Brehanna Daniels, First Black Female Tire Changer, Calls NASCAR ‘Very Inclusive’ for Women (Exclusive)

Daniels tells PEOPLE she wants to be an "example for other little Black girls who are wanting to join the sport"

<p>Dominik Bindl/Getty</p> Brehanna Daniels, first Black women in a NASCAR pit crew

Dominik Bindl/Getty

Brehanna Daniels, first Black women in a NASCAR pit crew

Brehanna Daniels, the first-ever Black woman in a NASCAR pit crew, says she's proud of the organization's effort to expand diversity.

"I love to see the growth, and I'm really super, super proud of NASCAR," Daniels, 30, tells PEOPLE. "They've definitely come a long way. Still coming a long way from when I first joined."

Daniels was a point guard on Norfolk University's basketball team in 2016 when NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program came to the school to recruit potential drivers and pit crew members during her senior year.

"Literally, I was sitting at the Chick-Fil-A on campus on a Monday when this woman, Tiffany Sykes, was like, 'Hey Brehanna, you know the NASCAR pit crew's coming here on Wednesday, and I think you should try out,' and I'm just looking at her like...I don't watch NASCAR," Daniels recalls.

"I will tell you, my NASCAR knowledge was zero. I didn't watch it, I did not even watch it. It was so bad that I didn't even know a pit crew existed."

But Daniels thinks the message from Sykes may have been more meaningful than just a simple suggestion.

"You know, God can send you as the messenger sometimes. Maybe God was like, you need to tell this young lady that these NASCAR people are going to be at the school. I think it was one of those things," she says.

Related: NASCAR Gets F1 Treatment with Full Speed Netflix Docuseries: Watch the Teaser Trailer (Exclusive)

Despite her lack of NASCAR knowledge, Daniels, who was also training to play professional basketball and maintaining a college internship, was a natural during her tryout.

"I was the only girl that tried out, and it was pretty much an obstacle course. It reminded me of an NBA or NFL combine, just with all the equipment that was laid out everywhere."

<p>Jared C. Tilton/Getty </p> Brehanna Daniels

Jared C. Tilton/Getty

Brehanna Daniels

And being the only girl didn't bother Daniels. "I have a twin brother, so obviously when we were growing up, there were a lot of times I was the only girl."

Daniels was even recruited by coaches to join her brother's school basketball team as a young girl. "His coach, Coach Lynn, was like, 'I know she'd be the only girl, but she can show up some of these guys,'" Daniels recalls.

Still, Daniels grappled with whether or not NASCAR was right for her.

"Before I got into the sport, I was a little nervous because, obviously, anybody that hears NASCAR or heard NASCAR back then, all you think of is Caucasian males," says Daniels.

"Then I was thinking, why would I want to join a sport where there's nobody out there that looks like me?"

Related: Frankie Muniz ‘Excited’ to Join NASCAR in Next Step of Racing Career: ‘Like Going to a New School’

But when she found out that she'd become the first Black woman on a NASCAR pit crew, Daniels says she was inspired by the opportunity.

"Once I found out that I was going to be the first Black woman, I'm like, wait. At this point, it's much bigger than me. Let me be that example. Let me go out there. Show the guys how it's done."

Daniels says she also wanted to "be that example for other little Black girls who are wanting to join the sport."

"I feel like it takes somebody like me to be in the position for other people too that look like me," she continues. "Other women just in general, to be like, hey, there's a woman out there doing it. I can do that as well. All it takes is that one example."

<p>Logan Riely/Getty</p> Brehanna Daniels, tire changer for SS Green Light Racing works in the pit area during qualifying for the Ruoff Mortgage 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 12, 2022

Logan Riely/Getty

Brehanna Daniels, tire changer for SS Green Light Racing works in the pit area during qualifying for the Ruoff Mortgage 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 12, 2022

And while NASCAR is still "definitely" made up of "predominantly white men," Daniels says she's "really proud" of the progress the sport has made in gender and racial inclusion.

"There's definitely been a shift, especially within the pit crew," Daniels says of NASCAR's diversity since she officially joined the pit crew in 2016.

"When you look up and down pit road, you see that diversity. It's still a work in progress, but shout out to Coach Phil Horton, Max Siegel, the Rev Racing and Drive for Diversity Program. They really make it their goal to be very inclusive and their mission to get that diversity in the sport."

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

Daniels says her favorite sunglasses brand, Pit Viper, is also a proponent of increased diversity in NASCAR.

"They really do their best when it comes to diversity as well. That's why I'm a huge fan and will forever be a huge fan and I stay with a pair of Pit Vipers on my face at the racetracks."

In 2019, Daniels became the first Black woman to pit in NASCAR's historic Daytona 500 race, and in 2020, she was recognized as the crew member of the year at the 2020 NASCAR Drive for Diversity Awards Ceremony.

Now, Daniels is helping other aspiring pit crew members of all genders and races make their dreams a reality with her e-book, How to Become a NASCAR Pit Crew Member.
“It helped so many people get their start,” she says.

And beyond making history, Daniels says her favorite aspect of life in NASCAR is interacting with fans, especially the kids. “I love to interact with the fans. Sometimes too if I see a little kid, I'll find a lug nut from the race and I'll give it to them on the side.”

For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on People.