Hailie Deegan ignored the flames erupting from her engine to earn her third, second place podium finish of the season in round 8 of the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series. Rounds 7 and 8 were held on a brand new, purpose built offroad track at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri. With no previous experience on the new track, its 9 turns, huge jumps and tricky rhythm section gave everyone fits during round 7. After a full heat race run on Saturday, Deegan and her crew made adjustments to their Monster Energy / Toyota Pro Lite truck in anticipation of another tough battle in round 8 on Sunday.
“With no experience on this track, we were struggling with the set-up a little on Saturday,” said Deegan, “After the race we changed the gear ratio, and made some tweaks to the suspension. We knew it was a long race so we set up the truck to come in at the end. Our strategy worked well, we made good choices. The truck was coming in when with 2 laps to go, I could see smoke behind me. Then with only three turns to go, I could see some flames, but I wasn’t going to give up a podium finish.
I crossed the line and got the truck stopped quickly. As I climbed out I could hear the crowd cheering and was really happy to finish on the podium.”
Hailie’s in-car camera caught the flames coming up and her hasty exit from the truck. She was moving quickly but with composure and confidence. She carries those same qualities when she is not climbing out of a burning race truck. She is the youngest driver and only female named to the nine-member NASCAR Next Program, Class of 2017.
NASCAR Next selects drivers with a proven track record of success and that possess the necessary talent and skills to continue ascending the NASCAR ladder. “NASCAR Next is not about driving,” says Hailie, “They work with up and coming drivers to develop their business and marketing skills. It has allowed me to meet a lot of people and to make a solid plan for the future. Offroad racing will always be a part of my life but pavement has the most promising future for a female .” Seven times NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson got to the top of the sport following a similar path, and is a huge inspiration to Hailie.
It only takes a couple minutes talking to Deegan to find out she’s very sharp and is mature beyond her years. Home schooling allows her to adjust her learning schedule to accommodate a full time racing career. Her pace on the track is matched by her academic performance.
Earning straight A’s since the first grade, she skipped ahead an entire grade level and has not slowed down since. When she isn’t hitting the books, she’s training at the gym or on the track with her Father Brian honing her skills behind the wheel and learning what it takes to make her truck fly. “I like learning about how the truck works,” said Hailie, “I think it’s important to understand what the truck is doing and how to make it faster. I think it makes you a better driver and will be something that will help me a lot in my pavement racing career.”
Hailie’s constant progression behind the wheel and in the pits has paid off this season. In only her rookie season in the Pro Lite class, she reached the podium in her first weekend of racing; something Her father did and then went on to win the championship. In fact, the Lucas Oil Series has visited four unique venues this season and Deegan has reached the podium at 3 out of the 4 tracks she’s raced on. At 16 years old, she may not have her driver’s license for the street yet, but she is in the top three in the championship points standings on the track. It’s only a matter of time before she takes the top spot on the podium.