CONCORD, N.C. â Ford Performance announced Tuesday the addition of Hailie Deegan to its driver development program, ensuring that the next steps of the rising starâs stock-car racing career will be made with the automakerâs backing.Â
The groundwork for that progression was spelled out in the mid-December announcement, with Deegan slated for a full 20-race season in the ARCA Menards Series, plus select sports-car events in a Mustang GT4 in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge. Her ARCA schedule will be contested with the DGR-Crosley organization, which made its own switch to Ford last Wednesday.
âIt was really cool because they came to me,â Deegan told NASCAR.com about Fordâs interest. âIt shows that people care, it shows that they want to be fully invested and want to better your future and have a good relationship for a long time, and thatâs something that I was super-interested in when they came to me. I know that itâs going to be a crazy next year, and if everything goes well with David Gilliland Racing, which I think it will because he has such a good program, we should have some good success next year.â
Deegan became one of NASCARâs top budding prospects by making history as the first woman to win a race in its developmental K&N Pro Series West (now ARCA Menards Series West) in 2018. The 18-year-old driver added two more series victories this year. All three wins came by bold final-lap passes.
That sort of potential mixed with a sometimes-brash driving style is what drew the attention of Mark Rushbrook, Ford Performance Motorsportsâ global director. That she has already established an engaging social media presence came as a bonus.
âFrom the competition side, it was seeing her aggression on track, seeing how she races, the results that she delivers, and more importantly what we see off the track in terms of her mindset, her commitment to develop in every way that she can, whether itâs on the simulator, driving her own sim at home, a motorcycle, a quad or whatever,â Rushbrook said. âItâs all about getting in a vehicle and vehicle dynamics.
âThatâs the biggest thing that attracted us from the competition side, and then also on the marketing side, just the way that sheâs already been able to develop such an extensive reach to be able to tell her story at such a young age is very impressive, and thatâs only going to continue to grow, we think, as she advances through the different levels inside of NASCAR. We expect her competition level to grow as well as her marketing presence.â
Deegan got her first taste of ARCA competition last season, netting four top-10 finishes in a six-race slate for Venturini Motorsports. That partial schedule included a best result of fifth place at Lucas Oil Raceway near Indianapolis.
Though her new alignment with DGR-Crosley could eventually provide an avenue to the organizationâs involvement in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, Deegan says sheâs concentrating for now on the two-series task thatâs ahead.
âI think by the end of the year, I would love to. As of now, weâre fully investing into ARCA and our funding is invested into ARCA,â Deegan says. âIf some other deals come along, then yeah, Iâll go truck racing. Man, I want to race Eldora. So I for sure do, but at the end of the day for right now, weâre focusing on the ARCA program and being successful there.â
Her aspirations for both series will begin next year in Daytona. Deegan, who has already acclimated herself to Fordâs IMSA entry through simulator work, will drive the Mustang GT4 for real in the Roar Before the 24 test session Jan. 3-5. Sheâll team with fellow Ford prospect Chase Briscoe for Multimatic Motorsports in the seriesâ season opener Jan. 24 on the 3.56-mile oval and road course layout, a day before the annual Rolex 24.Â
Road courses havenât been a part of Deeganâs varied background, which has its roots in off-road racing with some go-karting spliced in. Time with Fordâs simulator has helped establish a baseline, something she can build on as IMSAâs opening weekend nears.
âWhat makes a good driver is well-rounded drivers, ones that are good at multiple things,â Deegan said, âso I think that coming from dirt racing, getting to asphalt, then having some road-course background thrown into it, itâs going to help the whole, all-around stock-car racing a lot.â
Deegan joins a crop of Ford development drivers that includes Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Ben Rhodes and others. Cole Custer, 21, is the most recent graduate from the Ford youth initiative as he joins Stewart-Haas Racing for his rookie season in the NASCAR Cup Series next year.
Deeganâs shift to Ford also represents a family homecoming. Her father, Brian, drove Fords as part of his decorated X Games career, wheeling a Ford Fiesta to Rallycross gold in 2011. He also drove Fiestas in the Global Rallycross Championship and a Ford Raptor in the Lucas Oil Off-Road Series. Tuesday marked the Deegan familyâs newest connection to Ford as a No. 4 Fusion with Hailie Deeganâs name above the door sat on the floor of the Ford Performance Technical Center.
The younger Deeganâs move also represents a break with Toyota Racing Development, which fostered her career the last two seasons. While eager to begin her next chapter, Deegan took care to express her gratitude for Toyotaâs role in her progress.
âThe Toyota program is a great program, and they develop a lot of drivers,â Deegan says. âIt has its pros and cons because thereâs so many drivers there. I think that they gave me a good introduction to the NASCAR world, helped me kind of find my place, and I think after that, once Ford came to us, it was just something that, OK, whatâs going to be best for us long term?âÂ
In the short term, the spotlight has already beamed brightly on Deeganâs emergent career. Her arrival at Ford not only signals the potential for continued on-track performance, but brings the intangibles possessed by one of the sportâs most engaging and marketable young talents.
The jump to a full ARCA slate and IMSA will likely ratchet up that attention, scrutiny that relatively few teenagers have to face. Deegan, however, seems to embrace that spot on the larger stage.
âItâs really hard because at the end of the day in NASCAR racing, youâre going to have a lot more bad races than good races,â Deegan says. âThatâs just how it is. One person wins. Youâre going to have a lot of bad days.
âThe thing is, when the spotlightâs on you, they notice the bad days and the good days. Itâs not just the good times and when youâre on top that they notice you. They notice those days that youâre off a little bit, youâre having a bad day or youâre not on top of your game. So thatâs something that has its pros and cons, but I wouldnât trade it for anything.âÂ