CONCORD, N.C. — Entering her first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season with David Gilliland Racing, Hailie Deegan admits that she has a lot to learn.
Prior to last Friday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series opener at Daytona Int’l Speedway, the 19-year-old Ford development driver only had one start in the series at Kansas Speedway last season.
She has little or no experience on most of the tracks on the Truck Series schedule, something she knows is going to work against her this year because there will be no practice at most tracks on the schedule as part of NASCAR’s downsizing of weekend schedules amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think I am very disadvantaged when it comes to all these race tracks because I haven’t been there before and I don’t have a lot of experience in these trucks,” Deegan said Tuesday. “They handle a lot different than ARCA cars. That is something I am having to learn every single race.”
To help compensate for her lack of experience, Deegan is working with a pair of veteran hands to help her get up to speed faster. This year she’s working with veteran spotter T.J. Majors, who previously worked as the spotter for Dale Earnhardt Jr., as well as NASCAR veteran David Ragan.
Ragan, a two-time winner in NASCAR Cup Series competition, has been helping Deegan during her time on the simulator at the Ford Performance Technical Center in Concord, N.C. She said his experience at nearly every venue on the schedule will prove invaluable to her as she prepares for each event.
“He has been crucial for my development,” Deegan said of Ragan. “Just the level of experience he has and all the knowledge he has that he has been able to feed to me has been so great.
“I think going to all these tracks, I am very new to them,” Deegan continued. “A lot of them I haven’t raced at before. Him having experience there and a lot of notes that he can give me is crucial.”
Having a veteran spotter like Majors has also proven beneficial and she said having him guide her last Friday at Daytona was a major help as she got her feet beneath her during her first superspeedway start in the Truck Series.
“Having someone like T.J. on my team is amazing,” Deegan said. “I like people on the radio that talk a lot and he does exactly that. I told him at the beginning of the year when we first started going over footage for Daytona, ‘Hey, I need you to practically drive this car for me because I have no clue how these trucks handle on superspeedways.’”
This weekend Deegan will head back to Daytona to compete on the infield road course, a track she does have experience on after racing on it last year in the ARCA Menards Series. She explained that race helped her understand the layout of the track, but she now needs to understand how her truck will handle around the 14-turn, 3.61-mile road course.
“I think what ARCA has helped me with is learning the track at the Daytona Road Course. I think where I need to learn is how the truck actually handles,” Deegan said. “The first couple laps will be about being smart, staying out of the chaos and not overdriving and just hitting our marks and learning how the truck feels and what I need out of it.”