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Haiie Deegan Inspiring young competitors as well as fans

Haiie Deegan
Driver Hailie Deegan greets fans after practicing for an ARCA Series auto race at Kansas Speedway last year in Kansas City, Kan. Deegan has moved from Toyota to Ford in a driver development deal intended to fast-track the rising star into one of NASCAR’s national series over the next few seasons.
(Associated Press)

By KIRK KENNEY

NASCAR comes roaring back with seven races over the next 11 days — all without fans in the stands — beginning with Sunday’s event at Darlington, S.C.

The thirst for live sporting events should attract some non-racing fans to the TV broadcasts along with the sport’s diehard fans.

Among those with an eye on NASCAR’s return is Temecula’s Hailie Deegan, who has more than a passing interest in the sport.

Deegan, still two months shy of her 19th birthday, is a rising name in racing, with an eye on reaching racing’s highest level in the years to come. She is currently a Ford Racing Development driver competing in the ARCA Menards Series, seated in the No. 4 Ford Fusion being driven for DGR-Crosley.

Deegan cut her teeth on off-road racing on dirt tracks before moving to asphalt in 2016, thus positioning herself for a stock car racing career.

Two years ago, Deegan became the first woman to win an ARCA West race when she took the checkered flag at Meridian (Idaho) Speedway. In February, Deegan finished runner-up in the ARCA event at Daytona International Speedway, matching the best finish by a woman in the series.

Deegan’s father, former motocross star Brian Deegan, believes his daughter has a bright future in racing.

“She’s going to be a pioneer to break down all these barriers that haven’t been done yet,” Deegan told NBC Sports after Hailie raced at Daytona earlier this year. “I’m excited that no girl has won yet because there is a chance to set records. That’s what our house has been about, setting records and creating new opportunities and just breaking down those barriers. I think she’s got a cool road ahead of her.”

Hailie Deegan is exactly what NASCAR needs, an up-and-coming driver who can bring youth and diversity to the racetrack.

The potential impact is not lost on Deegan, who has already experienced what it means to be a role model.

“That is always cool having little girls come up to me and say they want to be a race car driver one day,” Deegan told NBC Sports earlier this year. “That motivates me more because you know what you are doing is right and all the work you are putting in is worth something.”

During the two-month period in which racing was sidelined with the rest of the sports world, Deegan remained active on social media to keep fans apprised of her activities.

Deegan tweeted out video of her doing everything from driving go-karts to going on a conditioning run to navigating the roads on a simulator while a puppy squirmed in her arms.

“Not your typical 18 yr old girl” it says on her Twitter account, which includes nearly 125,000 followers. Not hardly.

“Trust me, it’s a lot of pressure,” Deegan said. “It’s a lot that comes with racing. Being a girl in racing does bring attention. … At the end of the day it has its pros and cons. When you’re doing good, it gets you noticed. When you’re doing bad, it tears you down. That’s how racing is.

“Racing is kind of like the craziest roller coaster you’ll be on, emotionally. It takes a toll on you because you’re going to have a lot more bad races than good races.”

Deegan is eager to take on the challenge.

By KIRK KENNEY – The San Diego Union-Tribune MAY 16, 20208:40 PM