Toni Breidinger: “The car doesn’t know gender”
Toni Breidinger is only 22 years old but has already climbed the motorsport ranks in the United States. Starting her career in go-karts, she now competes in the ARCA Menards Series after becoming the first Arab-American female to have driven in NASCAR International Series and the woman with the most wins in United States Auto Club history after competing with midget cars in the Western HPD Midget series.
Toni came into contact with racing when her dad took her to a go-kart track at the age of nine. Both Toni and her twin sister Annie fell in love with racing and wanted to spend all of their weekends at the race track. Someone that really inspired Toni when she just started out was Danica Patrick.
Danica Patrick’s career is extensive and impressive. She has competed in several open-wheel racing, sports car racing, and NASCAR series and is an IndyCar podium finisher. She still holds the highest finish by a woman in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.
“She was the only female driver that I knew of at the time and it was really cool to see her drive high up in the ranks,” she tells Females in Motorsport. “I definitely looked to her for inspiration.”
Toni is currently racing part-time in both the ARCA Menards Series and the ARCA Menards Series West.
Her ARCA debut was in 2018 for Venturini Motorsports and she returned to ARCA this year to drive for Young’s Motorsports but ended up going back to Venturini Motorsports in July.
Her current racing season started off at the well-known Daytona International Speedway which was something she had always aspired to.
“That opportunity was really surreal,” she says. “Everything that day was a blur. It was all happening really fast and I didn’t really have time to soak anything in. It was crazy, but definitely, a dream come true.”
After her drive at Daytona, Toni was named as the first Arab-American female driver to compete in NASCAR International Series. Hearing this for the first time filled her with pride but also discontent.
“When I first heard it I was a little disappointed and shocked that nobody had the opportunity to come up before me,” she says. “NASCAR has been around for a long time so I figured that that was already taken.
“I’m very proud and hope that I can help with representation and pave the way for others to follow behind me.”
Toni is currently driving in ARCA Menards Series for Venturini Motorsports and it’s a team that’s able to help her drastically with driver development.
“They've helped me so much even just with the two races that I’ve done with them - I’ve learned an immense amount,” she says. “They’re always coaching and always trying to make me a better driver so it’s very exciting to be with them.”
Her most recent race was at Illinois State Fairgrounds where she finished ninth while it was her first dirt race in an ARCA car. This is an impressive performance, especially as Toni didn’t know the challenge she was taking on.
“I honestly had no idea what to expect,” she says. “I did a bit of testing in a different car, but this track was also really big and not your traditional dirt track, so there were unknowns.
“It’s such a different technique and you’re out of control but still in control. It changes things up a little bit and keeps it exciting.”
Stock car racing is something Toni is now familiar with and she relishes in the close competition.
“Since we have vendors, you can’t get super close because if you do it’s going to end up pretty bad,” she says. “Having them also means that we can push and shove a little bit. Racing is just that much closer because of that.”
Motorsport has always required significant budgets and stock car racing isn’t an exception to that.
“The biggest challenge, and this kind of goes for motorsports in general, is probably funding,” she says. “Women in motorsport lack funding and lack that support from bigger manufacturers and companies. That’s not a NASCAR issue though, but motorsports as a whole.”
This isn’t the only thing she’s had to deal with during her career journey, because having to combat prejudices and negative comments is still a common occurrence.
“Even if you don’t want them to see you as any different, people do see you as different,” she says. “It’s hard to gain respect from some people and you do sometimes get comments, but you need to have confidence in yourself to be able to block those comments out.”
These judgments aren’t stopping her and Toni isn’t afraid to pave the way for women in motorsport.
“If people see me as different, that’s their problem,” she says. “I don’t pay attention to it. The car doesn’t know the gender so once I’m in the car that’s all super irrelevant and my job is just to go drive the car. I see myself as a racing driver just like everyone else.”
She’s very glad that her career can inspire other people and that she can represent female racing drivers in the United States.
“Representation is really important - seeing is believing,” Toni says.
“The fact that I can [inspire people] is amazing and that inspires me and helps motivate me when I’m out there on the race track, because if I can accomplish something that’ll help pave the way then I definitely want to do that.
“There are more women getting involved in motorsports and I feel like there’s a very big difference. We’re definitely more accepted.”
The impact a driver’s mindset can have on their racing is often overlooked.
“Confidence and your mental state of mind are really important,” she says. “That’s more important than your team, the car’s setup or what kind of equipment you’re in.
“The hardest thing is to take the first step and to go out there and do it because we’re our own worst enemy. Have confidence in yourself and believe that you can do it. As soon as you take that first step, it’s so much easier.”
Confidence and a good mental state of mind also play a big role in how people perceive their own race results and career paths. Having confidence and believing in yourself is important for racing drivers and also for people that want to work in motorsport.
“There are so many different ways to get started in motorsport and so many different ways to get to the top of the ranks,” she says. “Don’t compare your journey to somebody else’s. And if nobody has done it the way you’re trying to do it, still go try to do it.”
Toni is competing in three more races this year and she’s determined to take in a great deal of information to become a better driver.
“The biggest thing is that I want to learn and feel like I’m a better driver after every race,” Toni says. “I’m at new tracks and with a new team so the main thing is learning about the car, the tracks, getting used to my team, and communicating better with them.
“For my next race, another dirt race, a top-five would be really cool. I just achieved a top-10 finish so I feel like that’s the next step.”
Images are provided by Roman Empire Management. You can check out Toni Breidinger’s website and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.