Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Hailie Deegan, one of NASCAR’s most-talked about young talents, was formally introduced Tuesday as a new Ford development driver.
For the 2020 racing season, the 18-year old Californian will drive a Ford for the respected DGR-Crosley race team fulltime in the ARCA Menards Series and she will also compete in selected events for Ford’s Multimatic Motorsports team in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.
It’s a major announcement for Ford and for Deegan, who in 2018 became the first woman to win a race in the former NASCAR K&N Pro Series West (now known as the ARCA Menards Series West). She added two more victories in the series in 2019, earning three pole positions, eight top-five and 11 top-10 finishes in 14 starts en route to a third place finish in the championship.
In six ARCA Menards Series starts last year, Deegan earned a best finish of fifth at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Raceway.
“Hailie has shown in her brief time behind the wheel of a stock car that she’s got what it takes to be successful,’’ Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports said at Tuesday’s formal announcement in Concord, N.C.
“Our goal is to put her on a path to realize our shared goal of winning championships and part of that is gaining experience on tracks such as road courses and superspeedways. We feel this year will serve as a good foundation for what lies ahead.’’
That foundation will include an assortment of IMSA races in addition to the full 20-race ARCA schedule. Ford’s Rushbrook reiterated to the gathered media Tuesday that the plan is to bring Deegan up to speed, slowly and steadily. In recent seasons Ford has fostered the burgeoning careers of young drivers such as Cole Custer, Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe.
And Deegan said she was prepared for a measured approach – appreciated the plan.
“I think it’s really important because at the end of the day as a driver you pretty much have one reputation chance,’’ said Deegan, who will drive the No. 4 Monster Energy Ford in the ARCA ranks. “When you blow it, when you don’t do good, that kind of sits with you. It’s hard to get rid of that.
“I think it’s definitely important for me and the people who support me and are coming with me along the journey that we want to have success where we go. When we move up to the next level, we want to make sure we do it at the right time and I’m ready for it and they’re ready to take the step.
“I think we’re definitely taking the right route and process. If we can stick to what we’re doing, stick to the game plan, it should be good.’’
Deegan has contested her early stock car career in Toyota equipment and although grateful for the opportunities it presented, she said she felt this alliance with Ford would be beneficial long-term with increased opportunity. And, she noted often Tuesday, her family has a long relationship with the manufacturer. Her father, Brian Deegan, won a gold medal in the 2011 X Games driving a Ford Fiesta in the Global Rallycross Championship.
“I think it gives me the confidence to know that we made the right decision, confident in my future and my development just because we’re all on the same page,’’ Deegan said. “Especially with them starting this kind of lower level development where they had Chase Briscoe, Cindric, all the guys coming through the higher ranks, now they’re kind of stepping into the ARCA Series.
“…. It gives me a lot more confidence to know we’re doing the right thing when you have a lot more focus on you.’’
And, she added, “Over here, there’s a lot more focus and a lot clearer path on what they’re trying to do with their development drivers, their drivers coming through the ranks, having enough seats for them’’
As or her pace, Rushbrook indicated there was specifically no rush to get Deegan into one of NASCAR’s three national series until she was legitimately ready. It’s an approach Deegan appreciates and that Rushbrook expects to pay off for all involved.
“No comment on the length of the contract or even the progression,’’ Rushbrook said. “I think the great thing has been since the very first conversation that we want to see Hailie succeed and take the steps when the timing is right. I’ve got a lot of confidence that will go through in these coming years all the way to the Cup level.
“No strong dates as to how much time at each level We want to make sure and Hailie wants to make sure, her team wants to make sure, she progresses to the levels when she’s ready to ensure success at each step.’’
Deegan’s first formal time behind the Ford steering wheel will come at the Roar Before the 24 at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 3, 2020 – the traditional three-day test session for the Jan. 25-26 IMSA season-opening Rolex 24 sports car race weekend. Deegan will make her sports car debut on Friday, Jan. 25 with teammate Chase Briscoe in the Michelin Pilot Challenge.