“Tunnel vision” is how 26-year-old Brehanna Daniels describes her final 4 years working inside NASCAR as its first black girl tire changer.
When the circuit introduced final week that it will ban Accomplice flags from its racetracks, Daniels’ cellphone blew up. Calls and messages on Twitter started to fill her cellphone’s dwelling display, with followers and media members expressing their obvious newfound curiosity in racing. The flag’s ouster was a welcome gesture.
“I’m glad that NASCAR has decided to go in a different direction. It’s like, we’ve been with it for this long, we’re going to go without it now,” Daniels stated of the flag.
The icon has lengthy been current in Daniels’ peripheral, however she has discovered a technique to block it out through the years. The oppression it represents is an idea which, up till final week, she frequently ignored. In any case, she has a job to do. And it was a love of competitors, not politics, that drove her into the game.
“Everyone’s not going to be happy with your decision,” she stated. “Some people are going to be happy. Some people are going to be mad, but there is nothing wrong with changing.”
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Daniels’ story — a sense of battle between a love for her job and unease over the values cemented into her office — is one thing many black folks on this nation fend off and compartmentalize every day.
Her journey to changing into an intricate a part of a pit crew is thanks partially to an April 2016 NASCAR Driver and Variety Program Mix, the primary occasion of its form. On the time she was wrapping up her final semester at Norfolk State as some extent guard for the Spartans girls’s basketball staff. Whereas on a solo journey grabbing lunch, Daniels feels a faucet on her shoulder by a well-known face: Tiffany Sykes, Norfolk State’s NCAA eligibility specialist. Sykes needed to know if she might rely on Daniels to attend the NCAA’s Driver Variety Program in two days.
“I looked at her, like, ‘Girl, you said NASCAR?’” Daniels stated. “I never watched NASCAR a day in my life.”
Sykes pulled out her cellphone and navigated to a brief YouTube video of a pit cease that includes tire changers, tire carriers, and jackmen.
Daniels was immediately shook.
“I was like, ‘Dang that is tough. That’s dope.’ Whatever they just did was really, really fast.”
When Daniels confirmed up for the mix, she was 1 of eight college students picked to attend. She was the one girl. To this present day — apart from one member — all the mix individuals from Norfolk State are nonetheless members of a NASCAR pit crew.
When Could 2016 arrived, it was lastly time for Daniels to move to Charlotte. She was nervous, for apparent causes. It was the massive dance. Time to indicate off her talent.
However Daniels wasn’t simply dealing with any common jitters — it was the primary time she had ever picked up an influence wrench.
“I know this is going to sound weird, but I changed a race car tire before I changed a regular car tire,” Daniels stated.
Hours with a wrench, a jack and tire, had been adopted by an around-the-clock ice bathtub for her fingers, lasting till the subsequent morning’s dawn.
Day two: Issues received more durable, however on the conclusion of the 12-hour day — her fingers falling numb — Daniels discovered she had made the minimize.
“It’s a process, we want to see how athletic they are,” coach Phil Horton of what he’d been searching for from Daniels. “Can they understand the lingo? And if they can adapt to that, and we can see the interest, then we’ll choose them.”
Daniels would spend the subsequent six months in pit-crew coaching at Harmony’s Rev Racing, together with her first competitors coming on the amateur-level Nashville for Archer Collection.
Her debut introduced with it many curveballs.
Stepping onto the racetrack, sporting all black with solar shade protecting her eyes, Daniels was already on excessive alert. Not as a result of something went flawed. She simply needed to mix in. She knew her gender — and moreso, her pores and skin shade — would draw consideration. The undesirable form, the sort that calls one’s legitimacy into query. She didn’t wish to cope with that.
She was there to do her job, and that’s what she did.
“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘I hope people are not looking at me weird,’” Daniels stated. “Hopefully they aren’t trying to see what I’m doing here.”
At one level, she rapidly scurried off to the restroom to vary into her fireplace go well with, the place she stumbled upon a white girl doing her make-up. The girl stopped.
“Are you a driver?” she requested.
Daniels stated no — she can be on the monitor with the pit crew, she advised her, working as a tire changer.
“Oh my God,” stated the girl within the toilet. She ran over to provide Daniels an enormous hug.
“I was kind of surprised,” Daniels stated of the encounter.
Daniels has damaged tons of limitations altering tires for Mike Harmon, Dale Shearer, and Cody Ware, and lots of others on the nationwide NASCAR race sequence circuit. Final yr she turned the one of many first girls to pit a automotive within the extremely esteemed season-opening Daytona 500.
Daniels is now one among two black girls tire changers in NASCAR. Dalanda Ouendeno, her roommate, is the opposite. She credit the shift to her coaches — Horton, Matt Segal, and Rocko Williams — who made an effort to recruit athletes from HBCUs. Williams made historical past as the primary African-American to go over the wall for Hendrick Motorsports.
“I really thank God for this program,” Daniels stated.