NASCAR’s first Arab-American female driver makes her Daytona debut

Start your engines! There’s a new face on the race track this season, and she’s making history.

Toni Breidinger, 21, began competing Saturday with the 2021 ARCA season-opener at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Florida. This season, she will be competing in a limited ARCA Menards Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, driving a Chevrolet SS and a Chevrolet Silverado. With her first race in the truck series, she will officially make history as the first-ever Arab-American female driver to participate in any NASCAR national series, according to NASCAR. Breidinger is of Lebanese descent.

“I’m really looking forward to the Daytona race,” she said, according to her team Young’s Motorsports. “It’s been one of my dreams to have the chance to race there and to have that dream come true is absolutely unreal.” Breidinger has been speeding around tracks since she was only 9 years old, when she and her twin sister would race go-karts, according to an interview with Paper Magazine.

“Daytona is going to be the biggest race of my career, but I’m ready for it,” Breidinger said before her debut. “It’s going to be a competitive race, but I know that the Young’s Motorsports team will prepare me a fast race car and we can contend for a top 10 finish. That is our goal, a top 10 finish.”

Breidinger is part of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, an initiative that creates more inclusive racing teams. The program has created many opportunities for others, including making Brehanna Daniels NASCAR’s first Black woman to hold the crucial job as a tire changer.

In her race Saturday, Breidinger survived a multi-car accident on lap 29, and climbed into the top 20. After the crash, she climbed in rankings, up to 12th place and then back to 14th, then up to 11th, with 50 laps down and 30 to go. With 20 laps to go, she was in 17th, and finally finished in the 18th spot, in a race that went into overtime.

While it was Breidinger’s goal to make the top 10, a top 20 showing was celebrated by fans, with one saying on Twitter, “You should be proud of that finish. Great team work,” and another writing, “It is a start. One step at a time.”

Breidinger, who grew up in Hillsborough, California, is already an accomplished driver. In 2018, she competed in three ARCA races and finished 10th, a career-best, at Madison International Speedway. She is also a 19-time United States Auto Club winner, making her the only woman with that many wins.

As she breaks records, she says she’s looking forward to the upcoming season, and her goal “is to be able to learn and grow from my experiences on and off the track,” according to Young’s Motorsports.

As for being the first, she told CNN she’s “honored and excited” but doesn’t want to be the last, saying, “I hope I can pave the way for future female Arab drivers as well.”