With no NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this weekend, Hailie Deegan is returning to her roots. Although her career trajectory in the past five years has brought her into pavement racing, she will head back to the off-road world when she contests the Mint 400 for the first time. She will pilot a Brethel Industries-built truck in the Unlimited Truck SPEC class with former NASCAR driver and boyfriend Chase Cabre as co-driver.
The daughter of X Games great Brian Deegan followed in her father’s footsteps by competing in dirt bikes and short course off-road racing in her youth. The California native ascended through the ranks in the now defunct Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, beginning in Junior Karts and reaching Pro Lite trucks when she began her transition to pavement racing. During her LOORRS career, she won the 2013 Junior 2 Karts and 2016 Mod Karts championships; Deegan was one of four women to win a LOORRS class title alongside Corry Weller, Kali Kinsman, and Megan Mitchell.
Deegan moved to stock cars in 2017 by racing in the CARS Super Late Model Tour before going to NASCAR’s regional divisions. A 2017 class member of NASCAR Next and three-time race winner in the ARCA Menards Series West, she quickly drew attention for her status as a successful regional female driver and her social media presence.
She also touts a particularly aggressive driving style that stems from her off-road days, with one ARCA West win coming after she spun her team-mate. This fast yet rather loose mannerism is not new among drivers who made the jump from off-road, where races are shorter and therefore more frenetic, to stock cars; for example, 2020 Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed frequently showed quick pace in his early stock car career that was marred by inconsistency before wrangling in his behaviour over time. While Deegan has openly embraced her aggressiveness, her studenthood in Ford Performance‘s driver development programme intends to help her better adjust to life in NASCAR.
Her Truck Series rookie campaign with David Gilliland Racing in 2021 concluded with a seventeenth-place points finish and a seventh at Gateway, the first Truck top ten for a female driver outside of a superspeedway. While an underwhelming campaign considering the hype surrounding her, a lack of practice and qualifying sessions due to COVID-19 restrictions meant she had to learn on the fly in races. Nevertheless, she won Most Popular Driver honours at season’s end. Two races into 2022, she is twenty-seventh in points with a seventeenth at Daytona and thirty-third at Las Vegas (the latter, in the same city as the Mint 400, following a crash).
While she focuses on asphalt nowadays, she occasionally goes back to off-road. In December, she joined the Side-by-Side (SXS) support class at Nitro Rallycross‘ Florida International Rally and Motorsports Park weekend, where she finished fifth and fourth in two races. Her résumé has also brought her to dirt track oval racing as she finished second in her Superstar Racing Experience début at Knoxville Raceway last year, though she also made two pavement starts in the series as a substitute for Tony Kanaan; of her two SRX races in 2022, one will come on the dirt at I-55 Raceway.
The Mint 400 opportunity arose when Method Race Wheels offered her a ride for the race. In February, she conducted a private test in Southern California with assistance from Brenthel’s Chuck Dempsey, which she remarked in a press release “might be the most fun I’ve ever had driving anything.”
Deegan and Cabre, the latter of whom was the 2019 ARCA East runner-up, are not the only names in the Mint 400 with some sort of NASCAR experience. Reigning Mint 400 champion and Unlimited Truck driver Rob MacCachren drove in the Truck Series’ exhibition races prior to the inaugural season in 1995, while fellow Unlimited challenger Justin Lofton is a former Truck race winner. 2012 Mint winner Robby Gordon, who has three Cup Series victories, is not entered, but his son Max is taking part in Friday’s Limited race.