NASCAR’s first Black woman pit crew member inspiring others

CHARLOTTE — She’s the first Black woman pit crew member in NASCAR history and Brehanna Daniels is already forging a path for the next generation.

NASCAR has a long history in the Carolinas, but it wasn’t until 2017 that Daniels became a pit crew member.

Daniels was a basketball player at Norfolk State University when NASCAR’s long-standing Drive for Diversity program held a combine there. The program provides training and opportunities to talented people to hopefully develop them into professional drivers and pit crew members.

She was discovered by former NASCAR pit crew coach Phil Horton, who’s been an athletic trainer for decades. Currently, he’s director of athletic performance at Concord’s Rev Racing.

“I said, ‘Hey, we could use you in NASCAR if you’re willing to put three or four years of commitment to come be a tire changer,’” Horton said.

Daniels would eventually become the first Black woman to make it to NASCAR’s top-level Cup Series.

“I wake up random days and I’m like, dang, I’m really the first,” Daniels said. “And it happened in 2017, so it really took that long, and who would have thought it would be me, because I sure didn’t think it would be me.”

Horton said in the 15 years he’s been involved with training, only 12 women have tried it and about five were successful.

“Moving them along to the top level, it’s a struggle, it’s tough,” Horton said. “It’s truly a man’s game, so it’s going to take a special individual to actually make that happen.”

Some say being a person of color in motorsports is even more of a struggle. But NASCAR has been committed since the early 2000s to change that, investing millions of dollars to expand opportunities to all for a career in the sport.

But this year, the organization has faced increased backlash for those efforts and accusations by law firms of bias against white men.

“You know sometimes people will just, even me being a woman, they’ll be like, you can just read people, ‘What’s she doing here? She’s got no business here,’” Daniels said. “And then of course, later on, I’m a Black woman, it’s like then there’s that. But, like I said, I just try to do everything to the best of my ability. I do my part.”

This year, Daniels hopes her story includes a comeback.

In 2022 she tore her ACL playing basketball — a painful injury that means rebuilding at the lower Xfinity and Truck Series levels.

“The goal would be to make it back to Cup, but I feel like nowadays the opportunities are limited,” Daniels said.

In the meantime, Horton says Daniels is inspiring other Black women to pursue something they may never have considered for a career.

“This is what I am, this is what I do, who wants to follow me, and that’s where we’re at right now,” Daniels said. “Who wants to be the 2nd, the 3rd, and the 4th?

“The more I started making noise in this sport when people started learning about me, I started getting pictures in the mail, DMs from parents sending me pictures of their little girls sitting in front of a race car. ‘Look at my daughter trying to be like you.’ Just reading things like that is truly heartwarming.”

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Jonathan Lowe

Jonathan Lowe, wsoctv.com

Jonathan is a reporter for WSOC-TV.