Breaking barriers: Jump into NASCAR working out nicely for Brehanna Daniels
Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 15, 2021
SALISBURY — Brehanna Daniels is no stranger to flashy, super-fast vehicles, but she’s usually on the ground with a wrench in her hand, making sure they stay up to speed.
The NASCAR tire changer took a day in the driver’s seat herself at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College to get some expert instruction in piloting the new Can-Am three-wheel motorcycle she will use as an ambassador for the brand.
As the first Black female tire changer in NASCAR history, Daniels has been a fixture in national media, with appearances on “Good Morning America,” “The Today Show,” People Magazine and as the subject of a flattering segment on “Ellen,” where the talk show host expressed an interest in meeting her.
When she accepted an invitation from vehicle manufacturer Can-Am, Daniels sought out the experts at Rowan-Cabarrus to teach her to ride her vehicle properly. RCCC maintains a partnership with Can-Am On-Road to conduct rider training classes for its 3-wheel vehicles. Students receive a significant discount on classes endorsed by the North Carolina Motorcycle Safety Foundation, enjoy training on new vehicles provided by Can-Am On-Road, and are able to waive the road test requirement at the DMV after completing the course.
“We were delighted to welcome Brehanna Daniels to our campus for her training. Our partnership with Can-Am On-Road provides multiple benefits for students who want expert instruction to be safe riders and, as with any vehicle, there is no substitute for learning the correct techniques from the beginning,” said Dr. Carol S. Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.
At the Rowan-Cabarrus South Campus parking lot, Daniels donned her helmet and gloves and hopped aboard a gleaming, gold 2020 Can-Am Spyder F3 Limited. “I’m looking forward to riding this bad boy everywhere, putting it to everyday use, and inviting more people to be part of the Can-Am On-Road community and raising awareness of their beautiful vehicles,” she said.
Although Daniels currently lives in Charlotte and works as a tire changer in the NASCAR Cup Series for Rick Ware Racing and the Xfinity Series for Mike Harmon Racing, five years ago she was a college senior trying to figure out her future and had no knowledge at all of NASCAR.
“I played basketball for Norfolk State University in Virginia and was in the middle of workouts, getting ready for tryouts to play professionally,” she remembered. “I didn’t know anything about NASCAR. I might have run across it on TV for 10 seconds when I was looking for a football or basketball game to watch, and I was like, ‘People really enjoy driving in circles for a living?’ ”
Both her future and her attitude toward the sport changed when the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program held a scouting event on the Norfolk State campus and Daniels was encouraged to attend.
“I was the only female trying out, and I did a really good job and got invited back to the national combine. I was one of 10 people chosen to train as a professional pit crew member,” she said. “It still feels so random to go from knowing nothing about NASCAR to being a part of it.”
When she put down the basketball and picked up the impact wrench that would become what she calls her “bread and butter.” Daniels realized how well her athletic training had prepared her for the transition.
“There I am, sitting behind a practice wheel, thinking, ‘How am I going to learn this?’ There are five lug nuts, and it’s my job to get them on and off in a second. During training, my hands were so sore I had to put them in a sink full of ice every night,” she said. “But it all paid off, and being a point guard was great preparation. You have to be patient, poised and use quick hand speed. All of that came in handy, because I have to do this job correctly at all times. I can’t have a tire rolling down pit road.”
Daniels has been breaking barriers in the historically white, male-dominated NASCAR community, including becoming the first Black woman to join a pit crew for the Daytona 500 in 2019. Although she has faced scrutiny and doubters, she says NASCAR is working hard to create a more inclusive environment.
“It is definitely rewarding, the fact that I am breaking barriers. I love knowing that little girls and boys who look like me want to be a part of the sport now,” she said. “Parents send me videos and say, ‘My daughter wants to be like you.’ I did not set out to be part of NASCAR, but now it’s my role.”
Daniels is making her mark through determination and hard work. “Of course, I have felt the weight of it. But people have seen me at the track and they’re like, ‘Yeah, she’s doing this for real.’ ” she said. “I am a Black woman who is getting the job done. Nothing was handed to me. Everything I have, I earned. I’m just going to keep working as hard as I can and trying to be an inspiration.”