Competing in the Young Lions division, he won 33 races in 69 starts, won Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 10-race Summer Shootout title and capped the season off by winning the U.S. Legends Young Lions National Championship.
Byron moved up to the Legends Pro Division that winter and won several more races plus championships at the Winter Nationals at Auburndale Speedway and the Winter Heat Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
From there, Byron began his rapid climb up the NASCAR ladder, starting with the Whelen All-American Series and Pro Late Model Division in 2014. He moved to the K&N Pro Series East in 2015, Gander RV & Outdoor Series in 2016, the Xfinity Series in 2017 (winning the title) and Cup in 2018.
Because a Legend car is small and seemingly nimble, it may look easy to drive, but it’s not.
“The cars are very difficult to drive,” said Lenny Batycki, host of Performance Racing Network’s syndicated “At The Track” show and a Charlotte Motor Speedway Legends racing pit reporter. “I’ve asked a number of young drivers and to the racer, they’ll say it’s throttle control that those cars teach you how to drive more than anything else.”
Byron concurs. In a post on his personal web site, Byron said, “Racing a Legends car can be tricky at first. It took me a few months to really get the hang of things, but once I caught on it all made sense to me.
“The cars are great to drive and they really teach you many of the techniques you need if you want to move in up your racing career.”
Legends racing has become one of the best developmental pathways for young racers who seek to one day become NASCAR drivers.
Byron hasn’t forgotten his Legends roots. He turned a few practice laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway last year and also ran the Roval road course with Lambert in CMS’s Winter Heat series two years ago.
“William came out the first week and struggled,” Lambert recalled. “That week, he wanted my GoPro footage. I regretted it in the end, but I sent him the video from the week before and he studied it – he’s very intrigued and committed to figuring it out – and then came back the next week and beat me.”
Because many Legends races are televised, Byron also learned early how to deal with the media, a skill that would prove beneficial for each step of the NASCAR ladder he climbed.
Motor Racing Network NASCAR announcer Steve Post has also been the lead public address announcer for Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Summer Shootout since 1997. He saw Byron and many others develop.
“One of the things I remember most about William is how polished and buttoned-up he was,” Post told NBC Sports. “This kid really had it together.
“He was the first iRacing to real racing guy. When he started in Legends, he was up front all the time and really did a nice job with his racing on the track, and to win (the championship) in his first year, that was really mind-boggling.”
Several other Legends alums stand out in Post’s memory. Daniel Hemric, then 19, won the biggest prize in Legends history, taking home $250,000 for winning the inaugural 2010 Legends Million.
And even though he’s a full-time Cup driver with Richard Petty Motorsports, Wallace ran most of the Summer Shootout schedule last year.
“The Legends to me was the first real rung on real racing on (Byron’s) ladder, and to get to the top of the ladder, you’ve got to climb all those rungs, and William certainly has done that,” Post said. “Even today on a Monday night Summer Shootout practice session (or at Tuesday night races), you’re standing in the garage area and there William is with some of his buddies that are still racing.
“That he still maintains that connection and reflect back to his roots speaks volumes for him as a young man.”
“In the full Legends car, to step into it right away with no Bandolero experience, no nothing, there hasn’t been anybody that I can recall that just did it as smoothly and as strongly as William,” Batycki said. “Great kid, just picked it up naturally. Determination, awareness, friendliness to just everybody in the garage.”
Byron had that winner’s look in his eyes seemingly from the start, Batycki said.
“Him battling whether it was Hemric or whoever, his determination was the difference maker,” Batycki said. “If he didn’t beat you this week … he was going to try to go and learn and figure it out how to do it as soon as he could – and it usually didn’t take him long. Usually the next week, you were behind him.”
One of Batycki’s favorite memories of Byron’s Legends days was the so-called “garage neighborhood” at Charlotte Motor Speedway during the 2013 Summer Shootout season.
“Every 10 feet away from him were champions or about-to-be champions,” Batycki said. “You had Daniel Hemric, Christian Eckes, FastTrack dirt late model champion Carson Ferguson, last year’s FastTrack champion Cory Gordon, (Fox Sports NASCAR announcer) Mike Joy and his son Scott, Enzo Fittipaldi (grandson of F1 and IndyCar champ Emerson Fittipaldi), former Busch Grand National winner David Green and “Tiger Tom” Pistone.
“That was the kind of racing neighborhood William grew up in. He was going to be a winner, but that neighborhood definitely affected his esprit des corps.”
For guys like Batycki, Post and Lambert, seeing Byron and so many former Legends drivers reach the highest levels of NASCAR racing is rewarding.
When William wins (his first Cup) race, it’s going to be just as exciting – like, that little kid made it, that little pup made it. – PRN and Charlotte Motor Speedway announcer Lenny Batycki on William Byron.
“They become our kids because we’re with them when they’re at Summer Shootout,” Batycki said. “We got to know them as little kids, so that when one of them does well, it’s just like an uncle feeling good about it.
“When William wins (his first Cup) race, it’s going to be just as exciting – like, that little kid made it, that little pup made it.”
Chad Knaus has taken Byron and turned the former Legends champ into a driver who appears on the verge of his first Cup win.
Post recalled one instance last season that, much like when Byron studied Legends racing, typifies how studious Byron remains.
“Last year at Dover, I saw William and Chad Knaus walking the track,” Post said. “They were talking about arcing the car down in (the corner) and Chad talking about different things as well.
“It just really did my heart well because one of the kids I used to talk about in the Summer Shootout is now debriefing and talking with Chad Knaus.”
Added Batycki, “It’s taken somebody that idolized Chad as a fan and now who listens to him as a driver, there’s that almost instant karma. … It’s hard to go against a seven-time championship crew chief, especially when you probably had a poster or picture of him up on your bedroom wall.”
What does Knaus think of Byron as they head into their second season together?
“He is very intelligent,” Knaus told NBC Sports. “I mean, there’s no doubt. He can diagnose, look at data, draw conclusions, watches (and) studies. Those are things that are going to take him to the top.
“I’ve seen a huge shift in him from a personality standpoint, which I think is good. He rolled into my office in October (2018) when Jimmie (Johnson) and I decided to split up. … William came in, he was kind of mousy, pretty quiet, a little intimidated and all that.
“And now he rolls in, he’s got his hair looking good, his shoulders are back. He’s wearing cool clothes. He’s got it. He’s got that thing that we want in all of our race car drivers.
“So his personality has changed tremendously, his confidence has changed tremendously. He gets in the race car now and he’s like, ‘Man, I’m going to go fast.’”