Just grad­u­ated from high school, Hailie Deegan now fo­cuses on a ca­reer in NASCAR

The Standard Journal - - NATIONAL SPORTS - By John Small­wood The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News

Hailie Deegan was re­signed to the no­tion that she would not have a high school grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony. Be­ing home­schooled was a sac­ri­fice made so she could de­vote the time nec­es­sary to de­velop a ca­reer as a pro­fes­sional race car driver.

So last week while many of her friends at­tended their grad­u­a­tion at Ran­cho Chris­tian High School in her home­town of Te­mec­ula, Cal­i­for­nia, Deegan, a rookie on the NASCAR K&N Pro Se­ries West, was fo­cused on qual­i­fy­ing for the Carneros 200 at Sonoma Race­way.

The folks at Sonoma, how­ever, had a sur­prise. Dur­ing driver in­tro­duc­tions, Deegan, was handed a cap and gown to wear over her rac­ing fire suit and then pre­sented with her diploma. “I re­ally had no clue,” said Deegan, who started in the third po­si­tion. “It was pretty cool.”

In ad­di­tion to be­ing a grad­u­ate, Deegan re­cently was one of nine drivers named to 2018 NASCAR Next class, which iden­ti­fies prospects with the po­ten­tial to make it on the rac­ing cir­cuit.

She is a mem­ber of the Bill McAnally Rac­ing team and the only full-time fe­male driver in the K&N Pro West Se­ries. This is all be­fore she turns 17 in July.

“Grad­u­at­ing high school is a game-changer as far as my ca­reer,” said Deegan, who in 2013 be­came the first fe­male to win a cham­pi­onship in the Off-Road Rac­ing Se­ries, tak­ing the Ju­nior 2 ti­tle. “Right now, I had been pretty limited to stay­ing on the West Coast be­cause of try­ing to get all of my work done for high school.”

Deegan had been bal­anc­ing high school with go­ing to the lo­cal go-kart track on Tues­days and driv­ing at Ir­win­dale Speedway on Wed­nes­days. Week­ends were spent rac­ing late-model cars at tracks around South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

That had been her rou­tine since she started com­pet­ing in off-road races when she was 8.

“More than any­thing, grad­u­at­ing from school is a stress re­leaser,” Deegan said. “I can fo­cus men­tally com­pletely on my ca­reer. Now, I can re­ally spend all the time that I want on the track. If you are go­ing to be good at some­thing, you re­ally have to put in the time to work at it.”

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