Kansas City, KS – Many have probably already heard the name of the rising superstar Hailie Deegan who currently competes full-time in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series driving the No. 19 for Bill McAnally Racing. She also drove part-time in the No. 55 Venturini Motorsports Toyota this season for five races.
Deegan is the daughter of Brian Deegan who had a historic career in the Supercross ranks back in the day. The Temecula, CA native broke through in NASCAR last season making her first career start at Bakersfield in the K&N West Series. Since then she has risen to stardom and taken the NASCAR world by storm. Many claim she is “the next big thing.” Deegan’s fan base is growing race by race, season by season and that has come with a lot of success.
In this week’s interview, we talk with Deegan about how successful 2019 has been for her, how she got connected with the Venturini’s to drive for them in the ARCA Series, her debut and the criticisms she faced growing up.
As mentioned, 2018 was a breakout year for Deegan who scored a popular victory at Meridian. Since her success in 2018, she has brought a lot of momentum into the 2019 season. The California native explains why she thinks she is having success for 2019.
“I think after 2018, everything was going really good,” Deegan explains. “I’ve had some bumps in the road in 2019 but I think we had a really strong program building at the beginning of the year and it not only gave us high hopes but a nice pace that we were setting. Every season is not perfect, you’re not going have to a perfect season.”
“There’s always a middle point in the season where everything gets a little rocky and it comes back up. So, I think we’re on that come back up point right now. We’ve had some good finishes these last couple of races. I’m happy with how everything is going on.”
Deegan talks about how scoring her first career victory at Meridian was a big turning point in her young career.
“I think it was cool because no other girl has done that before,” she explained. “It was in my first season and it was just a good program we had going with those team guys for a while. I think we had a strong program that I was confident in my abilities. Not like being cocky, but I was confident in my team, like confidence all the way around that I could do it. That race showed we definitely had our stuff together.”
Deegan also earned another big win at the beginning of the 2019 season at the Las Vegas Dirt Track. She chooses what win is her favorite so far.
“The first career victory is still the biggest one,” Deegan added. “The dirt track was cool because being a dirt racer, I wanted myself to win that last year but it just didn’t work out, I got second. Sheldon (Creed) is a good dirt racer so I’m not mad about that. The dirt race is cool because that’s where my background came from. That’s where I showed where I excel.”
Before getting those victories to prove her doubters wrong, Deegan faced criticism growing up and details how she puts the noise behind her.
“I think I just focus on my racing, focus on my driving,” she said. “I look at all the comments. I look at stuff on everything on social media. Like, I see every single thing on social media. If I don’t see it, it gets sent to me. I do see it all but at the end of the day, I know there has been no other girl in my position and have people supporting me. I’m in a good opportunity to make a lot happen but I’m still learning here.”
“The people kind of set you to the expectation of Cup guys, like, Erik Jones and stuff like that. When in all reality, I haven’t made it to the top three series yet.”
While competing full-time in the K&N Series, Deegan got connected with the Venturini’s to give her a shot in the ARCA Menards Series.
“It’s really the TRD Program that put it together,” she describes. “Being with Toyota, having them support me in the K&N West with Bill McAnally. The next step would pretty much be in an ARCA car which came through with Venturini.”
She made her debut at Toledo earlier this year where Deegan started 12th but wound up with a disappointing 18th place finish due to a crash. Other than an oil leak at Madison, she has finished in the top-10 in three starts and has a best finish of fifth which came at IRP.
“I think that I could always do better,” Deegan said. “I am happy with the starts that we have had the past couple of races. Just because I know being another added car on the team, it’s hard being a part-timer compared to the full season guys. Even on the BMR program, there are part-time guys and if you are full-time, you can spread the attention out on how many people you have for the full-time guys. It’s always harder on the team having a part-time driver, which I think they’ve done a great job with me.”
“So, with our last race, we are getting better and better as we get to know everyone. I am happy with it.”
By competing in the K&N Series and driving the ARCA Series, Deegan explains the differences between the two and if it provides any challenges to her.
“I think the ARCA Series is a lot harder than the K&N Series, especially the West Series,” she explains. “The cars are a lot slower on the West Series, less horsepower. I think the ARCA Series has a lot more heavy hitter drivers. There are about five to eight drivers that could win every week and on the West Series, there’s like three.”
Even though the California native has had tons of success driving in stock cars, Deegan wishes she would have started in them sooner.
“The only thing different I would do is start in stock cars earlier,” Deegan says. “I didn’t start racing pavement until I was 15 (years old). So, it was pretty late.”
By rising through the ranks and being successful in stock cars, she faces the pressure of other young drivers and that’s moving up too quickly. The Toyota Development driver says it’s important to take the time before leaping to the next step.
“People have to understand with a girl in racing, it’s hard to get funding,” Deegan said. “That’s the biggest thing. A lot of people think my dad (Brian Deegan) has a lot of money just to put on racing but he does not at all. It’s still hard being a girl racer trying to get funding. At the end of the day, it’s doing it the best way possible and to have the most success.
With facing that pressure, she believes that she could be one of the lucky ones to be racing in Cup when the opportunity comes at the right time.
“Yeah, I think racing in Cup is a realistic expectation,” she said. “That’s obviously the goal. I think whether it’s in a few years, eight years, who knows. It just depends on everything in between.”
Though, she explains she needs the experience before moving up to the top three tier series.
“I need to gain all the experience in the next year of my career before I head to the Truck Series or Xfinity Series in the next couple of years. I need to get that experience now so I am prepared when I get there.”
The 2019 racing season is just about all wrapped up for the 18-year-old. And Deegan is already looking forward to the 2020 season and areas where she needs to improve.
“I believe next year it’s finding a solid program with people that believe in me and are confident and where we can have success,” she said. “2020 is going to be a pivotal year for me in my abilities.”
While she is enjoying a lot of success right now in her career that has just barely started, Deegan points out something she’ll always think of when her racing career is all said and done.
“I think it’ll be that first win (Meridian),” she describes. “Just the first win, nothing is going to really compare to that one.”
Deegan has amassed six starts in the ARCA Menards Series, earning one top-five finish and four top-10 finishes with a best finish of fifth that occurred at Lucas Oil Raceway a couple of weeks ago. The California native has 26 starts in the K&N West Series with three victories, 11 top fives and 21 top-10 finishes.
Many thanks to Charles Krall for making this interview happen and special thanks to Hailie Deegan for taking the time out of her busy schedule on race day.