Hailie Deegan was the guest on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s popular podcast on July 1 and entertained Junior and his sister Kelley for nearly an hour. One question concerned Hailie’s thoughts on now spending much of the racing season in a home the family bought near the heartbeat of NASCAR in North Carolina.
Deegan said she was amazed that North Carolinians, with their stock car heritage, moved so slowly when driving.
“Five miles under the speed limit and two-wide on the freeway; I hate it,” she said. “Two-wide on the freeway! It gets me so frustrated.”
This byplay was mentioned to Deegan in a phone conversation Friday, with the suggestion from a reporter that patience might not be her virtue.
“No, it is not,” she said. “I don’t have much.”
And yet the challenge for Deegan is to embrace that — patience — as she builds her racing career. On Saturday night, she will be running in the ARCA Menards Series race at Elko Speedway, a 250-lapper that is the Twin Cities short track’s event of the season.
It will be Deegan’s last race as a 17-year-old. Her 18th birthday is Thursday. She will spend that weekend at the notorious Loudon track in New Hampshire, running in a K&N Pro Series East race on Saturday — one of the prelims to the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup main event on Sunday.
Hailie will be around the big guns. She will be getting congratulations for two wins in K&N Pro Series West in 2019. She will be getting praise for the aggressive style used to get those wins. She might even be told by important people that she can be the next big thing in NASCAR.
Deegan can’t let that get in the way of the plan — to build an extra-strong foundation before making the leap to the sport’s highest levels. One gets a strong impression in conversation she won’t lose her path.
“I run every race like my ride is on the line,” she said.
And, if there’s a hint Hailie is getting ahead of herself in the quest to become a winner in Cup racing, well, there’s Dad.
Brian Deegan is a legend (perhaps the inventor) of freestyle motorcross. He’s still racing four-wheelers off-road. When possible, he goes to the gym with her at 7 a.m and joins in Hailie’s daily workout, and to the Go-Kart track for a long session of “bump and run’’ practice.
Plus, Hailie also has the challenge of holding off her 13-year-old brother, Haiden, as the star of this generation of racing Deegans. The kid already is known in dirt bike racing as Dangerboy Deegan.
“Drives me nuts,” she said. “Doesn’t work out, doesn’t do anything. Just gets on the bike and flies.”
Hailie and Kelley Earnhardt were talking on the podcast about why women racers haven’t “made it” as standouts in Cup racing. Kelley suggested motives beyond improving as a racer have gotten in the way.
My interpretation as a listener: Danica Patrick’s original goal was to be competitive, but in the man’s world of NASCAR, it became about glamour and eventually she went with it.
“I’m a racer, not a model,” Deegan said. “That should be obvious.”
Deegan is into self-deprecation but also filled with resolve and confidence. She won her second race of 2019 last month by bumping teammate Derek Kraus out of the way in the stretch.
“I’ve won three races [total] in K&N and I hear, ‘She can only win by passing on the last corner,’ ” she said. “I know when to go. I can pass guys on the end.”
The Elko race will be Deegan’s fourth in ARCA, a considerably tougher level of competition. She had a 10th in her third race and said the goal for Saturday is a top-five.
Deegan is on a six-race ARCA deal with Venturini Motorsports, a venerable racing family. Bill McAnally is her main team owner in K&N racing, and doing a favor for him provided Hailie with the most dangerous moments of her second stock car season.
“Bill owns a little racetrack in Roseville [Calif.] and he wanted my dad and I to come up there for a match race,” Hailie said. “He said, ‘I’ll get you a jet.’ We got to the airport and they said, ‘The jet couldn’t get here. We got you a two-engine prop.’ A while later, they said, ‘The prop can’t make it. We have this plane.’
“I’m not lying. It was a crop duster. The plane and the pilot had to be the same age: 80. My mom was with us. We’re all looking at the each other, thinking, ‘This isn’t good.’ ”
Hailie and her dad did some bump-and-run in the exhibition race, and Hailie wound up with bruised ribs, and then when they got to the airport, it was foggy.
“I called Bill and said, ‘If I die, I hope you know it’s all on you,’ ” Hailie said.
Make it three trips to the winner’s stand for Hailie Deegan in 2019: two races, and one flight that ended with both feet on terra firma.