Every year February rolls around, and people are charged with celebrating the achievements of Black people. Black History Month was created in 1926 in the United States, when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week”. Years later, African Americans have accomplished more than their ancestors could have imagined, and far more than 28 or 29 days worth of celebrating in the shortest month of the year. We were only taught a fraction of Black people’s achievements in history class with the focus being placed on prominent African American historical figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Malcolm X. In an effort to spotlight more of the work being done by gifted Blacks everywhere, we will spotlight one person each week throughout the month of February. This week is dedicated to Brehanna Daniels, who is the first African American woman to become a NASCAR pit crew member.
Brehanna Daniels is the 27 year old woman who defied the odds of NASCAR racing by joining a pit crew in 2016. Daniels had no aspirations of working with NASCAR, and actually never intentionally watched the sport. However, with the assistance of her college basketball team’s play-by-play announcer who suggested she meet with a group of recruiters from NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Pit Crew Development program, she landed an opportunity to try out for a position on the fastest team in sports – the pit crew. Daniels went for it, and it changed her life and Black history as we know it.
Daniels was a skilled 5’5″ walk-on combo guard at Norfolk State who believed she would play professional basketball in Europe one day. Someone else saw something in her that she had not seen for herself, and that would be changing and rotating tires for NASCAR drivers in 16 seconds or less.
Daniels takes to Twitter to give herself a pat on the back for almost five year long career as pit crew member for the stock car racing company. Since the organization’s inception in 1949, 119 women have qualified for and started a race in one of NASCAR’s touring series, including 16 at the premier level. There have been nearly 3,000 NASCAR racers at the Cup level since the sport was created. The number of women in a pit crew is even more uncommon. While NASCAR estimates that 40 percent of their current fan base is of the female population, it wasn’t until 2013 that the sport saw its first woman in the pit. These numbers could seem discouraging to a Black woman with no previous exposure to the sport, but not for Daniels.
Brehanna was the only woman who showed up for pit crew tryouts and nailed it. She was one of 10 selected from around the country to join the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Crew Member Development program.
Daniels told Glamour magazine, “I remember one of the first times I reported over to a team, I went over to the crew chief and I said, ‘Hey my name is Brehanna Daniels and I’ll be your rear changer for the day.’ And he was like ‘You’re changing my tires?’ It was really, really tough in the beginning,” she says. “At first I think a lot of people were like, She’s not doing it for real; she’s just here for show. But obviously I got sent to the track to do my job, and I can do it well; otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten here.”
The young fearless leader lost her mom to breast cancer in high school. Whenever she feels a moment of hopelessness, Daniels thinks back to her mom’s battle with cancer and how hard she fought.
“Whenever I’m going through something and I think about giving up, I always think about her. She fought hard. I can do that too,” Daniels tells Glamour. “So I don’t really worry about what people have to say—if anything, I just use it as motivation.”
Though she is one of the few women in the sport, Daniels hopes to encourage more young Black women to join NASCAR on the tracks and in the pits. Brehanna continues to share her journey on social media, and has quickly become a beacon of light and encouragement for countless young Black girls to follow. Brehanna Daniels has already forged a legacy in yet another field that was not created for Black people, yet she is proving that Black women can do anything!
Happy Black History Month!