NASCAR Young Gun: Tradin' Paint with Tiff Daniels, Racer, and EGR Team Engineer

Rob TiongsonSenior Analyst IFebruary 19, 2010

Over the past several months, B/R Nation has gotten to meet NASCAR prospect Tiff Daniels, a racer who has interacted with Featured Columnist Mary Jo Buchanan.

From her experiences in South Africa to her association with this year's Daytona 500 winning team, we've had a bit of an insider's perspective and take on stock car racing from an engineer's and driver's point of view.

Like the readers, I was interested in learning more about Daniels.

After all, we're about the same age and have a passion for success and spending time with our family and friends. Also, we happen to have a huge interest in stock car racing, following it closely, as well as sharing thoughts and experiences about the sport.

Daniels is a very accessible, interactive, and friendly personality of NASCAR, talking with fans via Facebook and Twitter.

She'll talk about her experiences in her progressive career, as well as the happenings on the track—just about anything! More often than not, you'll get a very intelligent conversation with this 25-year-old originally from Smithfield, VA.

As in the case with most racers who are working their way up the stock car ladder, Daniels hopes to achieve her dream of becoming a full-time Sprint Cup competitor. She's certainly been making her case, starting off with Bandoleros in 1999, but not immediately as a driver.

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Instead, she was learning the mechanical aspect to the cars, assisting her younger brother Cliff with his efforts. Gaining knowledge and confidence with those cars, her diligence paid off when she got her first start behind-the-wheel of a Legends vehicle just two years later. As they say, the rest is history.

Her perseverance, progress, and experiences have led her through success, lessons, as well as her love for racing stock cars across prestigious tracks like Dover, Watkins Glen, New Hampshire, and Lime Rock, to name a few. Like an apprentice learning from their master, Daniels continually improves as a budding NASCAR racer whose prime and ready to head to the next level.

I interviewed Daniels this week, reflecting on her accomplishments in her career, as well as her takes on the recent success of Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing. As an engineer for the trendy Sprint Cup organization, there's a lot of happiness for the young woman who's proud to be part of one of the hottest teams on the Cup circuit.

I'd like to personally thank Tiff Daniels for letting me interview her, and it was one of the most fun and enjoyable pieces I've done thus far with B/R. Also, I'd also like to thank Mary Jo for introducing us to a very remarkable and sensational young woman who will definitely build on her success as a racer of the future in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Buckle up, strap in, and start your engines everyone. Let's go racing and trade paint with Tiff Daniels, NASCAR racer and engineer!

Rob Tiongson: Any one that's part of the motorsports scene in any series has their unique story of how they caught the racing bug or fever. Describe to B/R Nation how you got your start in auto racing and when you decided that this was the career that you wanted to pursue.

Tiff Daniels: I grew up at the race track—my dad raced mainly at Langley Speedway in Hampton, VA, in Grand Stocks and then Late Model Stocks, so I was a big fan from the start.

My younger brother, Cliff, started racing Bandoleros in ’99, and I couldn’t let him have all the fun! My parents had me work on his car to prove I was sincere about racing while I was playing several other sports pretty seriously at the time.

Then in 2001, I entered my first race in a Legends car. It didn’t take me long after that first race to decide that I wanted to make driving race cars my career.

RT: Racing is a family-oriented sport and, from what I saw from your race and experience in South Africa last month, it is certainly something enjoyed by your family. Has racing always been a part of the Daniels' family or are you the first to venture into the sport?

TD: As I mentioned, my dad was a racecar driver, so I think it’s in my blood! My dad was the first driver in the family, but he also used to go watch races frequently with his dad and brother (my grandpa and uncle) so they all had a great appreciation for the sport.

Now it’s my brother and I who are carrying on the Daniels’ racing tradition. Cliff races Late Models, and is looking to move up this year, while I have most recently run in the Camping World Series East (now the K&N Pro Series) and the ASA Transcontinental Series, and I’m looking to advance my career as well.

I am lucky to have such a supportive family, as they showed by coming all the way to South Africa to help me – Cliff was my crew chief, Dad was the pit manager, and Mom was supporting everybody in a variety of ways, including holding the pit board with another team member, Devyn Sitler, during our pit stops!

RT: You're a hands-on, mechanical-oriented racer, as you work with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing as a full-time engineer and from your past work with various racing machines. What are some of the things that you do at the shop and what are some aspects that you enjoy with your work?

TD: At EGR, my primary duties are data acquisition at tests and various suspension R&D projects. When the crew chiefs or race engineers have something they want to try or to improve, particularly with the suspension, I help them research and test their ideas, which can involve working on the ATS rig, the pulldown rig, or with our CAD program.

I also travel to tests to run the Pi data acquisition system with our other data engineers and make sure all the sensors on the cars are functioning properly. I enjoy getting to do something different every day, it keeps things interesting, and helps me learn a lot that benefits my racing program.

RT: Having been involved in racing since 1999, you've had your share of successes and struggles that have paved the way to where you are in the NASCAR scene. Did you ever imagine when you were 13, working with Bandolero cars, that you would be Tiff Daniels, the 25-year-old engineer and racer? How do you handle your successes and cope with the hard times?

TD: The answer to this question is both yes and no – once I decided to make racing my career, I fully planned my career path so that I would be able to consistently advance through the ranks as a driver and have engineering as my “backup plan” while I was working my way up on the driving side, so I did imagine all of this.

On the other hand, I didn’t know exactly how it would turn out or specifically where I would be at 25, so in a sense it was hard to imagine, especially through some of the tough times. Racing is a sport that will knock you down over and over, and then lift you way up, so I stay grounded when things are going well and try to stay positive when they aren’t.

I usually don’t have to look back too far to remember when things didn’t go my way, but at the same time, I can look at all the support I’ve received throughout my career and know that I’m fortunate to be able to do what I love. That’s really what it’s about at the end of the day – you have to love what you’re doing and then you can handle the highs and lows.

Like almost anything you truly love, I don’t always like everything about racing but I can’t live without it. Racers are very passionate, and I don’t think any of us could imagine doing anything else.

I feel blessed to have the career I’ve had so far with both the driving and engineering, but I am still very motivated to keep working as hard as I possibly can to keep moving up the ladder to achieve my ultimate goal of becoming a Sprint Cup winner and champion.

RT: You made tremendous gains and improvements with each K&N Pro East race last year, where certainly, you meshed well with your team as well as getting the feel of the car. What were some of the lessons you learned in the K&N Pro East Series last year and are you planning to race in that division in 2010?

TD: I would definitely race in the K&N Pro Series this year if I had the right opportunity. My plans for this year are dependent on sponsorship support, and I have also been considering racing in the ARCA and Camping World Truck Series.

The K&N Pro Series is a great development series with a good group of drivers and officials, running at Cup tracks like Loudon, Dover, and now Martinsville, and it’s very helpful to be able to race on the same tracks that the upper-level NASCAR series race on.

I learned a lot by racing on the different tracks last year – Watkins Glen, Loudon, Lime Rock, and Dover. The series also serves as a good transition to heavier stock cars, where, for example, I could finally feel a coil-bind setup from the driver’s seat after having worked on it from the engineering side at EGR.

RT: It has to be an asset to know these cars thoroughly, as it helps in preparing your set-up during the races. Just how valuable is driver input with the crew chief and team during a race, in terms of the car's performance handling wise? We've seen some racers who sometimes leave it up to the team entirely and others who deliberate 50/50 with their crew.

TD: Having a thorough knowledge of these cars has been a huge asset to my driving career. I think driver input is invaluable to getting the car tuned-in properly - the better the feedback, the faster the team can solve handling issues and that can make all the difference during race weekend.

My feedback is something I constantly try to improve because the team relies heavily on driver input for adjustments. Driver input styles can vary, even across the top NASCAR teams, from drivers who just relay to the crew what they are feeling in the car to drivers that call for their own specific adjustments, and I think I land somewhere in the middle.

I can certainly suggest changes and do, but I also like listening to other opinions on what might help the car. For me, hearing what my crew chief or team might change to solve a problem helps me learn and sometimes it’s really important to have another perspective when I’m searching for solutions to a handling issue. 

RT: You've competed at tracks like Dover, Loudon, Watkins Glen, Lime Rock, Langley, and South Boston. Each of those tracks have their unique challenges which make them popular places to compete at regularly. Which tracks suited your driving style and how was it like to tackle those road courses?

TD: The faster high-banked tracks suit my driving style the best. I like charging into a corner without having to use much brake, so I’ve had a blast driving on tracks like Bristol and Dover. I think of the short tracks like SoBo and Langley as “home” tracks, so I enjoy those tracks as well.

The road courses are more of a challenge because I didn’t grow up doing a lot of road course racing. However, I enjoyed the challenge of the Glen and Lime Rock, and was grateful for the chance to hone my road course skills.

RT: When you're away from the track and relax, what are some of the things that you enjoy doing? Do you like to keep busy or unwind from a hard but rewarding day at the shop/track?

TD: I definitely stay busy—sometimes I think it would be nice to have a night to relax, but then I realize it’s my own fault that I keep my schedule completely full. Besides working at EGR and working on my driving career, I volunteer for Make-A-Wish and other non-profit projects, I play sports—volleyball, flag football—in a rec league with my brother and friends, I ride go karts as much as possible, I work out every day, and when I get a chance, I enjoy snowboarding, wakeboarding, dirt biking, and skydiving.

RT: With racing being such a demanding but enjoyable sport, there has to be that time to enjoy camaraderie with your peers. Who are some of your friends around the racing world that you've gotten to know over the years?

TD: I have a lot of good friends in the racing world so it would be hard to name anyone without leaving someone out. My best friend in the sport is my brother, Cliff, we are very close, I really value his opinion, and we are very supportive of each other’s racing goals.

I am friends with a lot of my competitors, track and series employees, my EGR colleagues, and of course, my own race teams. I have had some great racing mentors, including Lyn St. James and Wendell Scott, Jr. I would also be remiss not to mention my media friends!

RT: Free Association time, Tiff! As Larry Mac says, pull those seat belts tight here! Tell me the first thing that comes to your mind with the following:


TD: High priority. UNC Charlotte, magna cum laude, engineering and PR.

RT:  Hard work.

TD: Having 2 full-time jobs, racing and engineering.

RT: Traveling.

TD: To racetracks, like the Phakisa Freeway in South Africa.

RT: Family.

TD: Mom, Dad, Cliff, 100% support.
RT: Favorite sport to watch.

TD: Racing, any Olympic sport (Go USA!), and football.

RT: Laughter.

TD : Everyday, the best medicine.

RT: A real racer's track.

TD: Dover, Bristol, Martinsville.

RT: 2010 Daytona 500.

TD: Winners!

RT: Video games.

TD: Wii Fit, Wii Mario Kart. I’m bad at most others.

RT: As one of the more accessible drivers and personalities in racing, how important and vital is it to have contact with the fans, media, and anyone out there who in some form enjoy NASCAR?

: I think it’s very important to have contact with the fans, media, etc. because these are the people who support the sport. Richard Petty is one of my racing heroes, and there is no one who treats his fans better.

I agree completely with him that without the fans, we wouldn’t be able to making a living at our sport. Not to mention, the fans and the media are a driver’s biggest asset in gaining and retaining sponsorship support, which is so important.

The fans support the sponsors, and the media allows the drivers to get their messages and their sponsors’ messages to the fans. I also enjoy being in touch with the fans and the media—it’s fun to talk about the sport we all love, and I like hearing everyone’s opinions. Not to mention how much fans can help motivate us and help us stay positive!

RT: In order to succeed in racing these days, you need the right partners to support you through all times. I know you're working diligently to compete in NASCAR and ARCA this season, so what would you like to say to any potential sponsors out there who are curious about becoming a part of stock car racing?

TD: First, I would like to start by thanking the people who have supported me this past year—SnowTheRacehorse.com, Skincode.com, Graphics Solutions of VA, Foxers, Duragloss, Solarville Communications, Drive for Diversity, and Safety Kleen—without them, I wouldn’t have had such a great year!

I would love to welcome potential sponsors to the sport and to our team, and I am actively seeking partners who believe in my message to inspire generations to dream big and believe in their ability to achieve those dreams, while approaching challenges with grace, respect, and dignity, and embracing a desire to be their best.

I know that for a partnership to be successful, it has to be mutually beneficial and provide a high ROI, and I believe in my team’s ability to accomplish that goal. My team has big dreams and we are going to find a way to make them happen!

Please visit my official website, www.tiffdaniels.com, for contact information and news, check out my Facebook page, and you can follow me on Twitter for updates.