Meridian Speedway, this quarter-mile bullring has been home to local racing since 1951 and 67 years later became home to history. At 17-years old, Hailie Deegan became the first female to win a K&N event. Also, she becomes the first female to win a NASCAR sanctioned event since Shawna Robinson claimed three wins in the now-defunct Goody’s Dash Series.
She didn’t do it by fuel strategy (looking at you Danica). Nor did she have it handed to her on a silver platter, but by using the classic bump-and-run technique to move her teammate Cole Rouse for the victory on the last lap. Many NASCAR stars, like 2014 champion Kevin Harvick, have taken notice of her talent before. But after her first win, the rest of the racing world now has raised eyebrows.
Coming into her maiden voyage in the K&N series, she had made a checklist to track her progression throughout the year. Finish and qualify within the top-10, top-5, top-3, grab a pole, and win a race. With two races left in the season, she met all of her goals. Her talent is undeniable, and her demeanor is that of a real racer, but that doesn’t mean she is instantly ready for the next step.
The trend of young drivers into the upper echelon of racing is growing, but that is not a reason to rush her. I don’t think NASCAR could afford to lose a potential talent like her or the buzz that she has created. She made a name for herself in off-road racing, becoming the first female to win a championship in 2013 and continued to win championships in her following seasons. Even with her accolades, we have to remember that her experience in stock cars is limited.
Toyota has made a significant investment in her. She is a part of their developmental program while they have shown the nurturing patience needed to groom future champions. Christopher Bell and Eric Jones are great examples as to what TRD can do for a young developing driver. If she can adapt and advance quickly, then that’s great, but if not, she will have the opportunity to improve in NASCAR’s lower series.
Women have proven they can dominate in other race series. In drag racing, Erica Enders-Stevens and the Force sisters have flexed their girl power. Katherine Legge is showing that she can do it on the road racing side, as she battles for an IMSA championship. NASCAR has failed to have a dominate female figure, and there is little question that Hailie Deegan has the potential to be the first.