The 27-year-old, who made history as NASCAR’s first Black woman pit crew member in 2016, continues her trailblazing path for women and people of color.
Brehanna Daniels has advice to young women who want to follow in her footsteps: “Never put yourself in a box. Always be open to new opportunities. If you’re going to do something, do something that will impact others for the better.”
On a Monday afternoon in April 2016, Brehanna Daniels was eating a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich in Norfolk State University’s cafeteria in Virginia when she felt a strong tap on her shoulder. The senior shooting guard on the women’s basketball team turned around to find Tiffani-Dawn Sykes, the university’s NCAA eligibility specialist at the time, presenting her with a life-changing opportunity.
She just didn’t know it yet.
“Girl, NASCAR?” Daniels, 27, remembered asking. “I don’t even watch NASCAR. What are you telling me this for?” she continued. “That shows you how much I wasn’t in tune with NASCAR.”
But after watching a video of a pit stop during a race, Daniels was in awe. She had just two days to make a decision: either attend pit crew tryouts or videotape a six-hour baseball game for her campus internship. Almost five years later, Daniels, who is of Guyanese and African American descent, is now the first Black woman pit crew member in NASCAR.
“Wednesday morning, I woke up,” Daniels told TODAY by phone. “God told me, ‘Brehanna, you have to go to this NASCAR tryout.’ I was like, ‘You know what? I don’t question that man upstairs.’”
In a matter of months, the Virginia Beach native went from dribbling a basketball to holding an impact wrench. Daniels’ new role entails, in her words, “controlled chaos” and a lot of responsibility, like changing tires and more in under 13 seconds as well as changing the face of the racing industry.
Trailblazing on the racetrack
The feeling of being “the first” or “the only one” isn’t new to Daniels. Growing up, she played on all-boys basketball teams, and when NASCAR hosted tryouts at Norfolk State, out of four students, she was the only woman. After a series of physical battery tests, she attended NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity National Combine in May.Brehanna Daniels, tire changer on the #52 Winn Dixie Chevrolet, during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 61st Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 17, 2019 in Daytona Beach, Fla.Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images file
According to Brandon Thompson, the vice president of diversity and inclusion at NASCAR, the Drive for Diversity Program was created in 2004 with a mission “to expose the athletic opportunities within NASCAR to women and minorities in order to increase or widen the pipeline for career opportunities.” The program has two parts: one devoted to driver development and the other to pit crew development.
Out of approximately 24 participants at the combine, six were women while the rest were men, and only half would make it into the new class. When Daniels got the call that she had been accepted, she began crying.
“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. It’s always rewarding to see your hard work pay off when you’re working toward something,” Daniels said. “That was my goal, to be one of the ones selected. I even had more motivation because during the national combine, one of the guys came up to me … and he was like, ‘Yeah, they say there’s no women that really make it in this.’”