By LaShawn L. Hudson
When most people think about NASCAR, an image of a 20-something African American woman probably is not what comes to mind. Brehanna Daniels is working to change that. Unstoppable on and off the race track, the 25-year-old Concord resident is the first African American female tire changer for the stock car racing competition.
She says she has been both honored and humbled by the opportunity to make history and change people’s perceptions about NASCAR. “I’ve started to change the way people see me and think of me the longer I’ve been doing this, and the more experienced I become,” she explains.
In 2016, the former Norfolk State University basketball player was recruited to the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Pit Crew Program (D4D), an initiative aimed at recruiting more diverse candidates.
“At first, I felt a lot of pressure, being the first African American female tire changer for NASCAR,” says Daniels. “I wasn’t used to being in that type of environment. I didn’t know what people thought when they saw me; I didn’t want people to see me and think,‘She’s just a girl.’”
Since her first race in 2017, she says she has been focused on proving to the world that she is more than a girl dressed in a fire race suit, all while holding an “impact wrench,” of course.
“She has built a [positive] reputation; She’s a great leader and she’s known for putting in the extra work to succeed to the next level,” says Jusan Hamilton, who oversees NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program.
Before each racing competition, Daniels says she always takes a moment to pray. The rising star credits her faith in God and her guardian angel, her mother, for her fame and success.
“My number one hero is my mother, just seeing how she battled with breast cancer. She is the driving force to what I do each and every day,” she says.
Even though Daniels admits that she didn’t grow up watching NASCAR, she believes her years playing basketball (often with her twin brother, Brehon, by her side) helped her develop the hand-eye coordination, poise and focus that her NASCAR duties require. Like changing 50-pound tires within 12 to 14 seconds.
“It’s not like I have a timer on me during the race,” Daniels explains.”I try to listen to the sounds of when I taking off the lug nuts. I can hear when I’m hitting them. It’s a sound thing for me. When I’m going fast, it sounds fast.”
Earlier this year, Daniels got a step closer to her long-term dream of someday adding “professional actress” to her resume; she was one of 100,000 applicants tapped to flex her competitive muscles on NBC’s “The Titan Games,” a reality television competition series with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
“The producers for the show found me on Instagram,” she recalls. “It was an incredible experience working with DJ (Johnson). He’s a very cool guy. I am so thankful for the opportunity.”
When she’s not making history, Daniels says she enjoys writing in her journal, binge-watching episodes of Gabrielle Union’s “Being Mary Jane” television series and drinking tea. She says she has been enjoying building on her strengths, discovering her passions and writing her “own story,” the process that former First Lady Michelle Obama describes in her best-seller, “Becoming.”
Daniels says she hopes her historic honor will help her inspire other young women to tap into their God-given Black girl magic, and fearlessly go after their dreams.
“ I want girls to know that they can do anything they put their minds to,” she says. “Don’t listen to the naysayers. I am where I am today because of the man upstairs.”