When Hailie Deegan was making the decision to race full-time with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West in 2018, she knew that there would be a steep learning curve. She had a handfuls of races under her belt on pavement but most of her racing career had been spent on dirt with the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series. But in early December, NASCAR made an announcement that gave the "Dirt Princess' a lot of hope. They announced that the series would be racing on dirt at the Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Even though the cars are bigger and boxier than the vehicles she raced in the Mod Kart division, even though her K&N car will have a windshield, and even though there will be no jumps or right turns, the announcement gave the 17-year-old some confidence.
Deegan, a member of the 2018 NASCAR Next program, currently sits seventh in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West championship standings. She’s scored three top-five finishes with a best finish of second at Oregon’s Douglas County Speedway at the end of June.
The Temecula, California native has been very successful in off-road racing. She won a championship with the Junior 2 Karts in 2013, won the Modified Kart regional championship in 2015, and then backed that up with a Modified Kart national title in 2016. All of that earned her the nickname of “Dirt Princess.”
Now, Deegan said that she’s hoping that her skills that she’s acquired from off-road racing will give her some sort of advantage this week when the K&N Pro Series West hits the dirt in Vegas.
“I’m excited to be back on what I hope will be like my turf,” Deegan said. “I’m hoping that the dirt is kind of like off-road racing. I’m hoping it gives me an advantage. I don’t really know. I’ve never been on dirt with a stock car before. I don’t really know what the differences will be.”
Deegan said that she has sought out advice ahead of this race from some of her friends who came from off-road racing and now race stock cars, specifically ARCA Racing Series points leader Sheldon Creed.
“I’ve asked Sheldon about the tire fall-off, because I have no clue. Does it have that tire fall-off? He said that it usually doesn’t and usually it’s just the track that falls off. I’m hoping that plays into my advantage because I’m still learning how to conserve tires. I feel like if I can get back in the no tire conservation phase then I’ll be good. I’ve been talking with a few other drivers that come from an off-road background and a lot of them say that the track is more like off-road dirt racing than it is pavement. I’m hoping that works in my favor.”
Lately, Deegan said there’s been some struggles for her and her Bill McAnally Racing team. With two finishes of 20th or worse in her last three races, Deegan didn’t say that they’ve hit a funk, but rather they've been hindered by bad luck. Perhaps a trip to the dirt is just what the doctor ordered.
“I feel like the dirt race can take us out of that bad luck. It’s been small things keeping good nights away from us. I think that at this dirt race I should be able to get a good finish.”
Deegan is confident that she’ll find a way to put her No. 19 towards the front of the field on Thursday night, but whatever else happens beyond that is anyone’s guess.
“There’s a lot of elements that can play in. I guess we’ll find out (Thursday).”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Associate Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo credit: Speed51.com