From Go-Karts to Glory: How Toni Breidinger is shaping the future of motorsports

Toni Breidinger is using her platform to inspire young female athletes and elevate the NASCAR brand as a whole. Her story is one of resilience and authenticity.

Raising Cane's International Women's Month Event with NASCAR Driver Toni Breidinger in Phoenix
Raising Cane's International Women's Month Event with NASCAR Driver Toni Breidinger in Phoenix / Greg Doherty/GettyImages

Toni Breidinger's journey into the world of motorsports began with a simple proposition from her father. It was an ordinary day for the then-nine-year-old Breidinger, who sat alongside her twin sister Annie in the back seat of her father’s car.

On his way to work, their dad noticed a billboard advertising go-kart lessons at Sonoma Raceway just outside of San Francisco, California. At that moment, he saw an opportunity to ignite a spark of curiosity and adventure in his daughters. Or, maybe he just wanted to get them out of the house for a little while.

Either way, he asked his daughters if they wanted to give go-karting a try. Despite having no knowledge of the world of go-karts — let alone the world of motorsports — the twin sisters enthusiastically agreed.

Toni remembers standing over a go-kart for the first time and realizing that she previously didn’t even know what one looked like. That moment, innocuous as it seemed at the time, ignited a spark that would fuel Toni's journey for the next 15 years, propelling her to the forefront of a male-dominated field.

Fast forward to the present day, a now-24-year-old Toni Breidinger isn't just racing against her competitors — she’s racing against stereotypes. She’s racing against societal limitations and gender barriers. And she’s winning.

Her tireless determination and uncanny marketing abilities have made her a trailblazer in the world of motorsports, helping create new opportunities for women in a sport long dominated by the opposite sex.

Toni recently revisited her motorsports origins as part of a new Raising Cane’s campaign celebrating International Women’s Day. Alongside her sister Annie, now an accomplished car engineer in the STEM field, Toni hosted 13 aspiring young female drivers at Phoenix Kart Racing Association, the same race track where Toni won her first go-kart race years ago. 

Toni had one piece of advice for every driver in attendance that day: “Don’t be afraid to be the first you.” It’s a motto she’s lived by, one that would serve as a guiding principle throughout her life.

Prior to the event, Raising Cane’s presented the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) with a $100,000 donation in honor of International Women’s Day and Toni's role as a WSF Athlete Ambassador. It was a full-circle moment for Toni, who had the opportunity to reminisce on her own motorsports beginnings.

“It was honestly very random,” Toni remarked about her start in racing. “I didn’t really have an inspiration. I wasn’t familiar with NASCAR or the motorsports world.”

Those fortuitous go-kart lessons her father offered turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It didn’t take long for Toni to become hooked on the world of go-karting. Toni and her sister persistently pleaded with their father for a go-kart until he relented and bought one for them.

Constant bickering over its use prompted him to purchase a second, allowing each sister to have her own. That enabled Toni and her sister to start racing each other, Toni’s first foray into the competitive side of motorsports.

Toni’s racing journey is atypical of your average motorsports competitor. She didn’t grow up with a family rooted in the sport, as many racers before her have. In many ways, she’s self-made.

“I didn’t have parents who were in the sport before, so I really had no idea what I was doing,” Toni shared.

Toni repeatedly emphasized her commitment to supporting young women in motorsports, driven by her own past experiences. Her ultimate aim is clear — she hopes to guide aspiring female racers, ensuring they avoid the very mistakes she made in her own journey.

Beyond mere inspiration, Toni's mission is to actively remove obstacles and dismantle existing barriers within the sport. By doing so, she seeks to create a smoother path for future generations of female racers, ensuring they encounter fewer hurdles along the way. In essence, she’s shattering the so-called glass ceiling so that future women in the space don’t have to.

“I want to break down barriers so it’s easier for the girls behind me coming up to make it,” Toni said. “The biggest thing is getting more females in the sport. Representation helps with that.”

That’s why an event like this one is so important. Representation allows individuals from various backgrounds to see themselves included and, well, represented.

When someone such as Toni is visible in the world of motorsports, it fosters a sense of belonging for young women in the community, inspiring others to pursue their passions while diversifying the sport’s audience. That responsibility is not lost on Toni.

“Us females need to uplift and support each other,” Toni insists. “It’s a male-dominated space, so the more welcoming we can be with each other, the better it is for women in this sport.”

There aren’t necessarily physical boundaries to entry for a woman in motorsports. There’s no rule discriminating against a certain gender, nor is there an inherent disadvantage for women — at least not tangibly.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle that female drivers are forced to overcome pertains to perception. In such a male-dominated sport — both from a participant and target demographic perspective — earning respect as a woman can be challenging.

“Not everybody takes you seriously,” Toni says. “It’s something a lot of drivers experience. Obviously, everyone has to earn respect, but I feel like females in the sport have to work a little bit harder for that same respect.”

That notion is especially true when it comes to certain sectors of the motorsports fanbase. From disparaging comments about their abilities to dogmatic remarks questioning their place in the sport, these athletes must contend with a constant barrage of negativity. And no place is that more evident than on social media.

“When it comes to social media, it’s a little easier,” Toni said about dealing with daily negativity. “You can just not look at your screens. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, of course. I still catch myself scrolling sometimes.”

That negativity can be overwhelming, but Toni emphasizes it’s important to keep perspective of what matters. “You can’t please everybody,” Toni says. “I try not to let it get to me.”

Unfortunately, the scrutiny doesn’t always come from anonymous users on social media. Women in motorsports often encounter negativity from some within the industry, facing skepticism and biases that can hinder their progress and recognition on the track. These challenges highlight the ongoing struggle for gender equality and representation in the male-dominated world of racing.

“When people in the industry are negative, I definitely take that more to heart,” Toni says.

After all, those are her peers. The opinions and attitudes of fellow racers and industry insiders can weigh heavily on one’s confidence and sense of belonging. Fortunately, Toni is proud of the support system she’s surrounded herself with.

“I’m with a great team, Venturini Motorsports,” she says. “I’m really confident in my team. I know they believe in me and see me as a driver and not just a female in the sport.”

It’s not just her team, either. While Toni may not be one of the most prominent names in the world of motorsports yet, she does have one of the largest fanbases. In fact, she has over 2.2 million Instagram followers, more than any driver at any level of NASCAR. She also has an additional 2.3 million followers on TikTok, again the most of any NASCAR driver.

Despite this massive following, Toni remains humble. “Whenever I see anyone wearing my merch, I always get starstruck,” she says. “I always dreamed of having a fan, so it’s cool to see that I have multiple of them.”

Toni knows how to market herself. She’s a savvy businesswoman who utilizes social channels and brand deals to not only further her own career but to grow the sport as a whole. She has sponsorship deals with companies including Toyota, Celsius, PepsiCo’s Gatorade brand, Mattel’s Hot Wheels, and, of course, Raising Cane’s. She also models for Victoria’s Secret.

Toni embodies the new age of the sporting world, where athletes are not only skilled at their craft but also intelligent entrepreneurs, leveraging their personal brand and influence to drive innovation and growth within the sport.

Toni's adept marketing skills and substantial social media presence undoubtedly contribute positively to the future of motorsports. She’s well aware of how her following can help increase exposure to the sport.

“NASCAR has a very American-based demographic, but with my following, I feel like I’ve been able to get NASCAR exposure in demographics that weren’t previously familiar with the sport,” Toni says.

The proof is evident for all to see. There are billboards with Toni’s name and face scattered across the country. She has life-size cutouts decorating the inside of numerous Raising Cane’s restaurants. There are commercials, ad campaigns, merchandise, and various other marketing avenues that help expose NASCAR and the greater motorsports world to new demographics.

“My generation, in particular, has been doing a great job of utilizing social media to reach a new fanbase,” Toni suggests. “The younger drivers are getting more creative to welcome in new fans.”

Toni has over 500,000 more Instagram followers than any other NASCAR driver. She has more than quadruple the following of some of the sport’s most notable names such as Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, and Kyle Larson. She may not have reached the racing heights that they have yet, but that doesn’t mean she’s not integral to the growth of the sport.

“I hope it continues to grow,” Toni says about NASCAR. “I hope that I can be one of the drivers who helps grow it. There’s endless potential for growth.”

Toni Breidinger is an international ambassador for women in sports. She’s a self-made entrepreneur who leverages her platform to not only inspire and uplift female athletes but also to help grow the sport she loves.

She’s also the same woman who, 15 years ago, sat innocently in the back seat of her dad’s car alongside her twin sister, unaware of the inspiration she’d one day become to an entire generation of aspiring female athletes.

Toni isn’t “the next Danica Patrick”. She’s the first Toni Breidinger. That’s the advice she offered to every young driver at that event in Arizona.

“Don’t be afraid to be the first you.” Those words continue to stick with Toni.

She’s been typecast her entire life. She’s been put in a figurative box and warned not to step outside. She’s never listened.

“A lot of people want others to fit a certain stereotype,” Toni says. “Doing something different makes people uncomfortable. Those people don’t know how to react, so they just try to put everyone in a box.”

It’s a box that so many female athletes before her have also inhabited. It’s also a box Toni is actively working to disassemble. Each milestone she passes in her career helps accomplish that goal. With every race won and every barrier broken, Toni is not just rewriting the script for women in motorsports — she's reshaping the narrative for female athletes everywhere, proving that there are no limits to what women can achieve in the world of sports.

Toni's message inspires others to embrace their identity, stand out from the crowd, and blaze trails that pave the way for future generations to follow.

“There are always going to be people who are constantly trying to put you in a box and make you fit in, but just go out there and be yourself,” Toni emphasizes. “Maybe no one’s done it before, but that just means you can be the first one. Don’t let that stop you.”

Toni Breidinger’s story is one of resilience and authenticity. From her humble beginnings to becoming a beacon of empowerment in the male-dominated realm of motorsports, Toni defies expectations and challenges stereotypes.

As she continues to shatter barriers, Toni's message remains clear: dare to be unapologetically yourself, break free from societal constraints, and pave the way for future generations to follow.

Next. NASCAR: Why only one driver (not five) is locked into the playoffs. NASCAR: Why only one driver (not five) is locked into the playoffs. dark

Or as Toni puts it, “Don’t be afraid to be the first you.”