By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
NEWTON, Iowa — The NASCAR K&N Pro Series competes at Iowa Speedway on Friday night for the first of two races in 2018 where the stars and cars of the East and West Series will go head-to-head in the same event. One of those stars quickly making a name for herself is 17-year-old Hailie Deegan.
In a post-Danica Patrick world, NASCAR is seeking the next female to take the reins. Deegan has begun to gain national attention not because she’s the only female driver competing full-time in either the K&N Pro Series East or West this season, but for her on-track results.
In the West Series season-opener at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California, Deegan competed with Kevin Harvick in the field and finished seventh. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion praised the teenager after the race as the driver with the most potential in the field.
In the last West Series race, at Douglas County Speedway in Roseburg, Oregon, Deegan earned her career-best finish, crossing the finish line in the second position, 0.493 seconds behind race-winner and BMR teammate Derek Kraus. The result tied Kenzie Ruston, Nicole Behar and Julia Landauer for the record for best K&N Series finish by a female driver.
“I feel like on the West Coast I seem to be getting better and better with more seat time under my belt and getting more comfortable with the car, the crew and the team,” Deegan told Motorsports Tribune. “I feel like everything is starting to click a little bit more. We are definitely doing pretty well on the West Coast.”
Deegan pilots the No. 19 Mobil 1 / NAPA Power Premium Plus Toyota for Bill McAnally Racing. The BMR organization is always a team to beat in K&N competition, as they have won the championship the past three seasons and also the last four races at Iowa Speedway, site of Friday night’s Casey’s General Store 150.
Heading into Iowa, Deegan has just 11 starts across the K&N East and West Series, less than half the number of starts of BMR teammates Kraus (26 career starts) and Cole Rouse (25 career starts).
“The main place I need to improve is the experience. My teammates have been there for a year already. There’s myself and one other rookie in the West Series and I feel like it’s just getting seat time under my belt. That’s what I’m lacking right now, but I’m still young and I still have time to get there.”
The 0.875-mile Iowa track dubbed “The Fastest Short Track on the Planet” will prove challenging for the young driver.
“Iowa is one of those tracks where I haven’t really been on any other track that is similar. It’s definitely more of a high speed and banked track. I’m really looking forward to getting some seat time and I’ve been watching footage of past races to help prepare.”
While Hailie might be a new name to motorsports fans, the Deegan name has been synonymous with racing as her father, Brian, is a motocross rider, off-road racer and former X Games athlete. The duo has a solid plan mapped out for her career, and so far it’s progressing accordingly.
“My dad’s really smart about the entire plan in general and not trying to rush it because he’s gone through all the ranks in racing. He knows how it is with being a racer himself. He just wants to put me in the best situation possible and I feel like that’s what I’m in right now.
“Growing up with him, I kind of figured out what to do and what not to do. He’s definitely taught me a lot of good things and paved the way for all I know.
The driver that team owner Bill McAnally has called her “fierce” and “fearless” is ready to tackle the challenge of Iowa.
“I think that having all of the East guys is going to make for a crazy race. I feel like just coming away with a solid top-three in the West Series would be really good for me.”
The youngest and only female driver in the latest NASCAR Next Class, Deegan will continue to set her sights on the West Series championship as she currently sits fifth in the championship standings. Does she pay close attention to the standings throughout the season?
“Oh believe me, I do,” Deegan said with a laugh. “I’m always looking at where I’m at. But we’re not out there points racing; we’re out there to get the win.”