LAS VEGAS — Thursday night was record-setting for Hailie Deegan at the Las Vegas Dirt Track as she became the first woman in NASCAR history to win a pole for a K&N Pro Series West race.
At race’s end, Deegan finished second to ARCA Racing Series regular Sheldon Creed — but it was a hard-fought runner-up result. And it was one she was not content with.
Deegan led 13 laps early in the Star Nursery 100, but her No. 19 Bill McAnally Racing Toyota quickly developed a problem, routinely popping out of gear after mis-shifting at the start. The issue plagued her the rest of the night and added to the race drama.
“I just got antsy on the start,” Deegan told NASCAR.com Friday afternoon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “I started in second (gear) and went to third and that was good, but as soon as I got back to fourth … I didn’t blip the throttle enough and ended up getting stuck in neutral and grinded the gear. I could never really get it into fourth, but when I did, every other lap or so it would pop out.”
The issue meant she tried to drive the demanding dirt with one hand while the other remained on the shifter, and persisted even after the mid-race break when the team attached a bungee cord in an effort to keep the car in fourth gear. Even then her car wouldn’t stay in gear.
“I would say every three to five laps it would pop out of gear,” Deegan said. “After I got the hang of it, what it was doing and I got the rhythm down, I expected it to pop out and I was ready for it.”
Despite the historic night under difficult circumstances, the 17-year-old NASCAR Next driver wasn’t satisfied with her runner-up result.
“Everyone was like, ‘Good job, top five!’ And I’m like, ‘Top five?’ ” Deegan said. “‘No, that was horrible, what are you talking about?’ And even with second, everyone is like ‘Yeah, you got second, that’s still the highest-finishing place for a girl.’ I’m like, ‘No, I qualified on pole and fell back a position. This is not OK.'”
That demanding demeanor is what she was taught from her father, freestyle motocross rider Brian Deegan. It has never mattered that she is a woman trying to succeed in the male-dominated racing world.
“It’s always been, ‘You want to be the best driver, hands down,’ ” said Deegan. “He’s trained me to figure out what I’m doing wrong. That’s with everything in life. You figure out what you’re doing wrong and fix it so we can be better next race.”
Her lineage and her gender have made Deegan a driver whom other competitors want to beat, a fact she has used to motivate her even more in her first year transitioning to stock cars from off-road racing.
“As soon as you get on the track, they expect you to be the best person, plain and simple,” Deegan said. “No one will treat you differently as soon as you get on the track. No one will drive differently, even though sometimes they drive me a little harder because I’m a girl and they don’t want a 17-year-old girl beating them.”
She has her own standards to live up to.
“I don’t want to be the best girl, I want to be the best driver,” she said. “Whatever series I’m racing, I will never be OK with being the best girl. I want to be the best driver no matter what. That was just my mentality growing up. I was trained like that.”