Phenom, trailblazer and 'first': Stock car driver Hailie Deegan is working hard to live up to her own hype

Hailie Deegan wins the Colorado NAPA 150 at Colorado National Speedway in June. Deegan is focused on putting in the work for her next big win. Meg Oliphant/NASCAR

Motorsports is in Hailie Deegan's blood. Her father is motocross superstar Brian Deegan, and it seems the Temecula, California, native inherited his innate sense of controlling the road.

Deegan, 18, is pursuing a career in stock car racing and began competing on asphalt in 2016. She is one of the most visible women in racing, driving in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West for Bill McAnally Racing.

espnW caught up with Deegan to discuss her need for speed, being a trailblazer in motorsports and her ultimate goal.

espnW: What do you love most about racing?

Hailie Deegan: I've loved racing since I was about 8. But when it came to stock car racing, I didn't pay a ton of attention to it until I was 14, when I started racing Legend cars. But I was always around stuff with motors. I didn't know much else. It was life. Ever since I was a kid, I loved riding dirt bikes around. It was the life I grew up in, and I didn't want to let that go. When it came to racing, I had a friend group that raced. It was a nice community.

And in stock car racing, it's the challenge. You always have to keep working. You never stop and level out. You can always be better. It's a constant challenge.

espnW: In 2018, you became the first woman to win on the NASCAR K&N West Series. After that feat, you've been seen as a trailblazer in the sport. What did that recognition mean to you?

HD: The reason I've been able to have success in racing [is that] I never saw myself as different growing up. It was always about me winning. It was never about being the best girl or the only girl there. It was always about what can I do to be the best and win? That was always my mindset and my dad's mindset. That was the main thing I grew up with [while] racing off-road trucks, and then I just transferred it over to stock cars.

espnW: What was your childhood like?

HD: It was crazy. I didn't see it as any different. It felt normal to me because all my friends were racers, and their dads raced. As I got older, that's when I started noticing that my dad actually is a key player in action sports. I always thought he was just a normal dad, but no, he was in movies, and I would see him on TV every weekend. My dad would take me shopping, and we would get stopped every 10 steps for a photo. Then I started realizing that it wasn't normal.

espnW: Was that level of recognition something you wanted for yourself?

HD: I wanted it because that's what I saw as normal, but I also want to be someone that has influence. I want to show my life and my lifestyle. I want to be known.

espnW: What's been your biggest challenge so far?

HD: Gaining the experience. I'm so new to the stock car world, and I haven't had a lot of time racing. No matter what, I usually have less experience than my competitors on pavement.

espnW: You also race off-road trucks. What are some differences between handling a truck and a stock car?

HD: Trucks are a lot more aggressive. The races are a lot shorter, so you never pace yourself. As soon as the green flag drops, all hell breaks loose. It's utter chaos. People are flipping and spinning out. The cars are a lot more durable, so they can take harder hits. It's a lot. Stock car racing is a lot more of pacing yourself until the last quarter of the race. Being there at the end.

espnW: What does it feel like when you're behind the wheel?

HD: There are so many emotions that go on while racing. There's trying to breathe and calm down for the green flag. There's midway through the race where you're trying to stay patient and not overdrive the car. You're just tense. Super tense a lot of the time. You can't control yourself 10 minutes after the race. Whatever you have going on, it takes over.

espnW: What is your ultimate goal in motorsports?

HD: Work to be in the front pack. That's my goal at every level. I want to be one of the top racers, so no one looks at me and goes, "Oh, she's good for a girl." It's going to take a long time and a lot of work, but it's a goal I'm trying to work toward and accomplish every day of my life.

espnW: What do you hope young girls, especially those who aspire to race, glean from your story?

HD: When it comes to being a girl in racing or any male-dominated sport, keep working harder than everyone else. A lot of things are possible. There's no telling you that you can't, it's more what you're willing to put into it.