Hailie Deegan is 16 and Fearless.
Things may seem a little topsy-turvy in teenage NASCAR and Toyota Racing Development driver Hailie Deegan’s world. With four competitive athletes in the family, they are on the road so much that when it’s time for them to take a vacation, they like to stay home. When your home is in beautiful southern California and you have 30 acres with your own track built in, it’s easy to see why home would be an attraction.
It’s not just that, though. Hailie’s mother, Marissa Deegan, says that her family of five has so much energy that relaxing on vacation isn’t an option right now. Hailie has two younger brothers – Haiden, 12, and Hudson, 8 – who compete in motocross across the country. And her father is the legendary X-Games champion Brian Deegan, who currently competes in Motocross, Freestyle Motocross, Rally Car, and Short Course Trucks. One can imagine that the Deegans are criss-crossing all over the country and somehow, sometimes, they all end up at home together.
Hailie is talking to her famous father via FaceTime on her iPhone when she meets a group of female journalists at the track. The enthusiasm is as evident in his voice as the poise in hers. “Dad, I’ve got to go,” she says. “I have a meeting.” It’s difficult to believe she is only 16.
And 16 she is, with her 17th birthday approaching quickly on July 17. If the “golden year” for someone is the age they turn on the day of their birth, then it’s clear that this could be especially true for Hailie, who is hitting her stride across the board.
“It’s a Family Commitment” – Hailie is Surrounded by Strong Women
One day, Hailie and her mother were on their way home from an event and they discovered they had a flat tire. Marissa was getting ready to call AAA for service, and Hailie said, “I’ll take care of it, Mom.” Hailie remembered that she had a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt in the trunk. She changed clothes, jacked up the car, and changed the tire.
“A guy stopped to ask if I needed any help and I just looked at him and said no,” said Hailie. Her expression was one of puzzlement, as in “why do I need any help?” Most of the time, she doesn’t. She is fiercely independent and manages herself professionally. Her mother is often nearby to keep her eyes on her only daughter, and Marissa’s sisters are close to Hailie as well. Two of Hailie’s aunts were in Sonoma to watch her compete… and to walk across the stage to receive her high school diploma at the raceway.
Hailie worked hard for that diploma; she made the case to her parents for home schooling, and she whipped through her classes, working late nights, holidays, and weekends in order to finish early. She is not messing around, and when asked if she is missing anything of a “normal” life, she shakes her head confidently.
All she wants to do is drive.
Further Reading: The Exhilaration of Acceleration: 9 Things to Know Before Your First Track Driving Lesson.
She’s Not Just a Strong Driver “For a Girl;” She’s a Driver to Watch
In 2016, Hailie was a NASCAR Drive for Diversity member, receiving the NASCAR Diversity Young Racer award in 2017. Also in 2017, Hailie was named to the 2018 NASCAR Next class, which consists of nine up-and-coming drivers from across the United States. She is the youngest member of the class, and the only female.
Toyota Racing Development recruited Hailie to be a member of their driver development program. TRD kicked off its driver development program six years ago, and this well-funded segment employs a chief scout, Jack Irving, to find and develop young drivers. Then, much like the kind of development teams you might see in major league baseball, Irving works with partner teams to develop the drivers for later on.
One organization compared the Toyota Racing Development process to the Oakland Athletics’ “Moneyball” system, made famous by Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in a 2011 movie. A mathematical formula is used to analyze prospects, incorporating factors like the competition a driver is racing against, the kind of track, and the experience of the driver on that particular track. In Hailie’s case, the formula zeroed in on her as a prime prospect.
This year, Hailie also announced her partnership with Under Armour and the #ShePlaysWeWin movement, which celebrates and encourages girls in sports.
From Dirt Princess to Track Professional
On January 3, 2018, Hailie was named as a full-time driver in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West for Bill McAnally Racing. Hailie runs a part-time schedule for McAnally in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, and is the only female driver competing full-time in either of the 2018 K&N Series.
Hailie was eight when she first started racing off-road trucks, a miniature version of the adult size. She has been singularly focused ever since, and while her Facebook page is called “Dirt Princess,” a nickname borne of that phase of her career, she is not the tomboy you might imagine.
The thing about Hailie is that she is definitely aware that she is a young woman in a field of men. However, she doesn’t want to be defined in that way. She is feminine and beautiful, dresses with class, polishes her nails, and wears her hair long and styled. She’s not trying to hide that she’s a woman, but she wants the racing community to see her as a formidable force. Not a formidable force “for a girl.” Even NASCAR’s 2014 Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick has been impressed with her performance after battling for position against her on the track.
“If I had to pick one person to say, ‘Alright, that’s the person KHI would want to represent and has the most potential,’ it would probably be Hailie Deegan. She did really, really well,” said Harvick.
Disclosure: I was Toyota’s guest at the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West event; travel and accommodations were provided. All opinions are my own.