Hailie Deegan comes from a racing background and always had someone to look up to as she began to mold her own career in the sport. Her father, Brian Deegan, is a professional freestyle motocross competitor who is consider the most successful rider in X Games history. Having so much success already within the family has almost certainly taught this up-and-coming 19-year-old racer the importance of leaning on those who have experience in the field as she looks to carve her own path.
As Deegan embarks on her first full season as a driver on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for David Gilliland Racing, she has found some experienced guides to assist in her endeavors. After signing with Ford Performance going into the 2020 season, the Temecula, CA native was given access not only to the simulators and other equipment available at the Ford Performance Center in Concord, NC but also to a veteran driver, spotter, and crew chief to serve as mentors during the early stages of her career.
Driver David Ragan has shared his experience with Deegan and the young driver is grateful.
“One person that I’m super thankful for who has been helping me a lot, going over footage with me, coming to every sim session, which I know he doesn’t race full-time any more, but David Ragan has been crucial for my development,” Deegan declared in a recent NASCAR media teleconference. “Just the level of experience and all the knowledge that he has been able to feed to me has been so great.”
Deegan first began working with the two-time NASCAR Cup Series race winner just after signing with Ford.
“He’s at the Ford Performance Center a lot down in Concord and we just aligned paths through Ford,” Deegan explained of Ragan. “Ford saw how much he was helping me and the information he was giving me so I think going into the Truck Series this year, Ford really stuck him with me. It was ‘Hey, let’s work together and let’s do the best we can together’.”
Part of that assistance comes from Ragan’s wealth of experience on the various tracks his apprentice will encounter. The driver who has started 472 NASCAR Cup Series races has built an extensive notebook.
“His experience and knowledge,” Deegan added. “Everything he knows about every single track. Going to these tracks, I’m very new to them. A lot of these tracks I haven’t raced at before so him having that past experience there, having a lot of notes he can give me, is crucial.”
And more than gleaning from Ragan’s experience, Deegan will have a helpful voice in her ear throughout the season. T.J. Majors, who has worked with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and is currently serving as the eye in the sky for Joey Logano in the NASCAR Cup Series, will be the full-time spotter for the No. 1 Ford F-150 in 2021. The driver plans to make the most of his direction, particularly at the venues which are new to her.
“It’s tough, it’s really tough,” Deegan said of going to new tracks. “Every race I go to I try to be like a sponge and absorb all the information I can. Having someone like T.J. on my team is amazing. I like people on the radio that talk a lot and he does just exactly that. I told him at the start of the year when we were going over footage for Daytona, ‘I need you to practically drive this car for me because I have no clue how these trucks handle on super speedways’.”
Deegan has the credentials to warrant her current opportunity. She scored three wins on the ARCA Menards West Series(then K&N Pro Series West) and was third in the final standings for the national ARCA Menards Series in 2020. She placed second in races at Daytona International Speedway and the Illinois State Fairgrounds last season driving for Gilliland on that tour.
For the current campaign in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Deegan has been paired with another veteran of the racing wars who will occupy the top of her team’s pit box. Mike Hillman, Jr. has served as a crew chief and guide for young stars such as Brandon Jones, Harrison Burton, and Raphael Lessard during his career in both the truck series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
Deegan says that she and her team leader have focused on achieving big picture type goals during 2021.
“I had a long conversation with my crew chief, Mike, about it(goals),” she pointed out. “Not making them goals like ‘let’s go out there and get top-5s’ but real goals like learning stuff about the truck, learning how the mechanics work, building a relationship with my crew guys, earning the respect of other drivers, goals like that.”
Deegan had a disappointing result of 24th on the Daytona Super Speedway this past Friday evening after receiving damage due to a late-race mishap. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will return the ‘World Center of Racing’ this Friday night to take on that facility’s road course in the BrakeBest Brake Pads 159 Presented by O’Reilly.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
Respond to this piece on Twitter –> @RichardAllenIDR
or on Facebook –> InsideCircleTrack/Facebook