CONCORD, N.C. — Patience. Accuracy. Focus. Adaptability.
Those are just a few words to describe what athletes need at the NASCAR Drive for Diversity National Pit Crew Combine, held Friday at the NASCAR Research & Development Center in Concord, North Carolina. The University of Miami’s Dalanda Ouendeno, the first-ever soccer player to compete in the pit crew combine, has them all.
Growing up in Paris, France, Ouendeno had never even heard of NASCAR before recruiters came to the university to host tryouts. She decided to go for it and that’s the beginning of how she got here today.
“In France, NASCAR is not really known at all,” Ouendeno told NASCAR.com. “They (NASCAR) came on campus at the University of Miami and they were having tryouts for student-athletes and I was like, ‘Oh, I want to try out,’ and then I got in for today (the combine) and hopefully I go further.”
Phase 1 of the combine was foot-speed and change-of-direction evaluation. The first phase is timed with a goal of five minutes. Ouendeno completed the phase in four minutes, 50 seconds.
“It was hard. I gave 100% but I’m really happy with what I gave today,” she said. “When they came on campus, I did six minutes and 10 seconds, so I was aiming to do better but I did much better.”
The second phase was individual pit crew position drills. This phase allowed all the athletes to perform more of what they would specifically be doing at the race track. It was also the part that she was most excited for as she was trying out for a tire-changer position.
“That’s the real part; it’s what I’m going to do,” she said.
Phase 3 was the live pit stop competition, including two tire changes.
Ouendeno grew up playing soccer since she was 6 years old. She played for Paris St. Germain from 2009-2015 and won the Gothia Youth World Cup and IberCup Portugal in 2014.
She earned five Isles of France championships and played with numerous standout players, including current French national team midfielder Grace Geyoro before joining Paris St. Germain. She was also a member of Arnouville Football Club from 2004-2009.
With her soccer experience, Ouendeno has been able to use those skills during this next adventure.
“There’s a lot of footwork with NASCAR so that is what I’m using.,” she said. “There’s not a lot of upper body in soccer so now that’s my focus technique and (the mentality) to just do my best is the same.”
Tire-changer Brehanna Daniels, a D4D Pit Crew Combine alum, has become a mentor for Ouendeno. Ouendeno has already learned a handful of things from Daniels.
“In one day, I’ve learned so much. I can’t wait to learn even more,” Ouendeno explained. “We came from never touching a car like that before and now I know how to do it. It’s making a lot of noise, it’s heavy and you have to be precise. I can already see myself improving.”
Daniels has a lot of advice to offer Ouendeno and is making sure she stays focused on the ultimate goal — becoming one of the six athletes chosen to be a pit crew member come September.
“I’m trying to help her be the best tire-changer she possibly can be,” Daniels said. “Just remembering how I was in this same combine a few years ago. I’m just trying to pave the way for her as well. I’m making sure she’s focused. Focused on hitting those five lug nuts on, five lug nuts off.
“I told her that accuracy is a big deal and being patient with everything and just listening to coach (Phil) Horton. There’s going to be times when she’s frustrated but not to let those times overcome her performance.”
Daniels is very familiar with Ouendeno’s current position but believes if this is something she really wants, she will make it happen.
“This is brand new to her, like it was brand new to me,” Daniels said. “I think she has what it takes. But, she has to be all in and want to do it.”
Ouendeno is eager and excited for this opportunity. She is absolutely all in.