Hailie Deegan is a vibrant and outgoing person, and that energy often makes it seem Deegan is enjoying media responsibilities more than any driver should. But her laugh and voice project a bit of disbelief when discussing how life seems a little surreal these days.
“Man, I’m an adult now,” Deegan says. “I feel like I’ve been a kid for so long, and now I’m a legit adult. I have to pay taxes. I have bills and car insurance and things like that. Even though I have a great deal with Ford, man, car insurance is expensive when you have a Mustang. So, I’m figuring everything out of being an adult, what that consists of, and how to make the most of every day.”
Deegan has a lot going on for a 19-year-old. Not only is she navigating the real world, but she is no longer going through the constant west to east coast travel, as she now resides in North Carolina. When she isn’t getting comfortable in her new apartment, Deegan is preparing for her first full season in the Camping World Truck Series with DGR-Crosley, and that means working through plenty of on and off the track responsibilities.
It all feels “so crazy,” and Deegan wonders where she will find the time she needs.
“But it’s been fun,” she says. “I love it.”
Deegan believes she is as ready as ever for the next step in her NASCAR career. Although she knows everything ramps up next month, she continues training in the gym, is utilizing resources like the Ford simulator, is spending time at the DGR race shop, and hanging around new crew chief Mike Hillman Jr.
Hillman is a veteran of the Truck Series with 23 career wins and two championships in 323 starts, and some of the past drivers he’s worked with include Todd Bodine, Kyle Larson, Chase Briscoe, and Kyle Busch. He joins DGR after spending four seasons at Kyle Busch Motorsports.
“He’s really cool,” says Deegan. “He’s a nice guy, really funny. We’re already getting along well.”
The simulator is an important tool for Deegan. Seat time of any kind is helpful for a young driver, plus her pavement career is still relatively young, and Deegan believes she learns something new after every race.
“If (2021) goes back to how it was this year with little to no practice, it’s going to be tough, very tough for new drivers coming in,” says Deegan. “Especially since (most) of the tracks we’re going to, I’ve never been to in my life, let alone even watched a race there. It’s all going to be very foreign to me.”
Then there is David Ragan. Ragan is no longer a full-time NASCAR competitor but has competed in all three national series, with wins in both the Xfinity and Cup Series. He now runs select Truck Series races with DGR and has become a resource Deegan leans on quite a bit.
“He’s been to every one of these tracks so I can talk to him, and him going to the simulator with me and my crew chief is going to make the transition a lot smoother,” says Deegan. “I trust his knowledge, and I know he has a lot of good experience and good things he’s taken away from a lot of these tracks that he can help with.”
In October, Deegan got her first taste of Truck Series racing with her series debut at Kansas Speedway. She drove a clean race and made it to the finish, bringing her Ford home in the 16th position. The 36-truck field at Kansas was the deepest field Deegan has ever competed in, and it was noticeable.
“I’m used to about eight to 10, maybe 12, good cars in the ARCA Series, and you go out there, and there are 25 good trucks,” says Deegan. “It was a lot. It was a lot to take in very quick, especially not having any pit stops throughout this year; I’ve never done a pit stop, and I had to do that, and I had to do a green-flag pit stop where I ran out of fuel on the backstretch and rolled it in.
“I swear, I was like, ‘the motor blew up!’ because I had never felt that feeling before. I was like, ‘something’s wrong, something’s wrong.’ It was so much to take in, but I was just a sponge that day and tried to soak up everything I could.”
Deegan moves into the Truck Series after a full year in the ARCA Menards Series, where she finished third in points. In 2018 and ’19, Deegan ran full-time in what was previously labeled the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, finishing in the top five in the point standings both seasons with three wins.
The Truck Series season begins on February 12, 2021. Deegan will compete for Rookie of the Year honors under Hillman’s guidance, but her truck number is unknown. But that is a minor detail in an exciting and busy time for Deegan.
“I think (next) year is definitely going to be a learning curve,” she says. “It’s going (to be learning) the basics and not getting over our heads with goals and everything. First top 15, OK, after that, run top 10 and then top five. And going from there, I don’t know how qualifying is going to work or if we’re going to have qualifying, so I’m just focused on the racing part right now.”