Temecula’s Deegan continues ascent in stock-car racing world

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Hailie Deegan
Temecula-raised stock-car racer Hailie Deegan, 18, has seen her career take off over the last couple of years, including a move to Ford and the DGR-Crosley team. Valley News/DGR-Crosley photo

Eighteen-year-old Hailie Deegan has had a big year in the sport of stock-car racing, and the Temecula-raised Deegan is throwing everything she has at it to take the next steps in her career.

In December, Ford Performance announced Deegan would join its driver development program, outlining an upcoming 20-race season in the ARCA Menards Series. They announced she would also race in the Mustang GT4 in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

In a feature story posted on www.nascar.com, Mark Rushbrook, Ford Performance Motorsports’ global director, talked about the factors that played into signing Deegan to the team, including three 2018 race wins that came after final-lap passes.

“From the competition side, it was seeing her aggression on track, seeing how she races, the results that she delivers, and more importantly what we see off the track in terms of her mindset, her commitment to develop in every way that she can, whether it’s on the simulator, driving her own sim at home, a motorcycle, a quad or whatever,” Rushbrook said. “It’s all about getting in a vehicle and vehicle dynamics.

“That’s the biggest thing that attracted us from the competition side, and then also on the marketing side, just the way that she’s already been able to develop such an extensive reach to be able to tell her story at such a young age is very impressive, and that’s only going to continue to grow, we think, as she advances through the different levels inside of NASCAR. We expect her competition level to grow as well as her marketing presence,” he said.

As of press time, Deegan has more than 567,000 followers on Instagram, 71,000 on Twitter and 215,000 followers on Facebook.

Working with a team like DGR-Crosley has made an impact already.

“It’s been great having David (Gilliland) as a team owner, someone who’s raced before, someone who has a kid in racing that understands it,” Deegan said in a phone interview from North Carolina. “It definitely helps a lot. It’s a lot of valuable information that he knows that I’m learning from. He knows what it takes to make it to the top level, finding sponsorship and getting results. So, it makes the process a lot more clear and easier having someone like that around.”

Hailie Deegan is the daughter of freestyle motocross icon and driver Brian Deegan who drove Fords during his X Games career and drove a Ford Raptor in the Lucas Oil Off-Road Series.

A founding member of Metal Mulisha, he was the first rider to do a 360 in competition and is the most decorated freestyle motocross rider in X Games history.

“I grew up around it, I grew up around the racing world,” Hailie Deegan said. “I grew up around my dad racing off-road trucks, doing free motocross, always doing dangerous stuff, always breaking bones. My little brother really followed his path of racing dirt bikes, and I kind of took his path of racing off-road trucks and going down that path. And then that’s when the transition to stock cars came. My dad didn’t really race stock car, but he knew an idea of the stock car world. I’m kind of the first one to take that path fully and want that as my career.”

Deegan started riding dirt bikes by age 7 and began off-road racing by age 8. She became the first female to win a championship in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, in the 2013 Junior 2 Karts season.

Deegan attended Rancho Christian Schools for the majority of her life and graduated early from a home schooling program when she was just 16, about the same time she made to switch to asphalt racing.

“I pretty much did that to focus on my racing,” Deegan said. I didn’t skip two years; I did all my work quicker. I didn’t take any summers off, breaks off or anything. I just kind of did all my work as quickly as I could to finish two years early so I could focus on my racing and traveling every single weekend.”

She said she recognized some of the success she was having on the race track and decided to put the pedal to the metal.

“I was racing off-road trucks and I was winning and I felt like I was doing pretty good for what I was racing and I felt like I wanted to take it to the next level,” Deegan said. “To take it more seriously, be more invested in my racing.”

It isn’t hard to understand where Deegan finds her desire to compete at a high level.

“I have a super competitive family and I’ve always been around that,” she said. “Always, everything’s always a competition and that’s what I grew up around, so I’m used to it. I’m used to hard competition, always trying to beat the people around you. Even though you may think they’re your friends, you’re still trying to beat them.”

That competitive nature and the lessons she learned from her father are paying dividends as she continues her ascent in the stock-car world.

“I think that having my dad in the motocross world, always training and it was an everyday thing,” she said. “It’s practicing every single day, training off the track. How you eat. There’s a lot that goes into it, and I think the stock-car world is so new to that and so new to that training method that having my dad and growing up around that has kind of instilled in me a hard work ethic. If you want something, you have to work for it.”

Deegan will kick off her 2020 racing season in the ARCA Menards Series Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire at the Daytona International Speedway Saturday, Feb. 8.

After that, she will be home in Temecula for a while before she heads back to North Carolina to resume training for a March 6 race at Phoenix Raceway.

It may be the best chance her hometown fans will have to support her in person.

“That’s really the only West Coast race I have,” she said. “Now that I moved my career up a level into the ARCA series, everything’s mostly in the Midwest, East Coast, those type tracks, where the bigger tracks are.”

While she spends most of her time training in North Carolina, she said she knows that Temecula was important to her development and loves coming home to visit.

“I think that growing up in Temecula was always good for my dad’s motocross scene and him building his brand and business on the West Coast,” Deegan said. “For stock-car racing, you have to be on the East Coast. Being in Temecula is the best of both worlds for having a bunch of land you can practice on, to drive on and being close to training at the gym.

“But, also having a mall like 20 minutes away,” she said, laughing.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.