With the coronavirus outbreak having all but completely shut down racing, drivers have been searching for different ways to connect with fans throughout the country. While many drivers have gone to sim racing, ARCA Menards Series competitor Hailie Deegan found a way to give fans autographs without meeting face to face.
It started when a fan tweeted a picture to Deegan of him and her last Friday, asking for her to autograph it on her phone and send it back. More fans followed suit, so much that a second autograph session has since followed. Other drivers have begun following suit, with NASCAR Cup Series driver Corey LaJoie, Xfinity drivers Daniel Hemric, Harrison Burton and Justin Haley, as well as Snowball Derby winner Travis Braden all joining the party.
For Deegan, it was a no-brainer when first asked about signing virtual autographs.
“I was laying in bed and it was ten in the morning and I was scrolling through Twitter, I was bored and had nothing else to do since I’m in California and we’re not racing right now. I was like hey, this guy asked for a virtual autograph and I wondered if I could screenshot this and sign it real quick and tweet it back,” Deegan told Speed51.com. “I was like I’m going to tweet about this and maybe I could start doing it to keep fans interested and intrigued in what’s going on and not lose their attention. I was like if it keeps the fans happy, why not? I just laid in bed with nothing else to do and kept signing autographs.”
What has transpired since then wasn’t foreseen by Deegan when she signed the first virtual autograph, but she’s been excited to see how much it’s grown across the sport in the past week. With no racing taking place at the moment, it keeps her busy and interacting with her fans.
“I was hoping it would, now everyone’s asking for autographs and now I have stuff to do and I’m busy. At night, I’ve been trying when I sit on my phone, usually sitting on TikTok, to go to Twitter and sign autographs.”
Deegan has made it a point to use social media to her advantage as her racing career continues to take off. Fan access to drivers is no longer limited to face-to-face meetings at the track and at meet-and-greets, and Deegan wants to be at the forefront of that movement in order to grow not just her career, but the sport as a whole.
“People underestimate the power of social media and how much it can help your career and help your fanbase. At the end of the day, the fans are what makes this sport and it’s about getting the fans to attract towards you and finding things different about yourself that other drivers don’t do,” she said.
“I even give props to Ryan Vargas for him starting the whole eNASCAR race that’s going on, the Truck race that I’m doing the announcing for. I’m not big into iRacing yet, I’m trying to get more into it. I feel like there’s so many aspects where drivers can jump on that just helps the sport. At the end of the day, if you help the sport all it’s going to do is help your career.”
The start to the ARCA Menards Series season has been a strong one for Deegan, who sits second in series points to Michael Self after a runner-up finish at Daytona and a seventh at Phoenix. With the season on hold due to the COVDI-19 pandemic, she is antsy to get back behind the wheel, with two tracks in particular she has eyed on the 2020 schedule.
“I feel like it’s pretty good. I feel like I should’ve gotten a better finish at Phoenix, I spun the tires on the second to last restart. Just a little mistake I made that I learned from, what not to do. I think that the season’s going really good. I’m kind of bummed with everything going on. I did want to race Salem and the short tracks that I know I haven’t been there before. Talladega was something I’m looking forward to a lot, so hopefully they don’t cancel it and reschedule it sometime during the year. We’ll see.”
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo credit: @HailieDeegan Twitter