During a NASCAR Truck Series race back in June, Brehanna Daniels made history at Dover International Speedway when became the first African-American woman to pit a car in one of NASCAR’s national series races. She was on pit road the next day in the XFINITY Series as well.

Daniels played basketball at Norfolk State before being recruited into NASCAR. The 23-year-old made it through the various levels of tryouts for pit crew members and is now the sport’s first African-American female tire changer.

For her first Truck Series race, she was the tire changer for Cody Ware’s No. 50 Chevrolet, which raced in the Bar Harbor 200. The next day in the XFINITY Series, she was part of the pit crew for Mike Harmon’s No. 74 Dodge.

The “Black Panther” movie opening isn’t the only black history happening in February. The world-renowned stock racing car franchise NASCAR is also expected to mark two historic firsts.

Brehanna Daniels  @Mindless_BMD , the first African-American woman tire changer to “pit” a vehicle in a national NASCAR race, will be in pit row as part of the Xfinity series. When Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr. gets behind the wheel of his Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 Chevrolet Sunday, for the Monster Energy Cup Series Daytona 500, he’ll make history too, as the first African-American to race in NASCAR’s top level race since Wendell Scott broke down racial barriers in 1969. He will also make history as the first African-American full-time driver in the top series since 1971.

“This is a pinnacle weekend for our sport; to know that I will be the first African-American to do this at this level [of NASCAR] in over four decades is incredible,” gushed Wallace, 24, who was born in Mobile, Alabama, but grew up mostly in Concord, North Carolina. “For it to take place during Black History Month, just makes it extra special. After 15 years of hard work, this is something that I’ll look back on and say ‘wow.’”

 Darrell Wallace Jr., driver of the #43 Click n’ Close Chevrolet, climbs into his car in the garage area during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 10, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida.Jerry Markland / Getty Images

Wallace and Daniels, who is also 24, joined the prestigious NASCAR ranks via its Drive For Diversity programs, an initiative aimed at recruiting and training diverse candidates. Both say they are up for the challenge their roles present and they hope it’ll help attract more people of color and women – both on and off the race course – to the sport, widely known for drawing a predominantly white, Southern male fan base.

“I’m so thankful to be a part of this program that celebrates diversity; to be in a position where other little brown girls, and all girls, can see me doing this and know that they can do anything they want in life,” said Daniels, a Virginia Beach, Virginia native. “We want to change the stereotype that NASCAR is just a white, ‘redneck sport.’ Who wants to think of just one race? We want everyone to see, multiple races and multiples faces in NASCAR.”

“There is only 1 driver from an African-American background at the top level of our sport..I am the 1,” he wrote. “You’re not gonna stop hearing about ‘the black driver’ for years. Embrace it, accept it and enjoy the journey.”
 Brehanna Daniels during the D4D Pit Crew Combine at NASCAR Research and Development Center on May 27, 2016 in Concord, North Carolina. Image: Brehanna Daniels During The D4D Pit Crew Combine At NASCAR Research And Development Center On May 27, 2016 In Concord, North Carolina. / NASCAR Via Getty Images

Douglas Smith, 53, of Union City, Georgia, has been a NASCAR fan for 20 years. He said he believes Wallace has a bright professional future ahead and just may be the star that can draw more black fans like him to the sport.

“It’s going to take a black guy that can win; I think he’s going to be the first to do it since Wendell Scott, if he’s got a good team,” said Smith, who also collects NASCAR memorabilia. “Everybody loves a winner. Now that I know that Darrell is driving Sunday, I’ll be watching.”

Wallace said he discovered his deep-seated “need for speed” while racing go-karts at the age of 9 — once he caught the stock racing bug, he never looked back. In 2010, he began competing in NASCAR’s regional and developmental series and won a string of races. He hit the big leagues in October 2017 when NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty announced that Wallace’s stint filling in for injured driver Aric Almirola would become a full-time position in 2018.

We want to change the stereotype that NASCAR is just a white, ‘redneck sport.’ Who wants to think of just one race? We want everyone to see, multiple races and multiples faces in NASCAR.” – Brehanna Daniels

We want to change the stereotype that NASCAR is just a white, ‘redneck sport.’ Who wants to think of just one race? We want everyone to see, multiple races and multiples faces in NASCAR.” – Brehanna Daniels

Though optimistic about his future in the sport, Wallace admitted his road to NASCAR fame has not been paved in gold. He has faced racism, including an incident in November, when a 42-year-old Wisconsin high school golf coach targeted Wallace in racist tweets. In one post, Brent Nottestad, who ended up resigning amid backlash, described Wallace’s picture with a white fan as, “like going to the zoo.”

 Wendell Scoot in 1954 in Danville, Virginia. Scott began his racing career driving homebuilt Modifieds. Scott was the first full-time African-American driver to run the NASCAR circuit, recording a Grand National win in 1963 at Jacksonville Speedway.RacingOne / ISC Archives Via Getty Images

Wallace brushes it, and other discriminatory instances, off as par for the racing course. “There’s always going to be haters,” he said.

Daniels said she’d heard of NASCAR – but rarely followed it – when the diversity program recruited her on the campus of Norfolk State University. She’d just wrapped up her senior year playing Division I basketball and was considering a professional basketball career overseas. Ultimately, she decided to give pit row a try

The audition was designed to simulate the physical demands of working in the pit, where speed, agility, strength, and footwork are all necessary to perform, be it as a tire changer or carrier, jack man or gas man. Phil Horton, Drive for Diversity’s director of athletic performance, realized several years ago that athletes, rather than mechanics, make the best pit crew members.

At NSU, Daniels was up against eight other student-athletes, all of whom were men, most of whom were football players. But being the lone woman in the pack only added fuel to her fire. Like most athletes, she thrives on pressure—and the adrenaline that comes it.

“We started off with a hundred jump ropes and then we moved to a cone drill,” she explained. “Then we moved to a ladder drill. The ladder was so tough that we got to practice before being timed for real. Then we did rollout abs, then pushups, and then we had to finish it off with a hundred sit-ups. The guy I was next to, I was destroying him. I had him beat since the jump rope. He had to take a break. I think he caught a cramp. I was like, ‘Yeah!'”

She managed to make it through the grueling training that consisted of six months of six-hour sessions, five days a week, so now, instead of a ball, her days are spent holding an “impact wrench.” She also lugs around 65-pound tires that must be put on in between 11.5 and 13 seconds, while race cars whiz by at lightning speeds. Her dad needs regular assurances that his baby girl is not in harm’s way on pit row. “He’s always like, ‘Now, Brehanna, be safe,’” she said.
 Brehanna Daniels during the D4D Pit Crew Combine at NASCAR Research and Development Center on May 27, 2016 in Concord, North Carolina. Blaine Ohigashi/NASCAR / NASCAR Via Getty Images

Daniels’ goal is only partly to cut her time and make history by becoming the first African-American woman in a NASCAR pit. She also wants the validation, not to mention the six-figure salary that can come with working the elite races in NASCAR’s Cup Series.

“To get to the very, very top series, it will take some time,” she said. “They say give it three or four years, but I’m trying to get there in under three. I’m impatient, as most athletes are.”

Coach Horton says Daniels is exactly where she should be in her quest.

“We selected her,” he said. “We don’t bring someone in if we feel they can’t do it. We expect her to make it to the Cup Series. She definitely has what it takes.”

Horton repeatedly pointed to Daniels’s drive, which her family continues to stoke. Her father, Luxley, a hospital supervisor and NSU alum, at first was leery of having his daughter working in such a risky environment, afraid she’d be hit by a runaway car while working the pit. According to Coach Horton, when taking into account all the racing series, at least one crew member is brushed or bumped by a car every week. “It’s no small feat to get the job done and survive,” he said. But once Luxley saw his daughter’s determination, he got fully behind her, and is thrilled that she’s on the verge of breaking an historic barrier.

Daniels’s mother, Kimberly, lost a battle with cancer nine years ago, but Daniels has no doubt she would have been supportive, too.

“My mother would be like, ‘Brehanna, what are you thinking doing this?'” Daniels said. “But she always believed in me. My mom motivates me. Whenever I think about giving up, I always think about her.”

“She’s starting in the ARCA series. That’s where everybody starts. Then she’ll move up to the Camping World Truck Series, which is a NASCAR series, and if she has the talent, will move up from there.”

When she’s not training, she loves to post quirky videos on her Instagram page and she enjoys Facetiming with her twin brother, Brehon. She intends to ride out her NASCAR career for many years, but she also dreams of becoming a professional actress one day too.“It’s a great thing to get more people of different ethnicities and different races involved in the sport, and to have everyone feel that they’re welcome,” she said. “It’s not just one face, it’s multiple faces.”

When asked what she would say to young girls who might think about following her into the pit, Daniels enthusiastically shared her personal philosophy. “You can do everything you put your mind to. It doesn’t matter what other people think. Seize every opportunity.”

“The other night I had a dream that I was working with Michael B. Jordan; it felt so real,” she said. “We were running through lines together; it was great!”