After Toni Breidinger graduated from high school in northern California, there was only one place she wanted to be: the little town of Mooresville, NC, aka “Race City, USA.”
“If you want to be a singer, you go to LA,” said the 21-year-old. “You want to be a NASCAR driver? You go to North Carolina.”
Breidinger said she loves her adopted hometown because “any time I’m driving down the highway, I see [NASCAR fans] with racing numbers on their cars.” (Mooresville is home to more than 60 racing teams as well as several race-car manufacturers.)
In February, she made history as NASCAR’s first Arab-American female driver, when she raced in the ARCA Menards Series at the Daytona International Speedway, finishing in 18th place out of 33 — ahead of the two other women who competed. There are about 10 females, and more than 150 men, racing in NASCAR’s various series this year.
And while there’s been a lot of attention around her gender, Breidinger is chill.
“At the track, I don’t see myself differently from anyone else. I’m there to go win races, be competitive and be treated as an equal,” she said. “The car knows no gender, the track knows no gender.“It’s not something I’m thinking about. I’m here to do my job.”
Now she’s gearing up for her debut at the famed Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, on April 24. It’s a day she’s been anticipating for more than half her life.
Breidinger has been hooked on racing since she was 9 years old, when she first got behind the wheel of a go-kart alongside her twin sister, Annie. “I just fell in love with it,” she said. “I got super-serious about it fast, like ‘I want to be a race-car driver.’ ”
Her parents — a preschool-teacher mom, originally from Beirut, Lebanon, and a dad who worked in construction — bought the girls their own go-kart.
But while a lot of young racers are all about the need for speed, Breidinger said, “I’m not like an adrenaline junkie. You just get in this super-focused zone when you’re racing . . . nothing else in the world matters. I love how competitive it is. There’s only one winner.”
She’s now the all-time winningest female driver in the United States Auto Club.
And while Breidinger has had some inevitable accidents on the track, she said, “Even when I’m wrecking, there’s never been a time when I’m really concerned for myself, more so for the damage to my car. I’ve never been scared when I’m driving.” Roller coasters and snakes are much scarier, she insists.
Scary or not, the racing world can still be frustrating — and racist and sexist.
“There have been very mean comments on Facebook, saying I should be racing a camel or . . . ‘First NASCAR bans Confederate flags and lets [black driver] Bubba Wallace race, now this,” said Breidinger, who said she believes she is the only Arab-American racing right now.
“Every race I get at least one comment that could be seen as sexist,” she admitted. “I just kind of let it go in one ear and out the other. I think people make these kinds of comments out of ignorance . . . not trying to be sexist.
“One of the top comments I get is, ‘She’s a model trying to be a race-car driver,” said Breidinger, whose sponsors include the Arab-owned brands VibeSzn clothing and Huda Beauty. She’s been an ambassador for brands such as Skims, Kim Kardashian’s shapewear and loungewear line
Not that she has a lot of time for anything but her driving career. Ahead of hours-long races, Breidinger does cardio workouts in a sauna to ready herself for the high temperatures inside her No. 2 Chevrolet SS — as much as 30 or 40 degrees higher than the outside temps.
“It’s hard to stay focused and mentally and physically strong when it gets super hot in those cars,” she explained. “So my trainer will have me get my heart rate up, and then he’ll throw a ball that has numbers on it he’ll have me read.”
In her rare free time, Breidinger, who is single, hangs out with fellow drivers such as Hailie Deegan, or her pet bunny Fetty Hop (named after rapper Fetty Wap).
She still loves to hit the local go-kart track and explore the East Coast in her Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 (she admitted to getting a “couple of speeding tickets”) — while keeping her eyes on the prize.
“I feel like this year, now, is really my moment,” she said. Her next goal? “A Top 10 at Talladega.”
Annie Wermiel / New York Post; Stylist: Kristin Fernandez; Location: Young’s Motorsports, Mooresville, NC.