Brehanna Michelle Daniels made national headlines in 2017 when she made history as the first African-American female to go over the wall in a national racing series, as the rear tire changer. In 2018 she became the first African-American female to work for a pit crew in NASCAR’s prestigious Cup series.
Brehanna was born in the US on Jan. 26, 1994 with her twin brother to Kimberly and Luxley Daniels. She is very proud of her Guyanese-heritage and acknowledges Georgetown, Guyana as her homeland on her Facebook profile.
Brehanna was only 4-years-old when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Kimberly Daniels died when Brehanna’s freshman year of high school.
“I was real close to my mom, ”Brehanna told the Charlotteville Observer. “You won’t know how that feels until it happens. People say, ‘I understand.’ It’s like, ‘No. You don’t. My mom always said, when I was growing up, that I would be somebody special in the world.”
Brehanna said the death of her mother spurred her on to excel. She channeled her grief into basketball at Salem High School in Virginia Beach and earned the interest of colleges. A 5-foot-4 guard, she spent a year playing on scholarship at a Nebraska community college but felt she didn’t fit in. Then she transferred to Louisburg College in North Carolina, but never felt settled there, either. She finally found her place as a junior, back where she started — at Norfolk State University, less than a 20-minute drive from her old high school — and averaged 13.9 points per game her senior year at the Division I school.
In April 2016, a month before she would graduate, Brehanna was eating lunch on campus when Tiffany Sykes (then the NCAA eligibility specialist for Norfolk State’s athletics department) tapped her on the shoulder and told her the NASCAR Drive for Diversity pit crew development program was holding a tryout at the school in two days, and that Daniels should try out.
“I looked at her, like, ‘NASCAR? What are you telling me this for?’” Brehanna recalls. “‘Who said I liked NASCAR?’”
Sykes was responsible for making the arrangements with the NASCAR program, which recruits multicultural and female college athletes and tries to develop them into tire changers, tire carriers, and jackmen. But she wasn’t having much luck convincing students at the historically black university to give a historically white (and historically male-dominated) sport a shot. But when Daniels woke up two mornings later, she says, “Something told me, ‘You have to go to this tryout.’”
Brehanna was the only female student out of the eight who showed up, and she aced Drive for Diversity pit crew coach Phil Horton’s test. Three weeks later, Brehanna was at the Drive for Diversity program’s first-ever national combine in Concord, along with 17 other athletes. Of those, seven men and two women — Brehanna Daniels and Breanna O’Leary — made the cut and were invited to spend the next year receiving expert pit-crew member training at Concord’s Rev Racing. The goal: full-time employment with NASCAR national series race teams.
On April 8, 2017, at an ARCA event in Tennessee, Brehanna became the first African-American female to go over the wall in a national racing series, as the rear tire changer for Dale Shearer. Less than two months later, at a Camping World Truck Series race at Dover International Speedway, she became the first African-American woman to pit a vehicle in a national NASCAR series race, as a tire changer for Cody Ware. The next day, she broke another barrier when she leveled up to an Xfinity Series event and changed tires for Mike Harmon.
Brehanna’s biggest break came this past July 7, when she became the first African-American woman to work a pit crew in NASCAR’s prestigious Cup series (as well as half of the first female duo — along with O’Leary, now her roommate — to be on the same pit crew in a Cup race), for Ray Black Jr. at the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona Beach.
Brehanna wanted to be an actress when she was younger and she appeared in a few commercials. In college, she says being a scholarship athlete made it impossible for her to study drama and theater. Instead, she majored in Mass Communications because “that was the closest thing” that might set her on a path to acting.
Now at 25, Brehanna is a featured competitor on Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s new reality competition series, “The Titan Games,” which premieres on January 3rd on NBC.
Brehanna says she knows exactly what her mother would have to say about all this. “Baby girl, you’re doin’ it.’ She would say, ‘I always knew you’d be somebody special — very special — in the world, and you’re about to be on TV! You always wanted to be on TV!”
“I know my mom’s looking down on me from heaven. She’s looking down, and she’s going, ‘Girl, you just keep doing you.’”
Brehanna is very close to her father whom she credits, along with her late mother, for helping her to be confident and teaching her how to handle difficult situations. This is also evident in a father’s day post that she made to her Twitter account.
Brehanna continues to shatter stereotypes. During an interview with the Today show, her advice to girls is:
Don’t think about the naysayers or what anybody negative has to say. If you have it in your heart to do something, just go ahead and do that.
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