CONCORD, N.C. – Grab the air gun. Jump the wall. Change two tires. Wait, car clears. Jump back over the wall. Racing against the clock is Brehanna Daniels’ professional life since she became the first African American woman to change tires in NASCAR’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Daniels, a former Norfolk State basketball standout, was the first black woman to go through NASCAR’s pit crew development program in its NASCAR Drive for Diversity effort to involve minorities in NASCAR. NASCAR Drive for Diversity was created in 2004 to help diversify the sport. Now, the program has helped one woman make history.
“I’m still shocked to this day, the fact I made history,” Daniels, 25, said. “I became the first to do something in 2017, that’s just two years ago. You would think that something like that has already happened but it hasn’t.”
Daniels was preparing for a career overseas, when a school employee introduced her to NASCAR.
“She was like ‘you know the NASCAR pit crew is coming to our school for a tryout, and I think you should try out.’ I was like ‘I don’t even watch NASCAR.’”
Daniels found herself at the tryout at 4 p.m. that day. “I walked in the gym and I was the only girl that tried out. There was four of us; two football players, a guy that ran track, all them were big, and then just little ol’ me.”
Daniels qualified and was selected for the national tryouts.
“God put me in this position for a reason. He knew I could handle the pressure and everything that comes with it,” Daniels said. “I’ve been through a lot in my life. I’ve been through hell and back, and there’s nothing I can’t do.”
NASCAR Drive for Diversity is an umbrella that houses a number of programs, like Rev Racing and the pit crew development program, which recruits former athletes to the sport.
According to the NCAA, less than 2 percent of college athletes continue in their sport at the professional level. But NASCAR’s pit crew development program has helped more than 50 athletes reach the pro level in a different way.
Phil Horton, director of athletic performance for Rev Racing, has coached Daniels and others in pit crew mechanics.
“At first we worked with mechanics,” he said. “But athletes performed better under pressure. We started recruiting athletes exclusively.”
Daniels credits her athletic past to her smooth transition into her new role.
“I had to have that quick hand speed. You have to be finessed, poised, calm, focused. You know? These are the same things I did as a point guard, so everything is tied in.”
Although Daniels is making history, she’s also inspiring the next generation of women.
“A little girl had dressed up like me for Halloween, she had the bandana on, she had a red one on, the fire suit. I said ‘she looks like me,’ but you know just seeing stuff like that is amazing, and I’d like to see NASCAR 10 years from now. Hopefully there is more progress being made in the sport, more diversity. I live for stuff like that.”
She believes she is changing NASCAR, and she’s doing it one tire at a time.
Athletes are recruited into the Pit Crew Development program where they learn what it takes to be in a NASCAR pit crew.
Phil Horton, Rev Racings director of athletic performance, recruits athletes to the program because he says they perform well under pressure.
A 2019 Pit Crew Development member works on her mechanics during practice as she aims for a career in NASCAR.
Teams arrive hours before to prepare for race day at Charlotte Motor Speedway.