DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Three years ago, Brehanna Daniels and Breanna O'Leary bid farewell to college life and headed off to start a new adventure -- NASCAR.
Neither woman was a race fan. Daniels had focused on basketball at Norfolk State University, and O'Leary played softball at Alcorn State University. Yet they were now entering NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program for pit crew members.
The young women became roommates and friends, constantly pushing each other to perform better. Their hands became so sore from using impact wrenches to change the tires that they had to submerge them in an ice-filled sink. But they pushed on with their training.
Eventually, they began to get tire-changing assignments, first in ARCA, then for NASCAR truck and Xfinity Series. Now, both are pitting cars in stock car racing's highest echelon -- the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Sunday, they will make history as the first women to pit a car in the prestigious season-opening Daytona 500.
"We've been through a lot together in these three years," Daniels said. "A lot of blood, sweat and tears coming from long practice sessions, especially when we started with the impact wrench. We've really struggled together. To be pitting with her [O'Leary] at the top stage, at the biggest race, the Daytona 500, is an amazing feeling. I wouldn't want it any other way."
Daniels will change the front tires on Cody Ware's Chevrolet, while O'Leary will handle the rear. They worked together last July in the Cup race at Daytona, but pitting a car in stock car racing's biggest event takes their accomplishment to a more emotional level.
"This is still a shock to me, because this is my third season, and who would have ever thought I would be here this soon -- to be able to change tires in the Daytona 500," Daniels said. "[But] I have really been putting in the work, so hopefully this isn't a surprise to a lot of people."
Daniels works out twice a day, both cardio and strength training, with each session lasting two to three hours. Her workouts earned her a position last month as a featured competitor on Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's new reality competition series, "The Titan Games."
"I do stuff to keep my body toned," Daniels said. "I don't go too crazy, but I would say after I was on 'The Titan Games' I have been lifting a lot. The training I did for 'The Titan Games' definitely helped me [a great deal]."
Pit stops are practiced Monday through Wednesday. On Monday, practice begins at 4 p.m. and continues until at least 6:30 p.m. at Rev Racing in Concord, North Carolina. Each Tuesday and Wednesday, the women practice with their assigned groups at Xcalibur Pit School in Mooresville. Daniels' group goes from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. and then hits the weight room for an hour.
O'Leary said she begins her training regimen in the gym every day at 4:30 a.m. and works out for about an hour. She has two workouts each Tuesday and Wednesday, including the one after pit stop practice.
O'Leary said she believes the fact that the women are roommates has helped them achieve success faster, because they push each other.
"It's an unspoken support," O'Leary said. "We've been through it together; we want the best for each other."
In addition to pitting Ware's car in the Daytona 500, they pitted for him in his qualifying race Thursday night. There were no tire changes in that race since it was only 60 laps, but both helped with the push off on a fuel stop. Both were assigned to teams in Friday night's season-opening NASCAR truck series race and Saturday's season opening Xfinity Series event at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway track.
"It's nice to have the three races leading up to the Daytona 500 to get the jitters out, if that is even possible," O'Leary said. "I don't think anything can help prepare you except for experience -- experience builds your confidence as well."
O'Leary noted that working the Xfinity race would give her a chance to adapt to the Paoli impact wrench that is used in the Cup and Xfinity series. She uses her own impact wrench in ARCA and the truck series.
"The Paoli is a lot bigger than my personal [air] gun," O'Leary said. "They're [also] different in the power behind them. The weight difference wasn't too noticeable for me, just the size."
Chuck Efaw, instructor and recruiter at Xcalibur Pit School, said the women wouldn't work a full season together because both train as rear tire changers.
"The way you do the five-man stop, now the [front tire] changer has to carry out their [50-pound] tire some and set it," Efaw explained. "[Daniels] is more adaptable to do that.
"We don't need to put them in a situation where they can get hurt either, so the [Daytona] 500 they can do because a lot of times they won't do a lot of adjustments with the wedge wrench. When that happens, our carriers will go out and drop the tires off so she doesn't have to."
Efaw's goal this season for O'Leary is to have her assigned to a truck team capable of winning a race as well as working full-time in ARCA. Daniels' performance this weekend will determine whether she's assigned to a Cup team for the entire season, Efaw said. In addition to her pit stop performance, Efaw will assess Daniels' overall performance of race day duties before the event prior to making his decision. In essence, he's looking for team players.
"Being here on time, helping set up the pit boxes, all of the preparation that leads up to going over the wall," Efaw said of race day responsibilities.
Both women realize the magnitude of their history-making assignment. However, they're letting their respective families enjoy the excitement while attempting to keep their emotions in check. For help in staying poised, Daniels said she turns to God and also talks to her deceased mother daily.
"It's all a dream come true," Daniels said. "Having God in my corner, every step of the way, anything is possible with Him, and none of this would be possible without Him.
"All the women out there, we can really do anything we put our minds to no matter what anybody else has to say. As long as you believe in yourself, you can do anything."
The Daytona 500 is scheduled to begin Sunday at 2:30 p.m., ET.