Hailie Deegan says Ford having a “clearer path” for its NASCAR junior drivers was key to her switch from Toyota.
Earlier in December, Ford Performance announced that it had signed Deegan to a multi-year driver development deal and her 2020 racing plans will include running a full season in the NASCAR-owned ARCA Menards Series with DGR-Crosley, driving the #4 Ford Mustang.
Deegan will also compete in select events in a Mustang GT4 with Multimatic Motorsports in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and hopes to run several races in the NASCAR Truck Series before the end of the year.
She will also participate in ARCA and IMSA testing at Daytona International Speedway next month.
Deegan is the daughter of Brian Deegan, a motocross rider, off-road racer, and former X Games athlete, who had his own successful history racing with Ford.
Deegan grew up racing off-road and in dirt events like her father, but transitioned to competing on asphalt in 2016 to pursue a career in stock car racing, beginning her NASCAR journey in the K&N developmental series with backing from Toyota.
Following her most successful season yet – she scored two victories – Deegan said the time could not have been better to expand her racing resume and do so with a manufacturer that has a history with her family.
“I’m super excited to kind of rekindle the relationship my dad had with Ford, bring that back to our lifestyle, what we have going on,” she explained.
“It’s a matter of timing deal. Over the years I got aligned with Toyota, but now I thought the right path for me was coming back to Ford, [given] how my dad’s relationship started there.
“I think it definitely was a smart move on all of our parts.
“With my alliance with Ford, we’re focusing on being in really good equipment and having really good outside resources, not just a ‘write the check, to go race’ deal.
“It’s developing, making me a better driver, going to the IMSA racing with sim time, stuff like that.
“True development is not just writing a check to go race. It’s all around making you a better driver as a whole.
“At the Toyota side, there’s a lot of drivers over there. There’s not many rides open in the higher levels.
“Over here, there’s a lot more focus and a lot more clearer path on what they’re trying to do with their development drivers – their drivers coming through the ranks [and] having enough seats for them.”
But Deegan reckons she will have a difficult time being patient, as she wants to race as much as possible and would not mind if her progression goes faster.
“It was so hard for me because my team-mate at [Bill McAnally Racing] was racing the Truck race and I was sitting on pit road and I was like, ‘Man, if he can do it, I want to do it’,” she said.
“That’s something hard for me – to hold back and be like, ‘OK, let’s race ARCA, let’s gain experience, let’s get better’, so I know when I’m there I’m not nervous that I’m not ready.”
But Deegan’s father believes her daughter has done a good job of being patient with the development process so far.
“She’s happy so long as her car is competitive and she feels like she has a chance to win,” he said.
“I think she would be ok racing at the local go-kart track like that. As long as that’s there, I think we’ll be fine down in the lower series.
“I’m scared to say, ‘Let’s just jump to Trucks’. Ok, she’s going to go out and run mid-pack or run 10th, whatever the case is, but that’s not the same as ‘I have a chance to win today.’
“She needs to taste that more. She needs to lead laps, have more wins, have more experience. Believe me, she wants to get to the big show.”