A look at Brehanna Daniels’ journey to becoming NASCAR’s first Black woman tire changer

Ama Nunoo Feb 19, 2021 at 12:30pm

February 19, 2021 at 12:30 pm | Success Story, Women

Ama Nunoo

Ama Nunoo | Staff Writer

February 19, 2021 at 12:30 pm | Success Story, Women

Brehanna Daniels is the first black female NASCAR tire changer. Photo: BLAINE OHIGASHI/NASCAR

Brehanna Daniels is NASCAR’s first Black female in history to work the pit crew for a race, a feat she accomplished in 2017 after a friend from her athletics team told her to try out for a spot on the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Crew Member Development Program.

Daniels was never interested in cars racing, neither did she watch the sport. She played point guard on the women’s basketball team at Norfolk State University and enjoyed football but had never watched a race. It was in her final year at Norfolk that her friend pitched the ‘Drive for Diversity’ program to her.

“I was sitting in the cafeteria, mid-bite of my Chick-fil-A sandwich, when my friend from the school’s athletic department, Tiffany, tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Hey, NASCAR is holding tryouts for their pit crews on Wednesday, you should go,” Daniels, now 27, told PEOPLE. “I looked at her like, ‘Girl, I don’t even watch NASCAR.”

Although she knew not how the NASCAR world operated, she showed up for the pit crew trials, only to realize she was the only woman and Black one for that matter that came in. Out of the numbers that showed up, Daniels made it to the top 10 and was selected for the program that seeks to recruit and train minority and female race car drivers as well as pit crew members.

As a sports person, although the NASCAR turf was new to her, she fell in love with the competitiveness and the swift hand-eye coordination that is required to be a pit crew member and that won her over instantaneously.

The Virginia native has since that first encounter been on the Pit Road for four years and her skills have improved since then. “Before I started NASCAR, I was a little nervous about joining because of how I might be looked at, how I might be judged because I knew that there weren’t people here that look like me,” Daniels said. “Not only am I a woman, but I’m an African American woman.

“But you know, I’ve never put myself in a box, and I’ve always given myself the opportunity to be able to try new things. This is one of those new things I wanted to try, and it’s gotten me a long way.”

In 2019, Daniels made history again as the first woman to pit at Daytona 500 and the first African-American female to change tires at a national series. She can change two tires in under 15 seconds and that speed has positioned her in the predominantly white male sport.

Her biggest motivation is her mother whom she lost to breast cancer when she was in high school. “Whenever I’m going through something and I think about giving up, I always think about her. She fought hard. I can do that too,” Daniels said. “So, I don’t really worry about what people have to say—if anything, I just use it as motivation.”

Despite the intimidation she has faced over the years, she made her mark as the tire changer on the No. 51 Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series.

She has had to deal with sexist comments, especially when she first started. Many doubted she will last long on the tracks when she first began. Some drivers were even surprised when she introduced herself as their tire changer, but the many naysayers have rather given her the drive to keep pushing herself to achieve more than expected of her.  

Daniels walked away with the crew member award at the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Awards ceremony last year. She was honored for being an outstanding industry ambassador and poster girl for women of color who want a spot at NASCAR.

NASCAR has come under fire in recent times with issues on race. But Daniels said that contrary to what people may think, NASCAR is “very accepting of their Black employees” and they are making strides on the front of diversity and inclusion. One of such initiatives got Daniels into NASCAR.

The trailblazer is deeply involved in the NASCAR National Pit Crew Combine program through which she mentors and coaches aspiring athletes with an interest in joining the program.

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