Last weekend at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway dirt track, Hailie Deegan made NASCAR history by becoming the first female pole winner in the NASCAR K&N Pro West Series en route to a runner-up finish.
Recently, POPULAR SPEED spoke with the NASCAR Next member to get her thoughts on the weekend, and more.
POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts looking back on the Las Vegas dirt race?
HAILIE DEEGAN: It was crazy. Like, it wasn’t like expected. I expected it to be like practice on Friday. The track wasn’t that dusty, there was nice grip laid down – it was so dusty going into the first corner I almost ended up screwing myself. For the initial start, going from third to forth, I jammed it in neutral, and it ended up rounding the dogleg on the gear. So what ended up happening going around the corner every other lap, it would pop out of fourth gear. So it was really hard on the restarts to get it from third to fourth.
So from there, it made a problem for us to deal with. But once I got it into fourth gear, we ended up bungee cording it, which made it hard on the restarts because my arm was shaking so badly holding it in third. But we ended up making it work enough to pull off a second.
PS: With that said, after the adversity you faced, the runner-up is certainly amazing. But what do you feel it would’ve taken at the end to beat Sheldon Creed?
DEEGAN: I was missing two laps; that’s all I needed. That whole weekend, we had the best car. Sheldon struggled that weekend as he wasn’t in the best car, but we, that weekend, had hands down the best car. It showed because we were the best every time we came out. So I think the only thing I was missing was I got by the second-place guy on the restart, and reeled in Sheldon on the last lap, but just needed two more laps to put a little bumper on him to just get under him.
PS: Looking overall, what are your thoughts on the season to date?
DEEGAN: I think we’ve been doing pretty good. I mean, the season started off pretty good and we’ve been getting better each race. Before the Vegas race, we just had a couple bad races where we got in some wrecks, just stuff that we couldn’t help. There were just a couple things that took us out of top-three finishes that we could’ve had. I think we’ve gotten past that now, and now my goal for the rest of the year – I’ve got nothing to lose. I’m not in the top-three or points championship, so right now we’re just going for wins.
PS: I was just going to ask. What would it mean for you to break through and get your first career win?
DEEGAN: It would mean everything to me, because I feel this year my goal was to get top-fives and we really didn’t think about it. I just wanted to run consistent top-five at the beginning of the year, and now we’re running top-three. So I think we’re moving a lot quicker than really planned, which is definitely good in my mind and everyone else’s, but now our goals have changed. It would be amazing if we could win a race.
PS: Your father Brian Deegan has had a lot of success in motorsports. How much extra pressure do you feel because of that, if any?
DEEGAN: Not even pressure – he helps me a lot, especially at the dirt race because we came from dirt racing. Together, we knew what to change. My car all weekend, we’d just been softening it up, just things that a lot of people would struggle and not change with not racing on dirt, so we had a good set-up from the get-go. I knew what we needed to get out of the car. I think that’s something that my dad taught me and helped me out with, and that’s why I was so successful this past weekend.
PS: So given your family’s dirt background, why the transition to asphalt and stock cars?
DEEGAN: I think in off-road racing, we were already at the top level; I was already running up front at the age of 15 in the Pro Lite class in off-road. There was not much more that I could go further in and if you ask anyone in America, the biggest racing is NASCAR. I think that I just wanted to challenge myself because it’s not what I grew up racing on. I grew up racing dirt, and not typical dirt circle track – but dirt short track in off-road trucks. It wasn’t the typical place that people come from.
I think that I knew it was going to be hard, but I wanted a challenge. I was only 16; I didn’t just want to stop there.
PS: That said, what was the biggest surprise for you in going from dirt to asphalt?
DEEGAN: I think the biggest thing that I had to work on myself was saving the tires, like not blowing them off early in the race. I think I’ve done a pretty good job at as I consider myself pretty patient at the beginning of races. I don’t go and make crazy moves, and roast the tires off of it. I think that’s one thing that I’m still learning is tire conservation. Other than that, I feel like we’ve made the transition very well. I feel it’d be harder going pavement to dirt, than it is from dirt to asphalt.
PS: What does it mean to you to be a part of the NASCAR Next program?
DEEGAN: The NASCAR Next program has done so many things for me off the track that has given me the capabilities to be able to drive on the track. I think they’ve definitely given me these type of situations where I can go and get myself recognized by everybody, and have sponsors calling us. It helps with sponsors when you’re on TV and doing radio shows.
I think the biggest thing in racing is the amount of sponsors you can get, and the more sponsors you have, the better your equipment is. So in the end, they help with the off-track side so you can do your best on the track.
PS: Speaking on the track, you’ve received a lot of praise from people within industry. What does it mean when you hear those comments from Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers like Kevin Harvick?
DEEGAN: I’ve had a couple Cup drivers say stuff about me. Even Kyle Busch tweeted something after I got second back at Douglas County in Oregon. It’s just crazy seeing these Cup drivers comment. I think it’s really cool that they go down and look at the smaller series in NASCAR, the grassroots level where they came from, and I think it’s really cool having those drivers notice you because it helps in getting a fan base and sponsorship. It’s like, “Oh, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch talked about you. You must be a pretty good driver.”
PS: What would it mean for you one day to race right alongside those guys in the Cup Series?
DEEGAN: It’s what motivates me right now. Coming to all these NASCAR races and just watching, I know that’s what I wanted to do, and I’m 110% committed to do that ever since I started racing when I was eight years old. That’s what I’ve been training to do. All the work that I’ve been doing since I was a little was to be racing at the top level.
PS: As you’re making your way up the ranks, though, you’re inspiring other girls in go-karts and other levels of racing with your success. What does that mean to you?
DEEGAN: It’s pretty funny. Going back to when I raced off-road trucks, it was me and one of my friends that was a girl, and we were the only girls there. Now going back to where I started racing, there are 12 girls racing in the division that I got started in. It’s funny having these dads come up to me and say, “I got my daughter racing because of how good you did,” and all of these things. Off-road racing is just a good foundation, in general, and I see all of these girls doing it and it makes me happy.
I’ll help some of the girls. One of the girls got my mod kart, the one that I won the championship with in 2015. She ended up buying it and running the same body. I go out there and help there, we practice together sometimes. It’s just cool seeing all of these girls coming into racing.
PS: That said, if you could give one piece of advice for someone coming into racing, what would it be?
DEEGAN: I think just be aggressive. Don’t see yourself as different. Growing up as a girl in racing, everybody asked me what was it like to be a girl. I never saw myself as different. Everyone is like, “Oh you did good. You were the highest finishing girl,” and I’m like, “No, I want to be the highest finishing driver.” I don’t want to be categorized; I don’t just want to be the best girl, but the best driver.
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