Alcorn’s O’Leary makes NASCAR history

Published 7:50 am Wednesday, July 11, 2018

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — For the first time in the history of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, two women were a part of the same pit crew team in the same race — and one of them has ties to Mississippi.

Former Alcorn State softball player Breanna O’Leary and Brehanna Daniels were a part of the five-member pit crew for the No. 51 Rick Ware Racing team of driver Ray Black, Jr. Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway. O’Leary changed the rear tires, while Daniels changed the front tires during the Coke Zero Sugar 400.

Black Jr. finished 16th out of 40 in the race.

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Both women were recruited for NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Pit Crew Development program in 2016 after finishing their collegiate athletic careers. Daniels was a basketball player at Norfolk State University.

O’Leary made her third appearance overall in the Cup Series and second this season. O’Leary, who is a native of Amarillo, Texas, also was on the pit crew of the No. 51 team for the June 10 Cup series race at Michigan.

She and Daniels, who are roommates in Charlotte, North Carolina, are the fifth and sixth female Drive for Diversity crew members to reach the Cup series.

“I take a lot of pride in being a female pit crew member. To make history with another female, especially my roommate, is pretty cool. The race was really exciting and a lot of fun,” O’Leary said. “When I was at Alcorn, I never, ever thought of being a pit crew member. It wasn’t until NASCAR Drive for Diversity came to campus and put on their tryout. It presented an opportunity for me and I ran with it.”

Daniels is believed to be the first black female crew member to compete in a NASCAR national series event. She had pitted in more than 25 Xfinity, Truck and ARCA races and made her Cup debut Saturday night.

“What I’m doing in NASCAR is so much bigger than me,” Daniels said. It’s been so rewarding to be part of history while at the same time inspiring others to take on challenges they thought might not be possible.”

O’Leary played two seasons for Alcorn State’s softball team in 2013-14. Upon graduation, she pursued a career as a strength and conditioning coach before being recruited by the Drive for Diversity program in 2016.

Pit crew coach Phil Horton also discovered Daniels during the same nationwide talent search.

“I played softball at Alcorn State, but at that time, I was working on my Masters,” O’Leary told “I was a graduate assistant to the strength and conditioning coach. When coach Horton was coming through with NASCAR Diversity, they just happened to come to Alcorn, and my strength coach was helping out. And he said, ‘NASCAR’s coming — I want you to do it.’ And I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ We didn’t even fully understand, but he knew it was a workout and something to be competitive in.”

The women were among 20 former college athletes invited to compete in the inaugural Drive for Diversity Pit Crew Combine in Concord, N.C. Following strong individual performances at the combine, both were selected to join the crew member program and train year-round as tire changers with Rev Racing.

The athletes now split their training during the week between Rev Racing and the Xcalibur Pit School in Mooresville, N.C., before traveling to join NASCAR national series teams on race weekends.

More than 50 graduates of the Drive for Diversity Pit Crew Development program currently work in the NASCAR industry. Twenty-five are pitting in the Cup Series.

“The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is unlike any other series,” O’Leary said. “There’s a certain energy and hustle and bustle – both in the garage and on pit road. But as a tire changer, the mindset is still the same. Five lug nuts on and five off.”