SONOMA — She’s 16 years old and just graduated from high school, but Hailie Deegan’s performance as the sole girl on the K&N Pro Series West circuit this season is making the NASCAR world take notice.
Deegan, from Temecula, has finished inside the top 10 in each start of her rookie campaign on the circuit, where she’s the youngest driver. She and her No. 19 Toyota are seventh in the points standings after recording back-to-back top-five finishes in her two most recent races. She’ll try to keep that streak going in Saturday’s Carneros 200 at Sonoma Raceway.
“Everything, all the buzz is on me right now,” said Deegan, who drives for Bill McAnally Racing. “It’s just a really cool experience getting to go to all these tracks, being a rookie, never going on these tracks and kind of comparing myself to the veteran guys, how they’re doing on these tracks and it’s cool to learn from all the people who have experience around you.”
Don’t let her status as a K&N rookie fool you, though. She won two Lucas Oil Off Road Racing series titles in the past few years before making the switch this season to asphalt.
The biggest name that’s taken notice of Deegan’s potential is former series champion and current Cup season wins leader Kevin Harvick. While the series made a stop at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana earlier this season, he ventured north to his hometown of Bakersfield to take part in a K&N series race and contended for position with Deegan late.
Harvick said after he raced against her at Kern County Raceway Park, that she could be the type of athlete his sports management company, Kevin Harvick Inc., could represent in the future.
“I think as far as potential, reach, racing knowledge and getting in the car as young as she is, that would be the one that I would pluck out of the series and say that’s the one we want to be a part of because she has a lot of potential and already has some racing experience in multiple vehicles,” Harvick said at a news conference in Fontana earlier this year.
The expectations are high, the pressure clearly there, the 2018 season going great — but Deegan is doing her best to enjoy the spotlight leading up to perhaps her most high-profile start of her very young career. Saturday’s Carneros 200 will feature several full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars.
This weekend’s race is a far cry from the half-mile venues she’s raced at this season.
“At the road courses, it’s mentally challenging to remember all of your marks, hitting your points, because it’s not like the same two corners over and over again,” she said. “There’s 10 turns on the track and you have to remember your points for every single one. If you miss one, it fades into the next one and the next one and it starts a domino effect on each other. It’s really about preciseness and mentally challenging yourself to remembering everything.”
She’s always relied on her father, Brian, a long-time motocross and rally racer, for advice. But she has asked for that much more guidance this weekend on a raceway type she’s unfamiliar with.
“He’s helped a lot with making the transition from the oval to the road course. A lot of the knowledge and information he gave to me is definitely helping me right now,” Deegan said.