Hailie Deegan's second NASCAR K&N win propels her into limelight
Hailie Deegan's sole focus entering 2019 was a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West championship, but when she won Thursday night's season-opening race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track, her world erupted in a whirlwind.
Within 48 hours after her second NASCAR K&N West victory, her Instagram account had exploded with almost 15,000 new followers, she announced a six-race ARCA deal with Venturini Motorsports, she was interviewed by two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip on FS1, and she had paced the NASCAR Xfinity Series field in a RAV4 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
"It's been crazy!" said Deegan, who was slated to drive the Toyota Supra pace car for the Xfinity race but had to switch to the RAV4 after rain forced cancellation of her Supra indoctrination.
"It's mostly social media that's crazy. Winning is kinda the cure to all things; to getting followers, fans, success. You've just gotta win."
During Deegan's interview with Waltrip, the 17-year-old Toyota Racing Development driver announced a limited ARCA Menards Series schedule with Concord, North Carolina-based Venturini Motorsports. She is slated to make her ARCA debut May 19 at Toledo (Ohio) Speedway. Her other five ARCA races are at Pocono (Pennsylvania) Raceway on May 31; Madison (Wisconsin) International Speedway on June 14; Elko (Minnesota) Speedway on July 13; Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis on Oct. 5; and Kansas Speedway on Oct. 18. She also will compete in the Aug. 15 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at Bristol Motor Speedway with Venturini.
Deegan's ARCA schedule was determined by the availability of a Venturini car and no K&N race conflict. In addition to all of the K&N West races with Bill McAnally Racing, Deegan will compete in both K&N East races at Bristol as well as Memphis and New Hampshire. She also will race her off-road truck in three or four events this season.
"I am not going straight from ARCA into [NASCAR] Xfinity [Series] or K&N into Xfinity, just because I think [NASCAR] trucks give you a lot," says Deegan, who wants to win at every level before advancing. "How these six ARCA races go, how competitive we are ... that [determines] on what we're going to do next year."
Once or twice a week, Deegan travels to Riverside, California, to work with Troy Adams, her driving coach of two years, at the go-kart track he owns. Their practice sessions range from driving a Go-Kart on an oval to bump-and-run tactics -- every technique Deegan uses in a stock car.
"I think NASCAR racing comes down ... to going for those last-lap passes, making those risky moves. That's what makes drivers unique," Deegan said. "I think the people who just stay in line fall into a segment of average drivers and I don't want to be average. I want to be different; I want to be unique for my driving style and my abilities."
Deegan prepped for the K&N Dirt Track race for four days prior to the event even though she already has enjoyed success in off-road truck racing. The Temecula, California, native practiced a sprint car at Ventura (California) Raceway just to get more experience on a dirt oval, drove her off-road truck, drove her Razor at her family's house on a dirt track and then practiced with a go-kart. Deegan noted that racing a stock car on dirt is similar to driving on a slick asphalt track. The other dirt racing she had done, in off-road trucks, provided more grip.
"Being in those cars four days before [the race] helped me get a baseline of different driving abilities," said Deegan, who was unhappy with her second-place finish in last year's Las Vegas race. "Going to the K&N race, I think I used quarter throttle because it was so slick."
Deegan said practicing in different cars will make her a better driver.
"If you stay in a stock car, you're never really going to know what the difference is, the different feels of a car because everything is based upon your feel," Deegan said. "Any opportunity I get to get into a car, no matter what kind of car it is, I will drive. Driving all of those different cars helps your abilities."
Deegan's preparations for the K&N West dirt track race paid off. On the final lap, and with lapped traffic slowing leader Jagger Jones, Deegan shoved her Toyota under Jones in Turn 2 and then held on for the victory. The win gave Deegan the lead in the series standings -- a first for a female driver.
"I wanted to come into this year and really show everyone that we're going to be competitive during this K&N West season. That I'm going for a championship; that we're not playing games," Deegan said. "We're here to win races."
Deegan's next race with Bill McAnally Racing is March 30 at Irwindale Speedway, which was one of the first tracks where she raced a K&N car.
Deb Williams has covered auto racing for United Press International, USA Today and The Charlotte Observer. She was the 1990 and 1996 NMPA Writer of the Year.