You hear that sound? It’s the crackling of glass from the shattered glass ceilings.
Thanks to Brehanna Daniels, breakout athlete in the world of NASCAR, diversity screeches to the forefront on Pit Road. Rivaling the fast cars on the race track, Daniels determination, passion and pure grit excelled her to a seat at the table in a white, all-boys-club.
The Virginia native made history as the first African-American woman to pit a vehicle in a national NASCAR series race. She became the first African-American female to go over the wall in a national racing series. From Norfolk State to NASCAR, Daniels worked with the sport’s Drive for Diversity program, which encourages women and minorities to get involved in the motorpsport. Other notable alums include Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr.- the first full-time African-American driver in the Cup Series in over 40 years and football athletes turned pit crew members.
At just 24 years old, Daniels- who’s already a respected tire changer, who placed top 10 in the National Drive for Diversity Pit Crew Combine, became the first African American woman to pit a vehicle in both the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series in 2017. Now, she’s using her inspirational story to empower others across the finish line.
The Source caught up with Daniels at the Daytona 500 where she talked about her journey, industry challenges and advice to young women who may want to follow her footsteps. – Angela Wilson
What inspired you to get involved with NASCAR’s D4D program?
The way I joined NASCAR’s D4D program was pretty much at random. It was literally the end of the semester and basketball season was over. I wasn’t really doing anything at that time besides my internship. I was the video girl for most of the teams at our school – mens basketball, softball, baseball, etc… I was eating on campus at Chick-fil-a and I got a tap on my shoulder from a lady in athletics. She told me that the NASCAR pit crew was going to be coming to our school on Wednesday for a try-out. It was Monday at the time. And I was like “The NASCAR pit crew, what is that??” She showed me a video of a pit stop and I was like “dang, that was fast!” Like, I honestly had no knowledge about NASCAR in any way shape or form. I just knew that they drive really really fast. I ended up going out to the tryout on Wednesday that was held in our gymnasium. I was expecting to see a car in there because I saw a car in that video.
Phil Horton (my coach now) hosted the tryout. He put all of us through a really tough obstacle course that literally felt like an NBA or NFL combine. We were all dying – some, more than others. I was the only girl at the try-out and I kicked those guys butts and did a really good job. Coach mentioned that if we did good in that combine we would invited back to the national NASCAR drive for diversity pit crew combine that they held in Charlotte two years ago. I ended up getting that call back about a few weeks later. I placed in the top 10 in the national combine which landed me a spot to be able to train to be a professional tire changer.
What did you learn new about yourself since starting your pit crew career?
This isn’t really new, but I learned that I am a very strong and patient person. This sport can really beat you down to the ground, mentally and physically if you let it. I’ve always been a strong person though so that really isn’t a surprise.
Do you feel Nascar’s audience and fan base will now include more African Americans and other minority groups due to diversity? Why or why not?
I feel like NASCAR’s audience and fan base will include more African Americans and other minorities with time. I don’t think it’s going to happen right away. They will definitely feel more accepted once they see others joining the sport that aren’t always caucasian males. I can’t wait until someone is able to mention the word NASCAR and people will see it as multiple faces and different ethnicities and not just one specific one. That would be a beautiful thing.
As a trailblazer, the first African American female tire changer, do you feel any pressure to perform a certain way?
Not really. I just work very hard and try to do my job to the best of my ability. Eyes are always watching, and of course, I have to prove myself.
What was the biggest challenge you had to endure to get to where you are now?
The biggest challenge I had to endure to get to where I am now is being the very first African American female tire changer in NASCAR. That just comes with a lot. People really pay attention to me. Some people don’t take me seriously. I have to work ten times harder than the next guy to even have a shot. I almost have to be perfect every single time. Every practice is basically a try-out for me. I’m nobodies favorite. I work hard for every job I get in this sport. Everything I get I literally worked for. And of course, some people have a lot to say about this change happening in NASCAR. Some people aren’t happy to see me here. Some people are very happy to see me here. Through it all, I always stay strong and remember who I’m doing it for. My mom is my rock and she helps keep me going. Whenever I feel like giving up, I always think of her. I miss her so much.
What encouraging words would you give a young black girl who’s thinking about pursuing a career in a white male dominated field?
Always work hard no matter what. Go into the sport with an open mind. You can do anything you put your mind to. Women can do anything a man can do. And as long as you work hard, anything is possible for you. Just do you babygirl!
What’s the craziest story from the pit crew you’ve experienced? Any close calls? Injuries?
My craziest experience was when I was doing a pit stop and I slipped and fell in a puddle of gasoline while I was running around the car. That stuff is very slippery. That could have ended up really bad. I’ve also almost got hit by cars a few times. My adrenaline is always up when it happens. I barely get nervous when that does happen. I’m just like “Damn. I really almost just got hit. Wow!”
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In about 10 years I’d like to be able to look back at all the accomplishments and obstacles and barriers that I’ve knocked down and overcome on all levels in NASCAR. I also see myself being an actress and a host or some kind of motivational speaker. I’ve always had a passion for the entertainment industry since a very young age. I love to make funny videos on the side – you can find them on my social media accounts.
Follow Brehanna on Instagram.
Happy International Women’s Day!