Paving the way: Award-winning women in NASCAR staking powerful claims

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 17:  Brehanna Daniels, tire changer on the #52 Winn Dixie Chevrolet, looks on during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 61st Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2019 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) | Getty Images
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From Hailie Deegan’s rise into the national series ranks to Richard Childress Racing’s focus on diversity, women are changing the game in NASCAR.

While every day is a work in progress when it comes to diversity and inclusion, the sanctioning body has made great strides in ensuring this particular realm of motorsports provides a conducive environment for any and all who want to join.

A particular focus on the women who have served as driving forces in recent years reflects just how far the sport has come in creating a diverse space. The 2020 NASCAR Drive for Diversity Awards on Oct. 8 highlighted some of those women, receiving the much-deserved recognition for their work both on and off the race track. spent time with each woman, discussing their journeys and advice they would give to the next generation of young females who elect to take similar career paths.

RELATED: 2020 NASCAR Drive for Diversity Awards recipients

Hailie Deegan, recipient of the Diverse Driver Award, earned the recognition for not only her success in what is now the ARCA Menards Series West, but also her digital engagement with fans to grow her presence and overall brand.

Nigel Kinrade
Hailie Deegan

As she prepares to make her first NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series start in Saturday’s Clean Harbors 200 at Kansas Speedway (4 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM), Deegan’s best advice to the younger girls who look up to her is to work hard.

“Work ethic is something you can’t buy,” Deegan said. “It’s either instilled in you or you have to really try to do it. I think that’s something that it’s easy to get comfortable and not work really hard. I try to stay true to my values because I’m going to work as hard as I can. I’m going to try to outwork everybody and if it means it works, OK. If it doesn’t work, understandable. But, I want to know in the back of my head that I gave 110% effort.”

Another younger driver, Rev Racing’s Isabella Robusto, earned the Young Racer award, but the honor recognizes what she has done far beyond her seat time in race cars. The 15-year-old trailblazer has spent countless hours supporting The NASCAR Foundation, which has included hospital visits at Halifax Health in Daytona Beach, Fla., Speediatrics Fun Day Festival at ONE DAYTONA, as well as helping children affected by the COVID-19 pandemic this year.

Brian Cleary
Isabella Robusto

Robusto echoed Deegan’s sentiments about being focused on working hard when it comes to others who want to take the same path she’s elected to take in her young career, also adding her own mix of helpful advice.

“My top one would be to never give up and just keep pushing yourself,” Robusto said. “You’re going to have bad races, even this year I’ve had a handful of bad races, but if you work hard enough and just make goals … setting goals for myself is a big one so that I know what I want to chase after. If I get the goals, that’s good, but I’m always trying to do even better than the goals I set.”

Jennifer Satterfield-Siegel, Rev Racing co-owner, received the Industry Ambassador Award for her involvement in NASCAR’s diversity program. Satterfield-Siegel, NASCAR’s first female African-American team owner, has increased opportunities for diverse drivers and pit-crew members, working relentlessly to make sure people from all walks of life have a seat at the NASCAR table if it’s one that interests them.

“To be able to be a part of helping someone get to the next level is wonderful, to help somebody really just embrace their passion,” Satterfield-Siegel said. “Just being able to help navigate them through the process. We all know that all of these people, all of these athletes will one day encounter someone who won’t like the fact that they are there because they are either female or because of the color of their skin. To be able to be supportive at this point in their career and to help them really embrace and see who they are and to be proud of the talent that they do have is a really great thing.”

Jennifer Satterfield Siegel 4
Jennifer Satterfield-Siegel

With all the work Satterfield-Siegel puts in with Rev Racing, Drive for Diversity and the Pit Crew Development program, she admits she spends a decent amount of time reflecting back on the obstacles she and her husband — fellow Rev Racing co-owner Max Siegel — had to overcome to achieve success. Now, they get to offer a helping hand to those who need it to reach accomplishments they might have never thought were possible.

“Every day, probably every hour,” Satterfield-Siegel said. “That might be one of the reasons why both Max and I are so passionate about it because we both encountered it in our careers early on. People told us what we couldn’t do and all the reasons why we couldn’t do it. You hope kids are strong enough to get through it and map out their own way. There are plenty of people and plenty of kids that get stopped because someone doesn’t believe in them.”

Brehanna Daniels, tire changer in the NASCAR Cup Series, received the Crew Member Award for being an ambassador for the sport, which has included her work with diversity initiatives. Daniels’ resumé has been vast in a short amount of time, which includes working with the Drive for Diversity Pit Crew Combine, the same program she came through to establish herself as a prominent part of the NASCAR garage.

Daniels has also been featured on national television, starring in an episode of NBC’s Titan Games and an appearance in a national commercial for Advil pain relief medication.

As she practiced coming from playing basketball for Norfolk State University to racing, Daniels’ biggest piece of advice for other young females is to coming into the sport with an open mind.

Brehanna Daniels 1
Brehanna Daniels

“You always have to work hard, never just sit back and just expect things to fall in your lap,” Daniels said. “Always be the hardest worker in the room. As long as you work hard, those hours will pay off. There’s no other way around it.”

Daniels also had special advice for other people of color who want to break down more barriers as she did in the industry.

“Know that you are making a difference because there’s not too many of us in this sport,” Daniels added. “It’s really important to be yourself. That’s why I’m glad I’m the person that I am because throughout this whole process and my career at NASCAR, I’ve always been myself. I never lost sight of myself. … I didn’t change for anyone. I speak my mind. When things don’t seem right to me, I speak up about it.”

Diversity and inclusion have always been the mission for Richard Childress Racing, according to Jennifer White, Vice President of Marketing and Communications with the organization. The importance of maintaining a welcoming work environment for all is held near and dear to the hearts of Childress and wife, Judy.

“Creating a very diverse and inclusive workplace here at RCR has been important to them from Day 1,” White said. “As a female in what is a very traditionally male-dominated sport, I can tell you at RCR that I’ve always felt my role, my opinion, my voice was heard here.”

White developed an early passion for racing. Her father introduced her to the sport at a young age and she’s been hooked ever since. When she decided to choose a career path in NASCAR, White realized at the time how difficult it would be to break into the realm.

“Here I am at the track where there’s some hardened, old-school male-dominated media members that at that time were, you know, not that welcoming,” White said. “But I knew that if I continued to push, had a goal, continued to work for it, that I wouldn’t let that gender wall stand in my way.”

Jennifer White
Jennifer White

With hard work and perseverance as her core values, White was able to gain the respect she deserved throughout the garage. She’s currently in her 12th year with RCR. Before that, she spent more than 10 years with NASCAR in the publishing and licensing department.

Her tenure with NASCAR also served as a first-hand experience of how much emphasis the leadership of the league put on diversity.

“It takes a team effort,” White said. “From here, it starts with Judy and Richard from the top down. I think that’s the same thing I could say for a Steve Phelps (NASCAR’s president), Mike Helton (NASCAR’s vice chairman) … I’ve worked for them and they believe in that, as well, and I think they’ve made a lot of headway in this sport over the last few decades.”

Just as White broke down barriers along with other women in the sport, she’s doing her part to ensure that she empowers the next generation to not allow anything to stand in the way of achieving greatness.

“I think you’re the one that makes the decision for how far you’re going to go and what you’re able to do,” said White. “You make the choices. You decide your path. Whether it’s the females that report to me now, the females within this company, or I even have a 13-year-old daughter at home, I want her to know that being a female is not going to hold her back from anything.

“Being strong, being confident and fighting for what you want is going to get you ahead.”