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Hailie Deegan on Intense Fire at Atlanta: ‘I Started Choking and I Started Not Being Able to Get More Air’

PC: Jonathan McCoy |

Saturday’s Fr8 208 at Atlanta Motor Speedway didn’t exactly go the way that Hailie Deegan and David Gilliland Racing had hoped it would, with the team in dire need of a good run after starting the season with finishes of 17th and 33rd at Daytona and Las Vegas.

Deegan, the series’ most popular driver, would be credited with a 36th-place result, after retiring from the event after 24 laps, when a second tire issue created a much bigger problem for the second-year driver, one that involved a great deal of fire.

As part of her social media platform – considered to be one of the most valuable in motorsports — Deegan uploads a post-race vlog about her weekend at the track, one that this weekend, included exclusive footage of the incident, as well as her thoughts shortly thereafter.

“In eight laps, I came from 27th to 17th or 18th, me and Zane [Smith] were right with each other, as we started,” Deegan explained in this week’s vlog. “We were coming through the field pretty good, like I feel like we had a lot of speed.”

However, after said early rebound, things started to get eventful for the second-year driver, when an awry bump from Colby Howard sent her truck down the track, making contact with Ross Chastain, which Deegan says caused a left-rear flat.

Even though the initial issue – a flat left-rear tire — was resolved with the unscheduled pit stop, things weren’t back to 100-percent on the David Gilliland Racing entry when Deegan left pit road.

“I felt… I knew something was wrong, because the moment we went out, I was like ‘something’s not right, guys’, and my back started getting really hot and [we] ended up, actually catching on fire, and it was on fire for a couple laps, because my back started getting super hot.”

The 20-year-old decided to drive it back to pit road, which Deegan mentioned was largely due to the hope of returning to the race. However, upon making it to her pit box, the left-rear tire was on fire, becoming more severe after removing the tire.

“Made pit road, it was really on fire at that point and there was a bunch of black smoke and stuff, they hit it with the fire extinguisher,” Deegan continued, interrupted by a cough. “It blew up black smoke and fire extinguisher smoke into my air hose and throughout my whole truck and I couldn’t see anything, so I inhaled that and I started choking and I started not being able to get more air, like suffocating.”

Video: Hailie Deegan Tire Catches Fire Early in Atlanta Race

It was at this point, that Deegan’s crew chief, Mike Hillman Jr. – a veteran of the sport — came over the radio ordering the members of the David Gilliland Racing pit crew to assist Deegan in getting out of the truck, rather than trying to mitigate any potential damage to the truck.

“I started trying to look for the window net, but I couldn’t see anything, and I couldn’t get any more air because it was so smokey, and fire extinguisher chalk, and J.C [Umscheid, truck chief of the No. 1] ended up opening the window net and ended up pulling me out.”

Upon exiting the truck, Deegan was visibly winded and coughing because of the massive amount of smoke inhaled while inside the truck. The David Gilliland Racing crew members got her sat on the pit wall, eventually carrying her over the pit wall to an area where she could further collect herself.

In the end, poor result aside, Deegan was able to walk away from the incident without any serious injuries, allowing her to compete in the series’ next event at Circuit of The Americas on March 26 in Austin, Texas.

However, as the series moves into its first road course race of 2022, the No. 1 team has to be feeling worried, placed 34th in 2022 NCWTS owner points, and in danger of missing the series’ next event, should something go wrong in Friday’s single-truck qualifying session.

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