The Bay Area’s Own Toni Breidinger Is Making NASCAR History
There are some people who find themselves on the path to their future from a young age; for Antoinette “Toni” Breidinger, that path had more twists than most: it was a racetrack.
“Growing up in Hillsborough we lived near Sonoma Raceway, which is where I got my start in racing,” says Breidinger, who at 24 years old is already making history. She was just 9 when her father took her and her twin sister, Annie, to a go-karting class, and for the now seasoned racer, it was love at first lap. She started practicing twice a week, then began racing locally and then nationally. When she was 15, she got in her first United States Auto Club (USAC) Midget and began racing on pavement ovals on the West Coast. Three years later, she won the championship and became the all-time winningest female in USAC history at the time with 19 wins.
That same year, in 2017, she graduated from high school and moved to North Carolina to pursue her goal of becoming a NASCAR driver. She built up her resume doing local late-model races and in 2021 finally made her NASCAR ARCA debut at Daytona. This year, she raced in the NASCAR Truck Series and became the highest-finishing female in a debut. But her success isn’t the only reason she’s making waves; Breidinger is NASCAR’s first Arab American female race car driver.
“I don’t really feel added pressure, more like a sense of responsibility to pave the way so other minorities have better opportunity to come up through motor sports,” she says on how she feels about her groundbreaking status. “I take a lot of pride to be able to represent in NASCAR and it’s amazing how much support I’ve received from Arab girls and women.”
She’s also received a lot of support from sponsors, something that is vital in the pay-to-play world of motor sports; without funding, you can’t race, and Breidinger isn’t the only female athlete who has struggled with being underfunded. But she’s now fortunate enough to have brands like Victoria’s Secret, Free People, FP Movement, Pit Viper, Raising Cane’s and Rootly helping her stay on the track. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, last year she added “Victoria’s Secret model” to her resume.
“It’s kind of wild because when I was younger, I used to write in my journal and dream about being a race car driver and a Victoria’s Secret model,” says Breidinger. “The fact that these two polar opposite worlds collided is so surreal.”
Breidinger is happy to see brands like Victoria’s Secret sponsoring women, and in a male-dominated field like race car driving, it’s especially important to have such high-profile support. There are other female race car drivers out there, but apart from Danica Patrick, most aren’t household names. Patrick’s career helped inspire Breidinger; seeing her success helped Breidinger feel like she could race, too. Of course, trailblazing isn’t always easy, and Breidinger does feel that women have to work harder to gain respect in the industry. Add in the fact that there are still people out there who feel that women don’t belong in the sport, and it can make things tough both on the track and off it, she says.
That being said, it’s obvious that Breidinger loves what she does and is having fun doing it. You may have seen her behind the wheel of the No. 70 Hot Wheels GR86 at Sonoma Raceway this past spring in the Toyota Gazoo Racing GR Cup series, and this month, she’ll be zipping around tracks across the country. You can see her in the ARCA Menards Series at Kansas Speedway on the 8th and at Tennessee’s Bristol Motor Speedway on the 14th, and on the weekend of the 22nd, you can find her at Florida’s Sebring International Raceway in the GR Cup.
When asked what advice she has for future racers, Breidinger suggests starting simple, finding out what classes your local track has to offer and just getting seat time. “Doesn’t matter what you drive, you need to start somewhere,” she says. Unsurprisingly, she recommends go-karts, noting that it’s a great way to learn fundamentals with low risk. For herself, she’s well past the go-kart stage; she races a Toyota Camry for Venturini Motorsports in the ARCA series, a Toyota Tundra TRD Pro for TRICON Garage in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and a GR86 for Nitro Motorsports in the GR Cup series.
Given the nature of her sport, it’s natural that Breidinger experiences a wide range of sensations on race days: excitement, anxiousness, adrenaline, happiness and stress. But there are also all the aspects she loves about racing, especially the puzzle-like details that go into winning, and how competitive it all is. “Being behind the wheel and pushing yourself and the car to the very edge is the best feeling.”