By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Many female drivers have come and go in NASCAR’s touring series, but for NASCAR K&N Pro Series West’s young star Hailie Deegan, her first full season in the sport has been a goal setting dream.
After wrapping up Rookie of the Year honors last Saturday at Kern County Raceway in Bakersfield, California, the 17-year-old from Temecula has her eyes set on next season, hoping to run another season in K&N West and win the series championship.
“This has been my dream season,” Deegan told the press at Texas Motor Speedway Friday. “Everything we wanted to accomplish was accomplished this year. With my team and everyone on the Bill McAnally Racing team gave me the opportunity to do that.”
Deegan’s season had its share of ups and downs, with the pinnacle moment taking place at Meridian Speedway in Idaho Sept. 29, when a last lap bump on teammate Cole Rouse led to her maiden victory, becoming the first female driver to win a touring series race in 29 years.
In addition of winning at Meridian, she captured two poles in the final four races, taking place at both the Las Vegas Dirt Track and the finale at Kern County, and finished the season with five top-five results. Not only that, she showed her potential under pressure when battling the likes of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Erik Jones at Sonoma, her runs has also impressed 2014 Cup and 1998 K&N West champion Kevin Harvick. As a result, Deegan is viewed by several people as a force to be reckoned with.
Deegan added that her rookie campaign was a learning curve, and felt that a win was needed to lay the foundation for a long racing career.
“This season was a learning year for me. I had a lot of goals I wanted to accomplish and needed to accomplish for myself to keep the ball rolling in my career,” said Deegan. “I knew I needed to win, even though I knew it could happen or it could not. I knew it was possible but everything had to work out. For next year, I am hoping to run in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West and run for a title.”
However, like many drivers climbing up the NASCAR hierarchy, there was some hurdles such as her two DNFs due to crashes in the combination races at Iowa Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Not only that, she faced her first notable rival which was Bob Bruncati Racing’s Trevor Huddleston, this season’s championship winning team and Deegan’s fellow rookie competitor. Notably, in the final two races at both McAnally’s backyard in Roseville, California and Kern County.
Huddleston moved Deegan out of the way which led to retaliation, ending his day and NASCAR penalized her a lap for her actions. The following race, and with Rookie of the Year honors on the line, Huddleston again made contact with Deegan, which ultimately sent her on the high lane and dropped from third to sixth where she finished in the finale. Despite this, Deegan won Rookie of the Year by 10 points and ended up fifth in the final points tally.
Since starting racing at eight years old, Deegan’s biggest challenge in her transition from off-road to stock cars was gaining experience, and believes going forward that running more stock car races will prepare her in the long run and achieve even more successful results.
“Experience. I lack experience compared to some of these guys racing stock cars who have raced on pavement for a while. I started racing at eight-years-old. The dirt racing definitely helps the learning curve. But in the end, I lack experience since this is technically my first whole year in a stock car. I think once we get more experience, we will get better and better.”