Bubba Wallace won’t be the only Black racing pioneer at Pocono Raceway this weekend. While Wallace will be driving car No. 43 made famous by the legendary Richard Petty in the Pocono 350, front tire changer Brehanna Daniels will in the pit doing her best to help Jimmy Means Racing team capture a win in the Xfinity Series Pocono Green 225 recycled by J.P. Mascaro & Sons.
“I’m looking forward to being there,” said Daniels, a 26-year-old from Virginia Beach, Virginia. A former basketball player at Norfolk State University, she holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and graduated cum laude.
“I know [because on] that track, the tires are going to be really, really hot,” Daniels said.”It’s one of those short tracks [and drivers have to make a lot of] turns. I have to make sure I have my fire proof gloves on. The tires in the front are really, really hot. The ones in the back aren’t that hot.”
Daniels made history in 2019 by becoming the first African-American woman to work in a pit crew during the Daytona 500 race at Daytona International Speedway in Florida. Along with her roommate-teammate, Breanna O’Leary, they became the first two women (on the same team) along pit row in the Daytona 500 race.
How Daniels became involved with handling the tires on the No. 52 Chevrolet Camaro SS driven by J. J. Yeley and Kody Vanderwal is interesting. She was preparing for a career playing basketball overseas when an NSU employee told her NASCAR was coming to the school for tryouts. She beat out two football players and a track athlete in being selected for the national tryouts.
A good showing at the national tryout enabled her to join the NASCAR Drive for Diversity initiative. There are several tracks in the NASCAR Drive for Diversity such as the pit crew development program, which recruits former athletes to the sport.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series is one level below the top Cup Series. Daniels is hoping to latch on to a Truck Series team soon.
“I realize that I’m a pioneer in the sport,” said Daniels, who got her initiation in 2017 at an ARCA race in Nashville, Tennessee. “I take that very seriously. I know there are others who are watching me and may be inspired to one day be where I am.”
The 5-foot-5 pit crew member, who has a twin brother named Brehon, enjoys writing and is an aspiring actress. Recently, she was invited to participate on the “Titan Games,” a show on NBC hosted and executive produced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Daniels is also proud to stand in support of Wallace, whose campaign to rid NASCAR of the Confederate flag has been both successful and controversial.
On Sunday, a rope shaped like a noose was found in Wallace’s car stall at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Wallace is NASCAR’s only Black driver.
NASCAR came out strongly against the incident and vowed to find the person responsible. The sanctioning body called in the FBI, whose investigation found on Tuesday that the rope had been hanging at the site since October and thus the incident was not a hate crime.
U.S. Attorney Jay Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. said the investigation determined “nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned” to that same stall. NASCAR said it was the lone garage stall with a pull down rope that resembled a noose.
NASCAR has defended its reaction and insisted it would call the FBI again. A defiant Wallace says there is no confusion, as the rope had been fashioned into a noose.
“I wanted to make sure this wasn’t just a knot,” Wallace said on CNN. “It was a noose. Whether it was tied in 2019 ... it is a noose.”
Wallace, a 26-year-old from Mobile, Alabama, never saw the rope. He said NASCAR President Steve Phelps came to see him Sunday night at the track with “tears running down his face.”
Even after the FBI concluded that it was not a hate crime, Wallace remains angry at what he perceives as constant tests of his character. He holds no ill-will toward NASCAR.
“I stand behind Steve and I stand behind NASCAR,” he said. “NASCAR was worried about Talladega. We had that one circled on the radar with everything going on.”
NASCAR opened the Talladega gates to 5,000 fans, its highest number so far during the coronavirus pandemic. Competitive racing resumed on May 17 at Darlington, South Carolina. Fans will not be a problem at Pocono Raceway because no one will be admitted to view the race in Long Pond.
The incidents involving Wallace have galvanized NASCAR.
NASCAR assigned security to Wallace at the track. The FBI sent 15 agents to Talladega for Monday’s rescheduled race at the same time the industry rallied around Wallace. In an unprecedented show of solidarity, every team member on pit road lined up behind him during the national anthem.
“We’re a family,” Daniels said. “We stand together. What Bubba has gone through affects us all.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.