Despite hailing from Amarillo, TX, it is safe to say that Breanna O’Leary’s path into NASCAR is unique. As a matter of fact, O’Leary was a softball player for Alcorn State University.
Nevertheless, O’Leary’s passion for sports and her athleticism opened the door for a transition to NASCAR. Be that as it may, her attention was not in the driver’s seat.
Instead, O’Leary focused her efforts towards a life in the pits. Similarly to some of her former college sports comrades, the Texan has looked towards a future as a tire changer.
All things considered, Breanna O’Leary appreciates and loves NASCAR in terms of its dynamics and personnel. By the same token, she realizes that, like softball and other sports, precision and accuracy are elements of going over the wall.
Furthermore, like many young drivers across the country, O’Leary wants to prove that she belongs in this sport. For this reason, she makes every practice count and appreciates the opportunities along the way.
Without further ado, it is time to learn more about this young athlete from the Lone Star State by knowing more about “Life in the Pits with Breanna O’Leary!”
Rob Tiongson : First of all, thank you for taking the time to let me interview you. How’d you first learn about NASCAR and what were your initial impressions of it?
Breanna O’Leary : Of course! Growing up, I had a friend whose parents were really into NASCAR. But other than that I knew nothing about it. I really didn’t understand what people like about watching cars drive in circles. (laughs)
RT : Recalling that passion your friend’s parents had for NASCAR growing up, did it feel serendipitous that you’d find yourself in this sport years later? Or was it more of an opportunity by chance?
BO’ L : I remember the races being on when I would go over to her house. But other than that, I had no exposure to NASCAR!
RT : It had to be a totally out of this world experience for you when you found your way into NASCAR. Prior to racing, what sports did you participate in and are there some aspects with those sports that carry over to NASCAR in the position you’re seeking?
BO’ L : Yes, honestly when I found my way into racing, I didn’t even have a clue what I was getting myself into. But I played softball at Alcorn State University and I think the highest level of D1 ball compared to pitting a car go hand in hand because you were expected to perform under pressure.
The same can be said for a pit stop as you don’t get a whole bunch of chances. Instead, you just get a few seconds to not make any mistakes and to keep your car where it is. I think the intensity and the speed from college softball to pitting has carried over and helped me tremendously.
RT : That’s cool how those facets of softball are prevalent in racing, particularly with doing pit stops. What are some of the opportunities you’ve earned in NASCAR since coming into the sport?
BO’ L : I think I’m still getting my foot in the door as far as NASCAR. But I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many awesome people! I’ve noticed people in this sport look after each other almost like family. And I hope to create opportunities for myself to inspire other females to go after anything that comes their way.
RT : I think that’s one of the neat things with NASCAR. There’s a strong sense of camaraderie. Who are some of the folks who’ve been helpful to you along the way, be it those prior to your racing journey and in NASCAR?
BO’ L : Of course, Coach Horton is who got me started because he’s the one that recruited me and brought me this far, believing in me that I had what it took!
My strength and conditioning coach at Alcorn, Coach Prince, was the one that wanted me to do the initial workout at my school, which started this whole journey. He gave me the push to just go for it and see what comes from it, which I’m glad and thankful he did.
Also, and it may be a good ole cliché, but I thank my parents because they support me in everything I do and didn’t ever question me once I chose to take this path.
And honestly, all the guys who have come through the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program have helped me and coached and mentored me like I was their own.
RT : It’s important and helpful to have a strong support system which you clearly have. What’s some of your immediate future goals with NASCAR and how do you keep yourself in game face mode if that opportunity arises?
BO’ L : As this season winds down, I’m starting to look to next season. And I’m just hoping to have a full 2018 schedule. And to make that happen I know I’m going to have to work hard all off season. Repetition, repetition, repetition!
RT : Sounds like life with having a bit of repetition to find your cadence and place. What’s it like to pit practice a car and being in that moment to change tires?
BO’ L : Yes, just like life! Sometimes, pitting a car in practice makes me more nervous than pitting in a race. (laughs) But I think that’s because practice is basically a tryout to get on a car at the track for the weekend. And I feel like I don’t think too much, I just do. Like if my carrier asks me if they hit me with the tire or asks how the hang was, I usually can’t even remember!
RT : Well, that can be a good thing especially if there’s a heat of the moment situation. If you had to try to sell the sport of NASCAR to a stick and ball sports fan, what are five words you’d use to pitch it to them?
BO’ L : Oh, that’s a tricky one! Intensity, wrecks, unpredictable, strategy, and environment.
RT : I love it! Probably the most unique pitch I’ve seen yet.
Now, let’s go off track some with a little “free association.” Tell me the first thing or word that comes to mind with the following…
BO’ L : For me that’s how I see NASCAR! but okay, go for it!
RT : I love it! Alrighty…diversity.
BO’ L : It’s growing!
RT : Social media.
BO’ L : Opens door and connects people from all walks of life.
RT : Guilty pleasure TV show.
BO’ L : Teen Mom. (laughs)
RT : Love it! Favorite athletes.
BO’ L : “The Dottirs” of CrossFit, Sara Sigmundsdottir, Annie Thorisdottir, and Katrin Davidsdottir are so badass!
RT : Might make that your nickname. Badass Breanna!
As one of the faces of the NASCAR’s diversity movement, what’s some of the strides that you’re seeing taken place, what more can be done to improve on it, and how would that moment feel like for you should you get a full-time opportunity to be a part of a team’s pit crew?
BO’ L : I can live with that! (laughs)
I think just the fact that you can walk down pit road and see more minorities and women working in the sport is something I’ve been glad to see. Honestly, I didn’t expect that much diversity when I was on the outside of this sport looking in.
I do believe that diversity can be talked about more and normalized! I still see social media monsters who seem to fear anybody who is not the stereotypical NASCAR fan.
Truly, for me to make it full-time on a team would be an amazing step for me and a goal for me to reach! My coach always told us, especially for changers, “It takes at least three years to make it to the top level.”
RT : I love it! Lastly, do you have a desire to try to go behind the wheel of one of these stock cars?
BO’ L : When I’m in my car I like to pretend I’m a race at driver but I think I’ll leave it at that. (laughs)
Author’s Notes: Special thanks to Breanna for this wonderful opportunity at Michigan! Photos accompanying this piece are courtesy of Breanna O’Leary, whereas noted. If you’d like to learn more about Breanna and the NASCAR Diversity program, “Follow” them on Twitter!