NASCAR is a sport commonly thought of as a man’s sport filled with drunken fans and loud stadiums. Over the years women have proved their place on the track, but few have had the opportunity in the crews.
In 2013, Christmas Abbott became the first full-time female member of a NASCAR pit crew. Abbott, described as a 5’3” spitfire from Lynchburg, Virginia, made many people question what they thought a pit crew should be. She was changing two tires weighing 60 pounds each in a total of 12 seconds. Prior to working with the Waltrip Racing crew, she worked in a crew in the Camping World Truck Series where she gained the experience of changing tires for female driver Jennifer Jo Cobb. Now there are a few more women who are making their mark in NASCAR
Brehanna Daniels became the first African-American woman pit crew member in 2017. Daniels started her NASCAR career right out of college thanks to NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program. In 2016, she was one of ten selected from around the country to join, alongside Breanna O’Leary. Daniels became the first African American woman to go over the wall in a national racing series in ARCA’s race at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee. She became a tire changer for ARCA driver Thad Moffit at Toledo Speedway in Ohio, pitted in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series for Cody Ware, and pitted in the Xfinity Series for Mike Harmon. The 29-year-old has definitely made her mark in NASCAR alongside others such as Breanna O’Leary and Dalanda Ouendendo.
Dalanda Ouendeno joined Daniels on pit road for the 2021 season-opening Cup race, marking the first time two African-American women changed tires for a team in the Daytona 500. Ouendeno, an immigrant from France and star soccer player at the University of Miami, had never changed a tire in 2019. Thanks to the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program, she found a calling that was not on her radar. Now a pit crew member at the highest level of American stock car racing, she’s inspiring other young Black girls to see themselves in motorsports too.
Another woman making waves in NASCAR has been Breanna O’Leary. O’Leary was also introduced to NASCAR thanks to their Drive for Diversity program, where she met Daniels. O’Leary, a former softball player at Alcorn State, was just what Phil Horton, the pit crew coach for the program and director of athletic performance for Rev Racing, was looking for. After the initial combine at Alcorn State, O’Leary was invited to Charlotte, North Carolina to participate in a national combine with 20 candidates and afterwards was selected to officially become a pit crew member. Three years after her time with the Drive for Diversity program, in 2019, O’Leary was suited up for the Daytona 500.
Daniels and O’Leary made history as the first women to pit a car in the prestigious season-opening Daytona 500. The two met during the Drive for Diversity program and became roommates and friends who constantly push each other to perform better. Both were collegiate athletes who found a way to keep their competitiveness spirit going in an even more challenging environment.
These women are constant reminders that you can do whatever you set your mind to even if there are challenges in the way. In an interview with ESPN, Daniels said “All the women out there, we can really do anything we put our minds to no matter what anybody else has to say. As long as you believe in yourself, you can do anything.” So next time you want to support women in the industry, don’t overlook NASCAR.