Daytona International Speedway saw history being made the night of Saturday July 7th during the annual Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400. The number 51 Rick Ware Racing of driver Ray Black, Jr. introduced the first female tire changer duo ever in NASCAR. Although there have been female over-the-wall pit crew members before, there have never been two on the same team who were tire changers. Another first that the team set for NASCAR is that one of those young ladies was also African-American.
NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Pays Off Again
NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program has been working to bring the sport to a whole new audience and a whole new group of participants, both drivers and crew members. There are drivers such as Daniel Suárez, Bubba Wallace and Kaz Grala. There are also some promising young female drivers who may make it to the national scene soon through the program.
The Drive for Diversity Program also looks for talent supporting drivers as well. A number of teams employ young female engineers and “back office personnel.” The program has also been grooming recent college graduates who were athletes. This has brought the sport’s first full-time African-American over-the-wall pit crew members. It’s also brought the first female tire changer. This weekend it gave Ray Black Jr.’s team the first African-American tire changer and the sport’s first female tire changer duo.
Meet the Makers of History
Breanna O’Leary was one of the first women from the NASCAR program to make it to the over-the-wall group on a pit crew when she started as the rear tire changer on the Rick Ware Racing Number 51 team. Although Breanna’s presence on pit road is by no means normal, it isn’t record-setting.
However, when you add brand new front tire changer and Drive for Diversity success story Brehanna Daniels to the over-the-wall team, history starts being written. Brehanna may not be the first female member of an over-the-wall pit crew, but she is the first African-American woman over-the-wall pit crew member. O’Leary’s presence on the team adds another notation to the history books for the 2018 Daytona Firecracker 400 as the first modern-era NASCAR Cup race where two women pitted a car on the same team.
Daniels said she was nervous when the cars came down for their first stop because she didn’t want to mess things up with so many people in the stands, plus the TV cameras covering her performance. She does understand why there so much pressure on her, though. After sending driver Ray Black, Jr. on his way, Daniels celebrated with friends and fellow team members and said, “It feels great. It’s breaking down barriers, opening doors for other people who look like me.”
Both O’Leary and Daniels were introduced to NASCAR pit work in the Drive for Diversity program and show that the program is succeeding in bringing the sport beyond its main historical demographic of white men from the South. Up until this race, only five other women had ever pitted a car at the Cup level, and never two at the same time on the same team. Daniels was also trend-setting in that instead of the usual three to five years after beginning training and working as a member of a pit crew at the lower levels before moving up to the Cup level, she did it in just under two years.