MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Though Hailie Deegan spent much of her early racing career racing on dirt across the western United States, that experience was nothing like what she’s been exposed to this year.
Deegan, the 19-year-old daughter of X Games motocross ace Brian Deegan, cut her teeth racing off-road trucks in the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series. However, all of that action was on dirt road courses and not short ovals, like many other grassroots racers battle on from week to week.
But Deegan has expanded her dirt racing resume this summer by racing a 600cc micro sprint for the Brad Noffsinger-managed Factor 1 East team, competing primarily at Millbridge Speedway in Salisbury, N.C.
Deegan has run in both winged and non-winged events, but has had her best success on the winged side, where she notched a runner-up finish to Gavan Boschele on July 8.
“It’s been a lot of fun this year,” said Deegan during a national teleconference on Wednesday. “I think it (racing the micro) is a very cost-effective way for me to get good racing experience. I can do that very often out here. (Millbridge) is close to my house, only like an hour away. That is something I have really latched onto and it is fun having all my friends out there. It’s a fun, no pressure thing I can do to gain more experience.
“The guys at Factor One are great and they have a lot of experience with dirt circle track racing. I don’t have a lot of experience with that, being an off-road racer, but dirt racing is dirt racing,” Deegan continued. “I feel like if you know how to drive on dirt, you can drive on it across the board to a certain extent. Obviously, you have to learn more, and I need to learn more with the micros, but it did help me to get to a certain point at first.”
Deegan noted that dirt micro racing wasn’t something she originally had on her agenda for this season, but her plans — along with much of the motorsport industry — shifted when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the sports world for two months and led to sweeping changes for many series.
“I think that just led to me trying to do everything I can that is budget friendly that I can get a lot out of for a little cost,” Deegan explained. “Stock car racing is so expensive, so I am trying to go to other sources to find where I can learn more about racing and stay behind the wheel. I think we have been lacking a lot in the ARCA (Menards) Series as far as good racing; I think the last time we saw good racing was Gateway. There were some good battles happening there. But most of the time everyone gets so spread out in the ARCA Series that the racing becomes boring.
“I think what we need back is that good racing, and I was planning on racing like that,” she added. “Between that and having no pit stops and no practice, I have had to find other places to get experience and learn and develop.”
What’s been the biggest thing Deegan has had to adjust to with going in circles on the dirt, rather than off-roading like she has in years past?
“No spotters. None. I don’t like that,” Deegan said with a laugh. “I like having someone talking in my ear and I am used to that. Something about the feeling of just clearing yourself sits uneasy with me. I don’t like it.”
In addition to her dirt exploits, Deegan is also competing full time in the ARCA Menards Series this season with Ford Performance and DGR-Crosley, where she ranks third in points.
Deegan’s best finish to date in ARCA competition is a second-place run at Daytona (Fla.) Int’l Speedway in February.
Asked if she considers 2020 “a lost year” experience-wise, given all of its challenges, Deegan disagreed but added that she had hoped to have more on-track time — including practice — than what she’s had.
“I wouldn’t call it a lost year, but I haven’t got everything out of it that I was planning on. I think we are making the best of it,” she said. “I have put a lot more time in on the simulator and have been doing a lot more around stock car racing, not just practicing at the track. I have been doing a lot more dirt circle track racing and sim time and studying footage and focusing on the off-track stuff to get me ready for the on-track stuff … since we have such a lack of practice.
“It doesn’t put me back a year; I think it will just make the development process harder,” she added. “I think it will be a little harder on me and I am going to have to really buckle down and focus on it even more than I already am and really give 110 percent effort every opportunity I get, because I am lacking everything I was planning (and) not getting as much as I was planning on.
“I am going to have to take advantage of every single opportunity I get and learn as much as I can, but I don’t think this will put us back a year. We will figure it out.”