Is Hailie Deegan the Next Big Thing in American racing?

You may never have heard this name before, but take time to remember it: Hailie Rochelle Deegan. She is a product of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, and just this week signed a developmental deal with Ford that will see her run the entire 2020 ARCA schedule in addition to fielding a Mustang in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, beginning in Feburary at Daytona. Deegan had a previous development contract with Toyota but switched to Ford because it represented more potential open seats. She is the daughter of Brian Deegan, a former professional freestyle supercross rider and veteran of global rallycross in cars. Hailie Deegan came out of karting and off-road racing into what used to be known as the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, now branded for ARCA, where she scored two wins and was named rookie of the year.

This Toyota image shows Deegan’s ride before she jumped to the Dearborn squad this week. What’s significant here is that Deegan is 18, has a demonstrated ability to pass cars and win, and has been competitive since she first crawled into a Legends car. From a purely personal standpoint of observation, NASCAR and its sponsors have been looking for their next phenomenal superstar ever since Dale Earnhardt died in 2001. As Danica Patrick’s stint in Cup demonstrated, it hasn’t happened yet. The closest thing NASCAR now has to a polarizing magnet for eyes is its reigning champion, Kyle Busch, who comes closest to replicating the late legend in terms of pure driving ability and naked aggression. All that said, a truly front-running female driver – or driver of color – could do some amazing things in terms of swiveling some new eyeballs toward America’s most-watched form of motorsport. So far, Deegan is checking the right boxes. Smart observers will keep a close eye on what she does from here forward.

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