DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Breanna O’Leary and Brehanna Daniels have a lot in common.
They both go by “Bre” for short.
They are both women who have learned to excel in roles that once were, by custom, reserved for men.
They are currently roommates. They were both college athletes.
And when they enrolled at their respective universities, neither O’Leary nor Daniels had any idea they would be jumping over a pit wall with an impact wrench in their hands.
But that’s what both O’Leary and Daniels will be doing in Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
O’Leary will change the rear tires on Ray Black Jr.’s No. 51 Chevrolet fielded by Rick Ware Racing. Daniels will change the front tires. The event will mark the first time two women have performed over-the-wall pit crew duties for the same team in the same race.
Individually, they are the fifth and sixth female crew members to reach NASCAR’s highest level.
“I think the whole situation is cool,” O’Leary told the NASCAR Wire Service. “We’re both females and roommates, and we’re both ‘Bre.’ We say we’re ‘Bre squared.’ When we’re standing by each other, they like to shout ‘Bre’ so they can laugh at us when we both look.”
But Saturday’s race will be serious business for the two women, who followed similar paths through NASCAR’s Drive 4 Diversity Pit Crew Program.
O’Leary played softball at Alcorn State. Daniels was a point guard and shooting guard for Norfolk State. They both came to tryouts at their respective schools with little idea of what to expect. But NASCAR D4D pit crew coach Phil Horton saw talent in each of them.
“I played softball at Alcorn State, but at that time, I was working on my Masters,” O’Leary said. “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.”
When Daniels attended her tryout at Norfolk State, as “the only girl in the gym,” she opted for the unknown of NASCAR versus taking video of a professional basketball game. It proved to be a life-changing decision.
Both Daniels and O’Leary earned invitations to the D4D Pit Crew national combine, and both made the cut. They have both adapted to changes in pit guns and new rules that cut the number of over-the-wall pit crew members from six to five.
Those adaptions sometimes include carrying a 65-pound tire, a challenge for Daniels and her 5-5 frame.
“When my carrier has adjustments to make, I have to carry my own tire, running around the car,” said Daniels, who is changing tires at NASCAR’s highest level for the first time. “So, thank God I have that strength, because those tires are heavy.
“I have to carry the tire in my left arm, and I have my impact wrench in my right hand. It’s going to be interesting. I’m ready, though.”
Daniels is both ready and ahead of schedule.
“Ever since I got in the sport, I always asked coach ‘What does it take to get to the Cup level?'” Daniels said. “And he was like, ‘Oh, it takes three or four years to get there.’ And I always thought that was just too long.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to try to get there before that.’ It hasn’t been two years since I’ve been in the sport, and I’m already making my Cup debut. I’ve been making progress every time I practice.”
If Daniels has been impatient from a career standpoint, she has made good use of the patience she learned as a point guard, waiting for just the right moment to zip a pass to a teammate.
“I have to be patient being a tire changer, too,” she said. “When I drop down, I can’t just immediately dive into hitting the first lug nut, ’cause then my pattern’s going to be all messed up. I have to have that pause initially, then I go in to hit my five off. Everything’s much cleaner that way, too.”