There is not a woman with a full-time ride at the NASCAR national series level, but that doesn’t mean talented female drivers don’t exist.
They just need to be discovered.
“I think there are a lot of girls across America that are working very hard to fill that void,” K&N Pro Series team owner Bill McAnally told NASCAR.com. “Matter of fact, I know. I’ve got two of them.”
Their names are Hailie Deegan and Brittney Zamora, and they’re the only female full-time drivers in NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series West, a developmental league that feeds into the national ranks. Deegan is in her second season, steering the No. 19 Bill McAnally Racing Toyota. Zamora took over the No. 99 this year.
MORE: Full K&N West coverage
Deegan and Zamora went through the same tests as other drivers to join BMR’s roster. Three categories were evaluated: car knowledge, driving capabilities and everyday professionalism.
“All of those things we look at,” McAnally said. “If they’re 15 or 90 years old, male or female, that’s beside the point.”
For the record, Zamora is 20 and has been racing since she was 5. Deegan is 18 and started racing at 8.
No one questioned McAnally’s decision to fill two of his three openings this season with female drivers. Nor did he acknowledge it.
“That conversation never really came up because he knew my background in racing,” Zamora said. “As long as you can prove yourself on the track, he didn’t care if you’re a boy or a girl. So that didn’t really come up. It was just, ‘I’ve seen what you can do. Let’s do it in this series, too.’
“It’s kind of nice sometimes just to be known as a racer. That’s what I want to be known as rather than, ‘Oh, she’s a female.’ ”
This is Zamora’s first K&N season. She previously made a name for herself racing in the Northwest Super Late Model Series, even winning back-to-back championships in 2017-18. Her father was also a racer, much like Deegan’s dad.
In the midst of her second K&N season, Deegan wrapped up last year fourth in the final standings and as the Sunoco Rookie of the Year. She had a strong off-road history, including two different titles in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series and a Driver of the Year honor in 2016.
Then there’s Derek Kraus, the third and final member of BMR who also dabbles in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. He’s in his third K&N season at 17 years old and currently leads the West Series with 329 points. Deegan has 16 fewer points in second as the series heads to Washington’s Evergreen Speedway for Saturday’s NAPA Auto Parts 150. Zamora is fifth with 268 points.
RELATED: Watch K&N racing live
Kraus has won three West races and a pole this year, while Deegan has claimed two of each. Zamora has one pole to her name.
“It’s funny because I never grew up seeing myself as different,” Deegan said. “I hold myself to a really high standard of not just being the best girl racer. Every time I’m on the track and, say, Derek beats me, I’m like, ‘What’s Derek doing that I’m not? Why can he do something I can’t?’ And I go and I figure it out.”
Overall, BMR has more than 80 victories in the K&N Series. In the West alone, BMR has a record eight championships. The organization has been a pipeline into NASCAR’s national ranks with drivers such as Gander Trucks’ Todd Gilliland (11th in standings) and Xfinity Series’ Cole Custer (third in standings) racing for BMR before the move up. Monster Energy Series driver Clint Bowyer (16th in standings) even once did a pair of races for BMR.
McAnally has high standards and wants his drivers to know their car inside-out, to speak up when something feels off and to work with their team to fix it. If they’re not happy with their car come race day, tough. It was their responsibility to communicate what they needed.
That voice goes beyond the garage, too.
RELATED: Deegan smart about career
When any of the drivers need to make a statement toward the competition, it’s up to them to do so. Just like when Deegan spun out Kraus – her own teammate, remember – on the final lap at Colorado National Speedway in June to take the checkered flag. Afterward, she offered no apologies.
“People are going to to be taking swings at me,” Deegan said at the time. “I’m OK with that. Take all the swings you want. But just know that I’m going to swing back.”
McAnally had no complaints about Deegan standing up for herself.
“Both of them (Deegan and Zamora) handle their affairs on the track without problem,” McAnally said. “I haven’t seen any issues with male drivers doing anything to them that they wouldn’t do to another male driver on the track.”
RELATED: Full West schedule
There are no gender rules in racing. If it weren’t for the names and numbers on the car, no one would know who’s behind the wheel, anyway.
Until the helmet comes off.
“If you go to your local Saturday night show, you’re going to see girls out there racing,” Zamora said. “It’s a lot more common than a lot of people think it is. Go to a go-kart track, there’s going to be girls racing. Go to a dirt track, there’s going to be girls racing. Sprint cars. Bandos. Legends. There’s girls racing. I think that really needs to be put in perspective, kind of get recognition.
“We are out here. We are doing this.”
Last year, Deegan became the first female driver to win a K&N race.
The year before, Zamora became the first female driver to win a Northwest SLM Series race and championship.
And their careers are both just beginning.
“What’s going to excite me is not only getting a female driver that makes it to the Cup level but get one that can contend for race wins and contend for a championship,” McAnally said. “Can you imagine a female driver being the Cup champion?
“If we keep going the way that we’re going – breaking new grounds and doing things that have never been done before – it’s definitely a possibility.”