When Haiden Deegan, 17, made his Monster Energy 250 East Supercross debut at Houston, he was not burdened by expectations from the team, his family or himself. At the start of the season, he was prepared to spend another year in the Supercross Futures class, but after finishing fifth in the season-opener at Anaheim 1, everyone saw all they needed to see.
“After futures, I wasn’t even sure if I was going race, so we pulled it and we’re like, yeah, we might as well go race, get the experience and so far it’s going great,” Deegan said in the post-race news conference for the Daytona Supercross race after earning his first podium in just his fourth 250 start.
It was a decision made not only by the Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing team and Haiden, but also by his parents Brian and Marissa.
Even without expectations, success came immediately for Deegan.
He finished fourth in his debut after riding at the front of the pack in the early laps of the Houston Main. Minor mistakes in both that race and the following week in Tampa denied him a podium. In his third round at Arlington, he had his first taste of disappointment. The Texas dirt was tricky and glassed over severely, as if often will in dirt sprint car races, making for slick conditions.
Deegan finished 15th in the first Main of the Triple Crown format before rebounding to fourth and fifth in the next two races. He was eighth overall.
“My mom didn’t want me to race dirt bikes after all my dad went through,” Haiden said. “We started and my dad got me on a dirt bike and it was going to happen eventually. And from there I just fell in love with it. … So, I fell in love with dirt bikes and from there, just been getting up to this spot pretty much and race supercross.
“I’ve been wanting it for, I can’t say whole life because I’m only 17, but in that little span, so now we’re here and we’re just going to keep getting better.”
After a disappointing career in Supercross that produced only two podium finishes, Brian Deegan was uncertain about what he wanted for Haiden.
“As a parent, it’s hard to explain the emotions,” Brian told NBC Sports, still buzzing with adrenalin. “All the years, all the work, all the effort, all the highs, the lows, the broken bones, the surgeries, the doctor visits, the money spent, huh, the money lost.
“It’s just everything gets boiled into moments like these and that’s why they’re just so exciting. You have to, I have to, enjoy them. And I make sure we enjoy them because we’ve invested so much in it as far as time and energy when we could be doing a lot of other things. But this is what we choose.”
“That moment happened. It’s the first podium. That moment is here. Now the next would be searching for a win, right? That’s going to be hard. I can’t contain myself on that. I lost my voice tonight on just the third place.”
A Racing Family
But racing is in the family’s blood, and it was inevitable that Brian’s children would catch the bug. Haiden’s sister Hailie Deegan is showing promise in NASCAR’s top support series and is widely considered to be the next female racer to climb through the ranks.
“We’ve been a racing family for so long and we’ve put all this work in to have these moments,” Brian said. “Hadien’s the one doing the work; he’s got to twist the throttle. He’s the one who’s got to take the risks, to ride at that pace three or four days a week. It’s gnarly. Damn, the risk they take is just so gnarly. Back in the day we rode 125s. We just didn’t go as fast. Now they’re going really fast.”
Brian admits to not having the career he thought he should. At the time, he was a little bitter that Supercross did not provide the results he expected or thought he deserved.
But life experience goes into making a man and a parent.
“To be honest, I raced dirt bikes back in the day and I had a bad taste in my mouth from it,” Brian said. “Because I just didn’t feel like I got what I wanted or deserved at the time. But I learned it was just a bad attitude back in the day. I learned from it and raised my kids differently because of that. It’d be nice to have a roll cage [like Hailie] for the kids, but that’s not the sport. That’s why there’s so many fans: because it’s dangerous.
“As a parent it’s definitely nerve-wracking.”
The feelings are the same for Haiden’s mother, Marissa Deegan.
A mixture of excitement for the racing action and pride for her son’s accomplishments are tempered by anxiety as she watches him race. Being in the sport for decades and watching both Haiden and Brian sustain injuries have given her a high level of awareness.
“He’s put in so much hard work,” Marissa told NBC Sports. “He’s positioned up there and he’s good. … I have excited butterflies, nervous butterflies, for all my kids. But Brian put me through the test earlier and I’m used to it.”
Strong emotions and volatile anxiety, and maybe a little expectations, would have been in place no matter which venue hosted Deegan’s first podium, but this came in what many consider to be the marquee event in Supercross. With more than 50 years of history and as the kickoff to the famed Daytona Bike Week, this race is like NASCAR’s Daytona 500, which was run on this same ground three weeks ago.
The challenge of the track, the cheers when he was introduced to the crowd and the challenges of this Ricky Carmichael designed track added to the sense of accomplishment.
“This track is not an easy one,” Haiden said. “You’ve got to be man to ride this track. I didn’t get the greatest start, but I was able to make my way up to third. And it’s a tough track.
“I was riding with good intensity. I felt great and I was able to push through. At the end, the crowd’s amazing. It’s crazy. The crowd’s going wild the whole time. When I finished that race adrenaline was going, I was super happy.”