When Tiffany Daniels first expressed interest in driving a race car, her parents were among those who were skeptical about a woman entering a male-dominated world.
Now her gender may be her most important asset as Daniels pursues the dream of reaching NASCAR's highest level of racing.
A 23-year-old Concord resident and a 2007 graduate of UNC Charlotte's motorsports program, Daniels will participate in her second NASCAR Drive for Diversity combine today and Tuesday at South Boston Speedway in South Boston, Va.
One of the purposes of the combine, now in its sixth year, is to give exposure to women and ethnic minorities interested in developing careers as race car drivers.
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Twenty-five drivers ages 17 to 25 will go through time trials and media training. At the end, eight will get one-year contracts in one of NASCAR's developmental series for the 2009 season.
A native of Smithfield, Va., Daniels got her first taste of racing by following her father, Charlie, as he competed in Grand Stock and Late Model Stock divisions at Langley (Va.) Speedway.
She and her brother Cliff used to promise their mom they would take naps on Saturday afternoons so they could go to the track at night.
Cliff was the first of the two to race, competing in Bandolero cars at age 9. Tiffany, four years older, was on his crew, working on the car and recording lap times.
Three years later, however, she decided she wanted to do more than just turn wrenches. Daniels, who eventually worked her way up to the Late Model Stock division, approached her parents about driving.
“I was big into regular high school sports at that time,” she said. “So they weren't sure if it was something that I really wanted to do or if wanted to do it because my brother was doing it.
“They wanted to make sure I was committed. The family rule has always been if you're going to race, you're going to have to be able to work on your own car and put the time into it.”
Daniels was committed, even choosing UNC Charlotte without considering any other schools because it was the only four-year university to offer a motorsports program.
She majored in mechanical engineering and minored in public relations – a good combination for an aspiring race car driver.
Two weeks after graduating, she moved to Concord and began working for Chip Ganassi Racing, making good on one of the contacts she made while racing in Lowe's Motor Speedway's short-track series. Daniels is an assistant engineer on Juan Pablo Montoya's No. 42 car in the Sprint Cup series.
Daniels continues to race, making the five-hour drive back to Virginia on weekends. Mostly, she races at South Boston, Bristol or Southern National Speedway in Lucama, N.C.
This is the second consecutive year Daniels was invited to the Drive for Diversity Combine. NASCAR team owners of every level, as well as other motorsports insiders, evaluate the participants. Those who make the best impression could get a ride for a year in either the NASCAR Camping World Series or the NASCAR Whelan All-American Series.