It’s been quite a year for Hailie Deegan — and it’s only May.
The 16-year-old kick-started the 2018 season announcing a full-time schedule in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West with powerhouse team Bill McAnally Racing. Just a few months later, Kevin Harvick identified her as one of the sport’s brightest up-and-comers after the two competed against each other at Kern County Raceway in March.
On Tuesday, Deegan was named to the 2018 NASCAR Next class, the second consecutive year she has received the honor. But she isn’t taking a second of the whirlwind adventure for granted, especially since she represents a small minority in the racing community.
“It’s honestly crazy because there’s not many girls out there,” Deegan explained to NASCAR.com. “Let’s face it. There are very, very select ones. Especially ones that can do the off-track work and the on-track. It’s just been a balance between not getting caught up in the media … and focusing on me and my racing. Getting the results. I know everything else will come.”
With the enhanced recognition and attention over the last few months, Deegan has started to embrace her role as a budding star in the sport, who also happens to be a female. It’s an anomaly she takes prides in, but has yet to let define what she wants to be known for among the fans.
Deegan plans on keeping it simple: She wants to be a racer.
“I am the only girl in the K&N Series,” she said. “There’s the extent where I want to prove to people that I can be just as good as the other guys my age winning. But there’s also the other part, I’m just another racer out here. People don’t even know I’m a girl. My car is white, red and blue. … In the end, the fans see me as another racer until I get out.
“There’s no face that’s there for a girl right now in NASCAR. I think that everyone’s searching for the new face. I think that I’m one of the next coming. … There’s not many. I think it’s really cool being one of the next coming up.”
Having learned how to handle the spotlight from her father, legendary motocross racer Brian Deegan, the California native is taking her career race-by-race. However, she does have a list of goals saved in her phone that she can quickly read over whenever she needs a reminder of what’s on the horizon.
And Deegan hopes she can cross off one specific accomplishment on the list this season.
“… I want to be the first girl to win a K&N race,” she said. “There’s never been a girl in NASCAR history, even in the K&N series, to win a race. I think if I can start from winning a race there then it’ll start rolling the ball to winning races in the next level and the next level.”
Learning from a veteran Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion like Kevin Harvick is one way to help jump-start a career that will give her plenty of opportunities to park in Victory Lane. Deegan spoke with him after he searched out her father’s phone number following the K&N Pro Series West season opener at Kern County Raceway Park in Harvick’s hometown of Bakersfield, California.
“He was like, ‘Hey, I know you guys are leaving right now and I’m trying to leave, but I just wanted to tell you that Hailie is a really good driver,’ ” she said of the conversation with Harvick. “He’s definitely been noticing me more, which does bring all the eyes and attention. But I’m focused on my driving right now. See, that stuff comes just by driving. Just having those moments happen where those drivers do notice just helps that much more.”
Although she finished three spots behind Harvick, who took fourth, the NASCAR Next pilot had him in her rearview mirror for a brief period of time during the event. An experience she can look back on from time-to-time to remind her why all the time, dedication and hard work is worth it.
“It kind of just helped the ball roll,” she said. “It’s just that point of being in the right place at the right time — and I was.”