Goal-Driven Hailie Deegan Makes History as First Female NASCAR K&N Race Winner

by Kristin Shaw

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In true modern-woman fashion, race car driver Hailie Deegan keeps her goals list on her phone.

“If you don’t create goals, what are you aiming toward?” the Toyota-driving NASCAR phenom says. “You can’t have just one end goal, because you won’t feel the progress. I put a checklist in Notes on my phone, and every time I complete one, I check it off.”

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On September 29, Hailie crossed the last goal off her list for 2018, just in time to celebrate over the holidays – she took the checkered flag and became the first female to win a NASCAR K&N race.

Hailie’s step-up goals were measurable but not necessarily easy. The whole idea about setting a goal is to stretch, and if you’ve ever read the backstory on any successful person, he or she had a vision and an unshakable belief. She’s 17 years old and a recent high school graduate, and Hailie is singularly focused on the direction she’s headed.

“I built on each of my goals,” she says. “One, finish top 10. Two, finish top 5. Three, get a pole.”

Check. Check. Check. Hailie could see the progress she was making, and every item she checked off the list meant that she was closer to her end goal: to win a race. In Bakersfield, California, at her first race of the season for Bill McAnally Racing, she earned a top-ten finish. In 14 starts this year, Hailie achieved multiple top-ten finishes and a handful of top-five finishes. And then she ended up earning a pole in Vegas. The weekend before her next race, she took a screen shot of her goals list and posted it to Instagram and Twitter for the world to see.

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"My crew has something to prove, just like me”

When Hailie lined up at the Meridian Speedway in Idaho for her 18th start on the NASCAR K&N circuit in September, her car was humming with a vibe that felt good to her. And her crew, barely in their 20s themselves, tuned her up and got her ready to roar.  

“My crew guys are young – the oldest is 23,” she says. “And I think that’s what suits my style. I work well with younger people because they have something to prove, just like me.”

In a real-life Lightnin’ McQueen moment, the other drivers started jostling Hailie, flexing their driving muscles to rattle her. She wasn’t going to bite.  

“I am an aggressive driver; if you hit me, I’m not going to take it,” Hailie says. “I realized about halfway through the race that I had to throw some elbows to win this race.”

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Bump and Run

And she was prepared to do it, after practicing her bump-and-run technique over and over with her dad, Motocross X Games champion Brian Deegan. The Deegans – Hailie, her parents, and her two younger brothers – ride race cars and motorbikes on their private track at their home on a 30-acre lot near Temecula, California. Her dad trains with her often, when they’re both in town at the same time. And he had readied her by giving her the latitude to learn how to drive like a champion without any kid gloves, teaching her about the bump and run. 

Bump and run is the only way you can pass on short tracks, Hailie says, which is what brings out different skill sets. On the big tracks, some drivers can hold it wide open by getting up on the wheel and driving hard. At Meridien, Hailie knew it was time to put her nose in.

“Something happened to one of my teammates [in the Meridien race] and I knew that I was in the best position to make a move,” she says. “I couldn’t wait. I knew I had to go for it in the last lap, and I had it all planned out. Coming into turns three and four, I knew I had not been as fast coming off turn two, so I pushed back and ran as fast as I could to the finish.”

… and Rookie of the Year Honors, Too

After she crossed the finish line and returned to her pit, Hailie and her crew went nuts. She says it was the most excited she has ever been in her life. After a season of ups and downs, the Hailie Deegan team was celebrating a major win. And a major milestone for the sport.

And that wasn’t it for Hailie this season. Her last race was at the end of September, and right after that she was named NASCAR’s first woman to win Rookie of the Year honors. Don’t wait for her to take a virtual victory lap, however. Hailie doesn’t like to sit still for long and that’s why she doesn’t like to take vacations. She’s on the road enough with her racing career, and when she’s home, all she wants to do is practice.

And maybe think about her next set of goals.

Kristin Shaw