A Sit Down with Toni Breidinger: The First Arab-American Female to Compete in NASCAR
By Drew Jackson / Arab America Contributing Writer
Toni Breidinger is one of few trailblazers in the sport of auto racing. Similar to the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Willy T. Ribbs, and Danica Patrick, she is the first of an underrepresented population in motorsport, and she is here to stay.
Driving the number 25 in the ARCA Menard’s series, Breidinger made history last year as the first-ever Arab woman to compete in a NASCAR series. This season she is driving her first full season under the legendary umbrella of Venturini Motorsports, a driver development program that has launched the careers of many high-profile Cup Series drivers.
On September 30th, sitting fifth in the ARCA standings with two races to go, Breidinger was nice enough to sit down with me to discuss some of her goals for her remaining races and the offseason, as well as her inspirations that launched her to where she was today.
Q: Sitting fifth in the championship standings this season as we come to a close, how are you comparing this season to last season?
A: This is my first full season, last year I only did a few of the races, so this is kind of my rookie year. I’m really excited for the opportunity this year to run all of the races and really develop as a professional.
Q: What are your goals for the end of this season and the off-season?
A: Looking at points I would love to move up and be at least fourth in points, I really just want to finish out the season strong. These tracks coming up are tracks I’ve never been to so I really want to learn them and get good experience on them.
Q: Are you starting to look at a potential move up to the truck series or xfinity?
A: I would like to do that definitely in the future, for right now though my focus is to finish out this season strong. I want to get some more of these races under my belt as I learned this year to learn. Next year I want to apply that knowledge at the tracks and make a big splash in 2023.
Q: What’s it like representing Venturini Motorsports as a brand and development program?
A: They have a really great development program, even when I was 13 years old I knew I wanted to be a part of this team. I’ve always wanted to have them as a team because of their resume with successful drivers in the Cup Series. They’ve been great developing me as a driver and developing my racecraft.
Q: What’s it been like developing under the head of Venturini, Cathy Venturini and how has she impacted you professionally and personally?
A: Cathy is great, she was a part of the first-ever all-female pit crew which is so inspiring. She’s really one of the ones who helped pave the way for women in racing, so to have her be a huge part of my development in my career has been so exciting.
Q: As you just started modeling and social media influencing, how do you prioritize those activities with racing?
A: It’s definitely not the traditional route for a racing driver to take, but sponsorships and financial backing are so important in racing and staying elevating my career. I think it’s really cool to do something not many others do and I do believe fashion and racing go hand in hand. But without a doubt, racing is my first and only priority.
Q: What was the biggest challenge making the jump into stock car racing?
A: Going on the bigger tracks was such a huge transition. I was used to tracks that were a quarter-mile and all of a sudden I’m racing on superspeedways like Daytona and Talladega where air starts to come into play and you start feeling the air when your racing. It’s a different type of racecraft and becoming more knowledgeable about aero effects was huge for me since making the jump.
Q: Speaking of working with other drivers at the big tracks and drafting, how have they treated you as a rookie?
A: I would say my first time racing at Daytona I didn’t have any teammates which was so challenging because at tracks like that if you’re not drafting with other drivers you immediately drop to the back. This year is a different story because now I have teammates and we work incredibly hard together to move up the pack, especially at the superspeedways, which has been so helpful. It’s hard as a rookie with no teammates, other drivers are super cautious about working with you and trusting you but teammates really make it a different story.
Q: With some of the Cup Series teams, are you starting to get into any talks about the future?
A: Definitely when I’m racing at races where the Cup and Xfinity teams are running, it’s important to do well because you know they’re watching so it’s important to prove yourself. We’ve had talks with different teams and I think the biggest thing for me right now is focusing on my development. Toyota and Venturini have been great at helping me with that.
Q: Looking years down the road after accomplishing your NASCAR goals, do you see yourself moving to another series or another form of racing, either domestic or international?
A: Right now the Cup series and NASCAR are my focus. After I accomplish my goals and do what I need to do, if it has four wheels I’ll race it.
Q: Being the first female Arab-American NASCAR driver, how has your Lebanese background and that culture helped to mold and shape you into the driver you are today?
A: My mom has shaped me so much and she is so true to her roots. Even when she moved to America she never lost touch with her roots and has never forgotten her background. Her strength and her influence on me has shaped me greatly and I am thankful to have the background I do.
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