By Macy Meyer
Liz Prestella held up two lug nuts to the Zoom screen as she sat in living room in Mooresville, North Carolina. One has the word “Cup race” scribbled on the side, and the other with “Bristol” is labeled in dark, black sharpie, standing out in perfect contrast with the shiny chrome shell.
Liz remembers the nerves of seeing the car pulling up to the pit lane during her first race and how she just wanted to prove to the pit crew she could do it as well.
Make it tight. Make it quick. Don’t screw up.
She practiced for this moment for years, but she still worried about falling on her face as she attempted to change a NASCAR tire in under 12 seconds.
In the literal sense, the two lug nuts symbolize the first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race she ever worked as a tire changer and the years she hustled to finally work full time in NASCAR Cup Series, the top racing series. They remind her of where she started as a tire changer and where she is now a tire specialist, giving orders to the pit crew.
However, for Liz, they hold more meaning than just fond memories from a NASCAR racetrack — it reminds her that when she first started changing tires in 2012, she was one of the first women to ever work in a NASCAR pit crew.
Even now, as a full-time tire specialist for JTG Daugherty Racing, Liz often finds herself the only woman on the race track.
“I kept those as little mementos for what I did,” Liz said. “I’m one of the few girls that’s ever actually changed tires in NASCAR.”
From passion to obsession
When Liz was little, she always found refuge in the garage of her home in Lake Nevada, California. As the youngest of three girls, Liz, however, spent most of her time in the garage between the men of the family and a vehicle, studying the way they worked.
“Liz always loved to hang out and watch her father, both grandfathers and uncle working on cars in the garage,” Jeanne Prestella, Liz’s mother, said. “It wasn’t long before she was watching races on weekends with dad.”
Therefore, when Liz chose auto shop as her elective in high school, Jeanne and Alton, Liz’s father, weren’t surprised. As a child, Liz was always taking apart toys to find out how they worked, and the parents can remember Liz’s shinning eyes when she attended her first NASCAR race at 12 years old.
This passion was quickly turned into an obsession.
Liz, with Alton and a copy of a Summit Racing book, would spend hours tinkering with her 1988 Camaro, studying every auto part from piston to camshaft for her favorite class. It was during Mr. Patterson’s auto shop class that 15-year-old Liz realized she wanted a career in racing.
It was a complete leap of faith, however, for Liz, a native of a Northern California town that held no opportunities for auto racing, especially as a woman, to get into this industry.
“Our biggest fear was how we could help her find a way to be successful in her dreams,” Alton said. “We knew nothing of the industry.”
Liz took her chance, though. She moved 2,500 miles from Northern California to the heart of the auto racing industry in Western North Carolina. She worked her way through the NASCAR Technical Institute and through the NASCAR divisions, starting from an internship with Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing in the Truck Series and pushing forward to the highest level.
“When I started, there wasn’t nearly as much diversity as there is now,” Liz said. “I worked hard and people started having more and more respect for me. And it was more just me proving myself. I had to prove myself more than the guys would because there’s not a lot of girls.”
Liz loved her job, and she worked hard. Her only complain was about the workwear.
Liz had it enough after watching her phone tumble out of her pocked for what felt the hundredth time. On one occasion, her pants ripped in the back so she has to spend the rest of her workday with duct tape keeping them together.
Liz knew there was a huge issue: there was no clothing suitable for women in NASCAR.
Liz spent years wearing oversized men’s coveralls through high school and her training years. She just assumed NASCAR, with its network and funding, would have more options for women working in the crew. A few pairs of ripped pants later, she decided to fix the problem herself.
Liz didn’t even know where to start, but she knew there was a problem and she needed it fixed. For this purpose, she googled clothing factories, started drawing up designs and researched fabrics and cuts until she could design the perfect clothing line for women in the auto industry.
Liz always loved sewing and designing. She even made her own prom dresses just because she could, but she never knew it would help her to start a business in 2017: Torq’d Clothing.
Kaylynn Simmons was astonished when she first saw the posting on Facebook promoting Torq’d.
Finally, she thought.
As a clutch specialist for Top Fuel in The IndyCar Series, she was just thrilled someone felt her pain through years of wardrobe malfunctions.
“A lot of the girls’ pants don’t hold up to what we put ourselves through, and I was constantly buying guys pants,” Simmons said. “I told [Liz] how badass it was that she was finally doing something that was so monumental.”
Making a difference
Torq’d has expanded from just the automotive industry, giving women welders, construction workers and other trades the comfort they need in their work. In a larger sense, it’s creating resources for women in male-dominated industries.
“I think that the more resources women have and the fact that there’s uniforms for them, it’s gonna encourage women to be like, ‘you know, I can do it too,’” Liz said. “I’m hoping that Torq’d can make women feel like they can be a part of automotive or trades or welding.”
Liz remembers the special feeling in her heart when a young girl approached her at a race asking how she can be like Liz.
Her heart warmed. That one moment was worth all the battles, all the trials and tribulations, all the effort she put into proving that she was just as capable as the men next to her. It has always been her dream to break barriers for the next generation of young women. She felt triumphant knowing she was proving women can, and should, be in NASCAR.
“I definitely want to be an inspiration for young girls to see that they can do it,” Liz said. “The way I look at it is if I have a tough time, then it makes it that much easier for women down the road, so I have to break this mold or break the stereotype. I’ve always wanted to be that person that made a difference.”
“And if it’s me making a difference for women and racing, then I’ll happily do whatever it takes.”
Edited by Wendy Jin