CHICAGO: Lebanese-American driver Toni Breidinger continues to advance in the highly competitive, male-dominated NASCAR competition, as one of the world’s predominant and “rare” female racers.
In an interview with Arab News on The Ray Hanania Radio Show Wednesday June 21, Breidinger, 24, opened up about the challenges she faces in the racing world, and also as a proud Arab-American in shattering gender and ethnic stereotypes.
Despite the risks she faces nearly every week in the superfast industry, Breidinger said she is less concerned about potential accidents and more about ensuring her car remains drivable. She said she is a proud role model for Arab Americans and women.
“I feel I have developed a very solid fan base of Arabs that like to come to races. I’ve seen like last year, for instance, one race in Phoenix this little girl and her family came just to watch me race. So, it was really cool to see that I am bringing a little bit more of a different fan base which has been really exciting and really awesome for me to experience,” said Breidinger, who called being a female and Arab-American driver “important.”
“Yes, I would say a lot of people don’t really know. Everyone is like are you Italian or Hispanic? Nobody ever really knows. I would say it comes up a good bit but, yes it has been exciting to come in and bring in a whole new fan base into NASCAR.”
She added that it was “not all that common” to have women drivers. “There are really not a lot of us.”
Breidinger said she began racing in the first of a multiple-level competition starting in the ARCA or Automobile Racing Club of America series, and then moving up to the Truck Series on her way to her main goal, the top NASCAR Cup contest.
Her most important race so far was a remarkable debut in May in the Truck Series.
“Back in May, during my Truck Series debut, I finished 15th which actually made history by becoming the highest-finishing female making her debut. That was pretty exciting ... That was kind of like a big moment and not really like a kind of make-or-break moment, but I was on this big stage of people watching going on up to this next level and everyone is trying to see how she is going to do,” Breidinger said.
“I feel that kind of helped me. That was a positive direction that I went in, and I am hoping to kind of keep progressing. I would say my five-year plan kind of consists of getting to the cup series so I still have a little ways to go but I feel like I have been making good gains at it.”
She looks past the male domination in the racing industry: “When I am in the seat, I see everyone as a driver. And I don’t identify people by who they are. They are just the driver ahead of me and I am just trying to beat them. So, I don’t see people as a friend. I really don’t think about, ‘Is this driver going to see me any different?’ But I do feel like some do, for sure.”
Still, Breidinger’s unique role as a woman driver has attracted many sponsors, including bringing in Victoria’s Secret, an international woman’s apparel retailer, into first-time NASCAR sponsorship. Breidinger said she is a model for Victoria’s Secret.
Asked if racing is frightening, she said she does not think about the risks.
“I’m never scared when I am in the seat driving myself. If I am getting in a wreck, I have more concern for my car than myself because I just want to get back out there and race,” Breidinger said.
“Usually if you do wreck, you are not going to get back out. You are kind of like tied to the race. The speeds that you are going if you hit a wall, you know, the odds are against you. But I would say definitely, this year I had a pretty hard hit that when it happened it kind of rocks you a little bit in the moment but it never kind of deterred me from pursuing this.”
The Ray Hanania Radio Show is broadcast every Wednesday in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and Washington D.C. on WDMV AM 700 radio on the U.S. Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News.
You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.