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Photo courtesy of Hailie Deegan Racing

“These 15-year-old guys didn’t want a 13-year-old girl beating them.”

Hailie Deegan, now 16, has long deflated egos in the male-dominated racing world. In this particular instance, she’s referring to when she leveled up to driving modified karts back in 2014, becoming the first female driver to podium and, later, win a race—all during her first season in the division. “Next thing you know, I’m the one to beat,” she adds matter-of-factly.

Deegan is preparing to level up yet again, this time to stock car racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. On Sunday, when she makes her series debut at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway, she’ll be the only female driver competing in a field of 29.

She is one of NASCAR’s most promising young drivers, with a slew of accolades to her name: first female driver to win a championship in the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series, first female driver to win a Modified Kart championship in the same series (2016), and now both the only girl and youngest member of the NASCAR Next class. This season she’ll be with Bill McAnally Racing, the defending K&N Pro Series West championship team.

Though racing is one of few sports that allows men and women to compete together at its highest levels, the vast majority of NASCAR drivers are still men. Only two female drivers have competed for NASCAR’s top-tier title since 1990: Shawna Robinson and everyone’s favorite name-check, Danica Patrick.

For her part, Deegan is more interested in winning than in breaking more new ground—though no woman has ever won a K&N Pro Series race. The bubbly teenager instead sees the firsts, the podium finishes and the titles as ways to make people take her seriously. “People are usually like, ‘Oh, there’s always a girl out there who tries to race and is not good,'” she says. “But the thing is, I do win. I have the facts to prove it.”

The Temecula, California, native grew up in the business: Her father, Brian Deegan, is the most decorated freestyle motocross rider in X Games history. She remembers watching him in his shop, and when he switched to off-road racing in the Lucas Oil series, Hailie came along.

She spotted the Junior Kart races and immediately begged her father to let her try them—she got her first go-kart for her eighth birthday. “Now I look at seven- and eight-year-olds, and I’m like, ‘There’s no way I’d let them drive a kart!'” she says. “But it felt normal at the time, even though they’d say ‘Turn left,’ while I was still trying to figure out where right and left were.”

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