Last October in the Clean Harbors 200 at Kansas Speedway, 19 year-old Hailie Deegan drove to a 16th-place finish in her very first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race.
“Oh man, I think my goal was just to finish the race,” she reflects. “It‘s crazy compared to ARCA racing how intense this racing is, how competitive it is. You‘re trying to block one guy while pass another and next thing you know, you’ve got two guys blowing by you if you don‘t make a successful pass. It‘s a lot tougher racing, but I think we definitely had a successful day.”
She certainly did: during the halfway point of that race it was announced (while she was in the Truck!) that she would compete full-time in the 2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Monster Energy and the DGR-Crosley outfit. Which brings us to now, and Friday evening’s opening round at Daytona International Speedway.
Q: I’ve known you since your dad was still competing and winning X Games medals on motocross bikes. I’m going to make a wild assumption here and say you’re excited to get things rolling?
HAILIE DEEGAN: Yes, I’m very excited. It’s going to be good. I’m excited and I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of time on the Ford simulator. They’ve given me really good access to that, so I’ve been maximizing that. It’s also been really good being in the shop and around the crew guys and. I’m getting to know everyone within the race team and I feel like I have a good group of people around me this year and a really good inner circle.
Q: Friday night’s 100-lap NextEra Energy 250 race will mark your second NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start…
HD: Correct. I’ve been getting ready. Having the Ford simulators are a great tool, but getting that experience of a real-life Truck race at Kansas is definitely going to help me at Daytona this week. I have that knowledge and a solid base of understanding of what I’m getting myself into. I think just being able to do that race at Kansas gave me a direction of where I need to go and what I need to work on. Going into Daytona this week, there is some stuff that we worked on with the simulator just by knowing what happened in that Truck race at Kansas Speedway. Trucks are very competitive. There are a lot of quality drivers and a lot of quality rides and equipment throughout the entire pack in the Truck Series. That’s what makes it so competitive and so tough. I know that going out there that it definitely might be a struggle at some times, and we’re going to have our challenges and our ups-and-downs, but this year is really a learning year for me in getting some good experience under my belt.
Q: To get out there, do laps and learn how the truck acts performs and comes to you during these races will be an educational process, won’t it?
HD: Yeah, it’s totally different. The Trucks handle a lot different than the ARCA cars, so I know it’s going to take some time to get used to all of that and to get in the grove of things this year.
I also think my crew guys are great. I have a great crew and a great engineer, and I also have David Ragan. He’s been helping me a lot. He’s been going with me to the simulators and helping me with pit stop practice and going over everything. I know that that is going to be very helpful and very useful to me, and I think it’s help me a lot on the track, too. I already know it is going to be tough. I feel like I’m gaining a lot of information right now and it is all going to be a lot to keep track of, but it is just kind of doing what we can to make every situation as good as possible. Even if that means instead of being at 100-percent, we are at 95-percent so we can minimize our mistakes.
Also, David Ragan has been helping me out a ton. I swear, I have spent a lot of time with him the last couple of weeks. I’m just trying to get ready for Daytona and to get ready for the season, because David has such valuable knowledge, and Ford sees that and everyone at DGR sees that, too. We really value him and value his opinions on everything. I mean, I know it’s definitely going to be tough. Obviously I have my goals and things that I want to accomplish. There are some things that we are not going to accomplish, but it’s just kind of making every situation the best possible, and taking those mistakes that we make and learning from them, and working on not making those mistakes again.
Q: Beginning with Daytona and ending with Phoenix the first week of November, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will race 22 times in 2021. A significant number of tracks, all of them with their own conditions, configurations and nuances. Are you looking forward to the diversity?
HD: Yes, a lot of new tracks and a lot of these tracks are really cool that we’re going to be gong to. We’ll be going to tracks the Truck Series has never been on. I mean we’re going to Bristol, but have you been on Bristol dirt before? No! Stuff like that is going to be really cool to do.
Q: As far as the opening phase of the 2021 season, what type of performance will make you happy?
HD: Looking at going into all of this, I think what will make me happy will be going, like, top 15s and maybe we’ll pop off a couple of top 10s there in the first couple of races. Who knows? I think going in there with a mindset of a sponge trying to absorb all this information. The competition in the Truck Series is very, very good, so going in there, I know it’s going to be tough. I know I’m going to struggle occasionally, and probably a lot more than I want to say, but going in there, it is just (about) earning the respect of everyone: the drivers, the crew chiefs and the crew guys. We’ll go from there! I think I’m putting in as much effort as I can for it to actually work. At least I know, I’m giving 110 percent right now. Anytime you get in those big top-three NASCAR series it is a big deal, so hopefully this is just the beginning and we can stay here for a while.
As far as goals, I feel my beginning of the year goals are going to change a lot from my end of the year goals. More than anything, though, I just hope they we improve quickly. I’m very ready to go.