Hailie Deegan, the effervescent, enthusiastic, eager and emerging 18-year-old stock-car driver from Temecula, Calif., signed a development contract Tuesday to race with Ford Performance in 2020. She will compete in multiple racing series in 2020, with a focus on driving in all 20 ARCA Menards Series races.
âBeing over at Ford offers a much clearer path in my development,â she told me in a telephone interview Tuesday from Concord, N.C., where a news conference had been held.
This was a big announcement not just for Deegan but for NASCAR, which would love to see women driving at the Cup level, as well as more diversity. Deegan says she thinks she is still years away from the NASCAR Cup Series, but she said Ford will give her new opportunities.
These are opportunities that she might not have received had she continued racing a Toyota. There are several promising young Toyota drivers now racing at a higher level than Deegan, including Christopher Bell, a 2020 Cup rookie, so there would be fewer seats available if she succeeds.
Besides racing on superspeedways for DGR-Crosley in ARCA in 2020, Deegan will drive select road-course events in a Mustang GT4 with Multimatic Motorsports in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge. Her first race in that series is scheduled for Jan. 24 in Daytona Beach, Fla.
âDefinitely, road courses are something where I lack experience,â said Deegan, who had been an off-road racer before moving to stock cars.Â Â
Deegan had raced a Toyota owned by Bill McAnally for the last two years. In 2018, she became the first woman to win a race in what was known as the K&N Pro Series West, adding two more victories and a third-place overall finish in the series in 2019.
She also drove in six races last year in the ARCA Series â which is to the NASCAR Cup Series what single-A baseball is to the major leagues â with a fifth-place finish in a race at Indianapolis. She drove in two ARCA races on big NASCAR tracks at Pocono and Kansas.
âIt had its ups and downs, but everybodyâs season does,â she said of the 2019 season. âWe definitely proved a lot last season. But did I meet all my expectations? No.â
The next step on the racing ladder from the ARCA Series is NASCARâs Gander Outdoors Truck Series, two levels below NASCAR. Deegan said Tuesday that she was focusing on her ARCA and IMSA rides, but she was not ruling out racing in trucks if chances came up.
âWeâve kind of put all our resources into the one full season of ARCA,â she said.
Her 45-year-old father, Brian, is a top-level motocross racer, but he drove a Ford Fiesta in the Global Rallycross Championship and won a gold medal in the Rallycross competition at X Games 17 in 2011. He also drove a Ford Raptor in the Lucas Oil Off-Road Series.
Hailie Deegan said, âThat definitely started the conversation, just from my dad having that past experience there.â
As she forged ahead with her racing career, she said Brian âwas always telling them about how I was doing â it was a `Keep your eyes on herâ type of deal.â
Ford is getting an aggressive driver who knocks aside competitors and probably has the biggest buzz of any driver in stock-car racing â a marketing coup for Ford. But Ford executives wonât push her towards the top faster. It suits both Ford and Deegan to learn her craft.
âI think the great thing has been since the very first conversation that we want to see Hailie succeed and take the steps when the timing is right,â Mark Rushbrook, the global director for Ford Performance Motorsports, said at the news conference. âI’ve got a lot of confidence that that will go through in these coming years all the way to the Cup level.â
Rushbrook added, âNo strong dates as to how much time at each level.Â We want to make sure, and Hailie wants to make sure, and her team wants to make sure, she progresses to those levels when she’s ready to ensure success at each step.â
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