This Saturday through Tuesday has the potential to be the biggest four-day stretch in Brian Deegan’s long and storied career of racing. First, he’ll attempt to win his second consecutive Pro 2 championship in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series at Firebird Raceway in Arizona; after that, he’ll attempt to outfox Olsbergs MSE teammate Tanner Foust for the Global Rallycross Championship at the annual SEMA Show in Las Vegas.
In rallycross, Deegan is coming off of his best finish of the season, a second place run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last month. He’s got six points to make up on Foust to take the title, but the founder of the Metal Mulisha remains ever-focused and determined to bring home both championships. On Thursday morning, he spoke with us about last month’s run, what to expect this week, and how a close title battle is the best-case scenario for the sport:
You posted your best finish of the season at Las Vegas, running second. It was also one of your cleanest runs of the season. Unfortunately it was one spot short of scoring the $25,000 Discount Tire/America’s Tire Cup. Despite that, would you call it a successful weekend, or are you not satisfied?
I think it was good. You know, it wasn’t exactly the way I wanted it to work out, but racing against guys that are really consistent and always fast makes it tough. There are guys like Tanner (Foust)… there’s a pretty good chance he’s going to be in the battle for the front spot. So it makes it tough, you know? In the end, I left there in a good position. I would’ve liked to have won that race, it would’ve put me in a way better position, but I’m still in the fight. I look at the skill of the drivers and there are a lot of fast guys, a lot of big names, and a lot of years of experience of driving cars in that group. For me to be the guy with a shot at the title, in the end, yeah, it is good. I feel like I put myself in a good position.
You’ve talked about the importance of starting well before. There was a lot of beating around in the first turn, but you managed to get out of the corner cleanly. Did you see any of that in your rear view mirror, or were you well clear of it?
The start is so important. Everyone says that in racing, but this is rallycross—your final is a four-minute main event. It’s a sprint. And the courses have been really hard to pass on. My goal was to get the hole shot, to come out first, and if I could’ve done that, then it would’ve been a lot better of a scenario for me. But coming off the start—I usually get a good jump on everyone, I think, from my motocross background—and I came off the gate not as good as I usually do. I came off the gate pretty event with everyone. And coming down that start straight I saw Ken Block to my left, and I see him cut over, and all of a sudden I just went by him. I’m like “man, my car must have been faster,” but after watching the tape, he just cut over on Tanner and was trying to block Tanner. And Tanner just left it on, and he got into the first turn in the preferred line on the inside.
I drove it in as hard as I could, and I drove it in so hard that it ended up pushing me up the track. Tanner just stayed low, and I ended up sliding across the dirt, up the track, and allowing another guy to get under me. So I came out of that first chicane third, not where I wanted to be. And luckily the guy in second didn’t take the joker, and Tanner did, so I went on the joker right behind Tanner and locked onto him. I just kind of waited for a mistake. You know, it’s racing—four minutes doesn’t leave a lot of room for mistakes. It just ended up how it did.
We heard a lot about your $1 bet with Tanner Foust over the course of the Vegas weekend. How and when did that come about? Was it a Rockstar concept?
No, I just sat there and I was thinking, I’ve been in this situation a lot of times—coming down to the last few races, the pressure’s on, going for a title, whatever it is—and I watched Tanner, and I don’t know how many times he’s been in this position. So I can kinda see that he’s got a little nerves here and there. So it’s kind of funny just to mess with him, you know? So I said “I’ll bet you a dollar that I’m gonna beat you!” and it’s funny. In the end, it’s just kind of fun and games. But half the reason we race and try to win is because of egos, you know? It doesn’t matter how much money is on the line. I think it was kind of a funny deal. I told him, “I’m gonna win my dollar back come the final race!” So we’ll see how that all pans out.
You’re one of only two drivers eligible for the title coming into SEMA, alongside Foust. You’ve said before that your goal is just to win the race, but does having one rival to focus on affect the way you approach the title hunt?
Yeah, you know, in my head I really look at the last race and I played nice. I was on Tanner, and it was to the point where really we wanted Ford to win a championship. And now that that’s pretty much wrapped up, one of us is going to win it in the Ford, and it’s kind of free game now between me and Tanner, who’s going to win the championship. Now I’m not going to play so nice, you know? (laughs) It’s going to be whoever takes the win, and that’s always been my style. So going in I think, yeah, my eye’s on him for sure, where he’s going to be on the track. We’ll see how he plays it. And there are a lot of other fast guys that can mix it up and change up the whole game. So you kind of have to be on your toes for everyone, and not get taken out by the other guys, but hopefully it comes down to a first and second place battle between me and Tanner.
We’ve seen the SEMA layout in the past couple of weeks. It’s very different than a lot of the tracks we’ve already seen this season. What do you like about it compared to some of the other layouts on the NASCAR tracks?
The NASCAR tracks—the good thing about those facilities is they’re really nice and they have a built-in crowd. And it’s an awesome industry to be around for building the GRC and the rally series. The only problem is we kind of suffer on the track, because we have to make do with what’s there, which usually ends up being an oval track for us, really short and easy. It makes it so everyone can go fast on it. Going into Vegas and SEMA, they’ve built a specific track with a lot of dirt on it, which is my favorite. And it’s actually built just for rally, so we don’t have to tear down and build it again. I think the jump’s dirt this time instead of metal. It’s going to be cool—it’s good to see that the last race is a real, legit rallycross race.
Is there a special draw in being able to stage a race at a huge car show like SEMA to close out the season? How about in returning to Las Vegas?
I’ve been to Vegas so many times in the past couple of months, but going to SEMA—I go there every year anyway for my products, all the Metal Mulisha products and all the other stuff I do with the car industry. To actually be able to race there is like the ultimate. I don’t really think there’s any other race during the year that’s in a more prime location for sponsors and corporations to get to see the sport. I think it’s going to be a huge benefit for everyone. And I’m excited! It’s cool (that) all of my sponsors are going to be able to come over and just watch the race. I think it’s probably going to be one of the biggest events of the year strategically.
You only lose one point off of your total score thanks to the drop rule. Foust loses 11 points, which helps tighten up the title race to only a six point difference between you two. Do you think it helps the series to have a bona fide title battle going into the final race?
In any series, the best case scenario is to have it come down to the final race. And as a racer, a lot of racers like to have a big comfortable gap coming in, to win the championship. But that’s not what builds a series, and that’s not what builds fans. The whole reason we’re out there racing is to build this sport, and to get people attracted to it, so I think it’s the best case scenario. The only other best case scenario is to have a four way battle between us and (Travis) Pastrana and Block, and that’d probably be the ultimate scenario for the series. But me and Tanner have been the most consistent, and luckily they have that drop race deal, which helped me out a lot. And I think it’s good. It’s awesome.
And two days prior to this race, I’ll be in Phoenix racing for the off-road championship. I’m 13 points ahead in that. (I’m going for) back-to-back Pro 2 championships, which is the elite class in short course. So I’ll be going from a 900-horsepower, rear-wheel-drive off-road truck with 20 inches of travel over 100-foot jumps on Saturday, to racing Monday and Tuesday in a rally car. So it’s pretty diverse. It’s going to be a crazy four days!
- Chris Leone