The New Shade of NASCAR: Introducing Brehanna Daniels

With a wrench in hand to remove the tire lug nuts, Brehanna Daniels quickly uses the wrench to expel the lug nuts in record time in the pits, as a NASCAR pit crew member. But, that is usually not what first catches the attention of onlookers as they look at Daniels. Daniels complexion a smooth, rich brown makes her stand out among the faces of the NASCAR pit crew as she is the first Black female tire changer in NASCAR history.

Daniels is not your average pit crew member. The 5’5 NASCAR pit crew member is the first African-American female tire changer in NASCAR’s literature.

Though she has not yet reached the plight of achieving her ultimate goal. “With NASCAR, I want to make it to the Cup level, the very, very top level,” said Daniels.

Daniels has no intentions of becoming a NASCAR driver as some may think. NASCAR is not where this young woman plans to stop. She also had career goals of being an actress, which is something she always wanted to do since she was a little girl. But for now, NASCAR is the main priority as Daniels who currently resides in Charlotte has dedicated a vast majority of her time to train to become one of the best in the pits.

The hard work leading up to a race does not come easy but Daniels acknowledges that her years of basketball training helped to prepare her for this moment. Daniels continues to train about three days a week on site and completes workouts every day. On Mondays, Daniels trains at Rev Racing, and Tuesdays and Wednesdays she trains at Xcalibur Pit School. With constant cardio and weight room sessions Daniels has proven she has the discipline and dedication needed to succeed in the sport.

The remarkable feat of being the sole Black woman tire changer for NASCAR is not something that 23-year-old Daniels had originally planned on as her career after college.

“I’ve basically been playing basketball all my life and you know that’s nowhere close near NASCAR,” said Daniels. “I played basketball my four years of college.”

Brehanna Daniels played guard at Norfolk State University for the women’s basketball team.

If anything most that knew her probably thought that much like the Virginia Beach native herself, that after school Daniels would be playing basketball overseas. Daniels attended three different colleges during her collegiate basketball career. She started off at McCook Community College in McCook, Nebraska her freshman year then transferred to Louisburg College her sophomore year in North Carolina, where she graduated from and received her Associate’s degree in Arts. For her sophomore season, she then attended Norfolk State University for her final two years and graduated Cum Laude with a 3.3 GPA and her Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications.

Daniels graduating from NSU.

“Right after basketball season there was nothing to do, but then the opportunity arose,” said Daniels. “I was literally eating a Chick-fil-A on our campus and Tiffani Sykes our old announcer at NSU came and tapped me on my shoulder and said hey Brehanna.”

Daniels has always loved basketball.If anything this is the sport that all who knew her thought she is involved in after college.

Daniels at first described her apprehensiveness. Skyes told Daniels how NASCAR was visiting NSU as a part of their commitment to diversity in a couple days to search for potential members for their pit crews.

“I think you should try out,” said Sykes.”I think you’d do really good I know your work ethic and you work hard at everything you do. So why not give it a shot?” said Skyes.

Daniels debated the thought in her mind eventually agreeing to tryout for the pit crew team.

“I ended up being the only girl trying out and the rest of the guys were football players and one guy that was on the track team,” said Daniels.

Coach Phil Horton presided over the tryout where about 20 hopefuls gave their all.

Horton told Daniels, “If you do good enough today you’ll be good enough to be invited to the national NASCAR pit crew combine that is held in Charlotte,” said Horton to Daniels.

The combine was held last May, where invitees were evaluated on their speed, agility, strength and footwork, pretty similar to what coaches look for at the annual NFL combine. To further speak to the significance of Daniels being invited to the combine, Daniels was one of just six female athletes who earned invitations to compete in the first-ever national NASCAR Drive For Diversity® (D4D) Crew Member Development Combine in Concord, NC. The overall goal of the combine is for participants to aim for full-time employment with a NASCAR national series race team.

“I’ve never felt intimidated because of my background. I played basketball all my life and when I was younger when I played on a team I was playing with guys. I just always feel like I can do whatever a guy can do so I’ve never felt intimated at all,” said Daniels.

Daniels ended up being a standout and doing great at the combine and was invited back to begin training for national combine tryout.

“The fact that when Coach Horton came in he was looking for athletes. He knew we already know what hard work is. You don’t really have to teach as much. We all didn’t know what to do with cars but that was all he really had to teach us,” said Daniels.

After being selected from the national combine, Daniels participated in a six-month training program.Today, Daniels works as an independent contractor, meaning that Daniels can work for any team that asks her. Daniels has not been assigned to a team yet, but she recently completed her first race the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) race in Nashville, Tenn. on April 8th.

Daniels with NASCAR
driver Darrell (Bubba) Wallace Jr.

“It felt good being at the track all the hard work I put into it since September that led up to that moment being at the track. I knew I already knew what I had to do,” said Daniels as she discussed the logistics of being a tire changer for a NASCAR driver after her first race.

To put it more into perspective for those who are not NASCAR fans basically, during a pit stop there are two tire changers, a front, and rear tire changer. Daniels is always in one of those roles.

“It’s very dangerous but it gets your adrenaline up,” said Daniels as she began talking about her career quickly running in front of the cars to change the tires.

Daniels said, “Time is really of the essence you have to pay attention to every small detail in the pit stop.”

Daniels discussed how much her world has changed. She has had young girls come up to her talking about how much they idolize her so she knows the impact of her everyday job.

While at an event Daniel got recognized by a young fan who shared with her, that she is her idol.

“When people see a face like mines, a face of color and a female at that, I feel like it will have other woman wanting to participate in the sport, to let them know it’s not just a man’s sport,” said Daniels.

Daniels has used her platform to encourage young girls to chase their wildest dreams.

Daniels said, “I believe that women can do anything a man could do and that [women] should be open to new opportunities and just never look past anything.”

Daniels knows that NASCAR can be a sport that can hard to get into if you did not initially grow up a fan of the sport.

But, to those apprehensive of NASCAR Daniels said, “I just hope people see this and want to try it, step out of there comfort zones and try things that they’re not used to and try something new.”

The most rewarding part of her job Daniels describes as all the work that’s done behind the scenes in preparation to get to the track. All the hard work keeps her away from her family most of the time but she still describes their support and how much it means to her.

“When I first talked about [working with NASCAR] with my dad, he kept telling me Brehanna you know this is really dangerous and was unsure about it. I knew he was just being protective of his daughter and just wanted the best for me. He didn’t want me to get hurt,” said Daniels recalling the moment she first told her dad who is an emergency room nurse.

Daniels lost her mother to breast cancer young, so it’s not hard to see why her father feared for her, as to not wanting to also lose his daughter.

A young Daniels pictured with her twin brother Brehon, and her late mother.

Daniels added, “At the same time he was accepting of it because he was like I know you’ll do a good job at it because you work hard at whatever you do. So he was and still is supportive, and so is the rest of my family and my hometown.”

Of her hometown, she said everyone was so shocked to hear that she was a part of NASCAR.

“People still can’t believe it to this day!” said Daniels.

Before starting NASCAR, Daniels says she knew nothing about the sport except that “the cars are really, really fast.”

Daniels described that she wasn’t really a NASCAR fan and that before she would only watch the sport if it just happened to come on a station she was watching.

Today, Daniels can spew everything a fan needs to know about NASCAR. To those who are considering a career in NASCAR Daniels advice simple.

“Be patient you can easily get frustrated with yourself. You may think I would never be good at this. But, literally, practice makes perfection. You keep working at it, you could do whatever you set your mind to, as long as you put your mind to it,” said Daniels.

Everyday Daniels feels like she is living out a fantasy.

“I’m just blessed to be part of a sport like this,” said Daniels.

Kelsey Nicole Nelson