17 Year Old Stock Car Racer Hailie Deegan Is Paving the Way for Other Female Drivers
News Hailie Deegan, 17, is one of the youngest female stock car racers out there. But her goals for the future don’t only involve trophies.
“I want to be the kind of person that someone looks at and says, ‘I want to be her,’” says Deegan, unofficially accepting what she has undoubtedly become for other aspiring female stock car racers: a certified role model.
Deegan, daughter of the highly decorated X-Games athlete Brian Deegan, landed a full-time racing deal with Bill McAnally Racing for the K&N Pro Series West earlier this year. She was the only female accepted into the highly selective NASCAR Next Class for 2017-2018.
Those achievements weren’t without effort, though. Indeed, her time on the tracks began nearly a decade ago, at age 8, about a year after her father switched from freestyle motocross to off-road truck racing.
She recalls her fascination with the trucks and begging her dad to let her drive them herself. Eventually, he agreed. “I just wanted to do it so bad,” Deegan says. “Ever since then, I’ve just loved it.”
Tapping into her talent
After learning her right from her left and how to navigate the racing track — former feats she laughs about when recalling now — Deegan set out to compete in her first race in an off-road series at age 8. Though she hadn’t expected to beat out her 9-, 10-, and 11-year old opponents, she did just that.
During her first championship, also at age 12, Deegan won again, surprising even herself.
In fact, for Deegan, memories of racing as a child and adolescent stand out the most. When she was 12, Deegan began homeschooling so she could focus on her career. “I started working out every day, training on and off the track. I put in all this work,” she says, explaining that having tracks close to home and her father’s support enabled her to pull it off. “My dad is always the one who told me I could do it.”
During her first championship, also at age 12, Deegan won again, surprising even herself. “It went from me seeing another person racing to me being not only a girl, but one of the best drivers as a whole that moment,” she says. “I didn’t have to go out there and win the race, but I put in a lot of work and effort.”
Later, at age 15, she'd go on to get second place in a competition against racers twice her age. “Ever since then, I knew I was really able to be good at anything I could drive,” she says.
Standing out among the crowd
With nearly a decade of working in a male-dominated sport under her belt, you might think Deegan has a propensity to be self-conscious. But, you’d be wrong. “Even when I started, I never saw myself any different than any other racers out there — I was always just another person trying to win,” Deegan says.
Today, as she continues to race against her mostly male peers, she says her sex typically isn’t an issue among her opponents but rather their parents. She puts it simply: “Dads get mad at their boys” when they lose to Deegan. “You kind of don’t want to see a girl come in and beat your son — that’s not something a dad wants to see in any sport,” she explains. “I’ve never used the excuse like, ‘Oh, I’m a girl that’s why I didn’t do well this race’ — I’ve always just done my best.”
Part of her success is attitude. “Racing has given me this aggressive personality — that’s what’s made me just as good as the guys,” she says.
For other aspiring racers, honing that inner strength is key, Deegan emphasizes. “Figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are,” she says, “and figure out how to excel and make your weaknesses your strengths — and then make your strengths even better.”