In honor of Women's History Month, we are celebrating four influential and very inspiring women in the NASCAR racing world!
Toni Breidinger, Brehanna Daniels, Melissa Harville-Lebron and Milka Duno have positively impacted this male-dominated industry, while simultaneously opening doors for other women who are interested in participating in the sport. Keep reading to learn more about these incredibly fierce and driven women.
1. Toni Breidinger (1999-current)
California native and former model, Toni Breidinger is a professional stock car driver and the first Arab American female driver to compete at NASCAR.
The twenty-two year-old began racing go-karts at the age of nine with her twin sister. After continuing their fast and furious pursuit on a regular basis, their father noticed how much fun they were having and decided to purchase the twins karts of their own.
During this time, Toni's father, who is probably patting himself on the back daily for doing so, had no idea she would be knocking down barriers and making history in the racing world. However, she continued on this path, and in 2017, she and a teammate ran late model races throughout California.
Her talent, tenacity and relentlessness got her noticed as she moved up through the ranks of motorsport. On April 24, 2021, her track debut, and in honor of Arab Heritage Month, she partnered with Huda Beauty and drove a Huda Beauty-wrapped #02 Chevrolet SS race car at the General Tire 200 at Talladega Speedway.
Huda is really big on breaking barriers and female empowerment — and that's right up my alley. - Toni Breidinger
She now competes full-time for Venturini Motorsports in the ARCA Menards Series driving the #25 Toyota Camry. No, it is not a beauty-themed racing car, but it is definitely a beast.
2. Brehanna Daniels (1994-current)
Among one of the first black female NASCAR tire changers, Brehanna Daniels made history when she became part of the first female pit crew duo. The extremely cool thing about her story is that although she is a complete natural, Brehanna pretty much stumbled into this profession.
While attending college at Norfolk State University, the Virginia Beach native was having lunch when a friend told her that NASCAR was holding tryouts and suggested that she attend. At first, Brehanna thought it was a joke, considering she was never interested in the sport and had never changed a tire a day in her life!
I was sitting in the cafeteria, mid-bite of my Chick-fil-A sandwich, when my friend from the school's athletic department, Tiffany, tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Hey, NASCAR is holding tryouts for their pit crews on Wednesday, you should go.' I looked at her like, 'Girl, I don't even watch NASCAR.' - Brehanna Daniels
However, a little voice in the back of her head kept urging her to attend, and we are so happy she listened, because in 2016, she joined NASCAR as part of the “Drive for Diversity" program. Her athleticism and skills obviously left an impression, because in 2017, she became one of the first African American women pit crew members.
People were like, 'Oh, she sucks,' 'What does it matter that she's black?' It's like, why wouldn't that matter? You don't see that every day in NASCAR. Why wouldn't that be talked about? - Brehanna Daniels
In 2019, the Norfolk State Alumni starred as a competitor on Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's reality competition series, The Titan Games, and in 2020 Brehanna was honored at the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Awards, receiving the Crew Member Award.
Brehanna is still working as a NASCAR pit crew member, and you can also find her on season three of Your Attention Please, a documentary that celebrates black innovators and creators who are leaving their mark on the world.
Note: The “Drive for Diversity" program started in 2004 and recruits/trains both minority and female race car drivers as well as pit crew members.
3. Melissa Harville-Lebron (1971-current)
Melissa Harville-Lebron is the mother of two race car drivers, the CEO of W.M. Stone Enterprises Inc. and the first African American woman to solely own a NASCAR-licensed team.
When the 47-year-old first launched W.M. Stone Enterprises Inc. in 2014, she had no idea that her entrepreneurial journey would eventually lead to making history in the world of NASCAR.
It wasn't until she accepted an invitation to a NASCAR experience event at Charlotte Super Speedway that a new racing venture became a possibility and, soon after, a reality.
According to Melissa, she accepted this invitation in hopes of discouraging her two sons from their interest in such a dangerous profession. However, it did quite the opposite. It actually piqued their interest even more.
"I got invited to a NASCAR experience, and I brought my boys along thinking that it would discourage them from driving," she told Black Enterprise. "But 'it did not work that way.' They drove 149 mph and 150 mph during their first session and loved every minute of it while she watched in awe."
After researching the sport and discovering its lack of diversity, she went from trying to discourage her boys to investing in the development of her own racing team: E2 Northeast Motorsports.
It's important for our culture to push generational wealth to our children. It's important to lead by example. All too often our children see negative images of our culture, and I think it's very important for people of our culture to actually succeed in business. - Melissa Harville-Lebron
E2 Northeast Motorsports is the first multicultural team to race competitively in NASCAR. The team is made up of four drivers (two black and two Latino). Two of the drivers are in the Camping World Truck Series, and the other two are in NASCAR's Whelen All-American Series. They ran their first sponsored race on February 16, 2018.
4. Milka Duno (1972-current)
Milka Duno is a renowned Venezuelan race car driver, a former model and a certified Naval Engineer who holds four master's degrees — in organizational development, naval architecture, maritime business and marine biology.
She began her career as a driver at the age of 24 in Venezuela in 1996. She went on to compete in both the IndyCar Series and the ARCA Racing Series, and in 2014, she entered the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
She currently holds the record of highest finish for a woman driver in the 24 Hours of Daytona. When she qualified for and competed in the Kansas Speedway race, she became the first Hispanic women driver in history to compete in a NASCAR national series in the USA.
Things are hard, but not impossible to accomplish. It is up to us to have strength and continue working hard to secure our goals. - Milka Duno
These four trailblazers had the courage to follow their passion, all while shaking up a male-dominated industry and opening doors for others. If that isn't female empowerment, I don't know what is!
Which other NASCAR women do you think deserve to be recognized? Let us know in the comments.