Brittany Weschenfelder has enjoyed a love of cars and racing for as long as she can remember.
"I've always been interested in automotive since I was little," said Weschenfelder of San Antonio, Texas. "Growing up, my family didn't have a lot of money, so we would work on the cars ourselves."
As a youngster, Weschenfelder loved to help her dad and grandfather fix the family cars.
She put those skills to a real test at age 16, when her grandfather died and left her his 1984 Dodge Rampage that wasn't running.
"I rebuilt the carburetor myself and started getting it back to where it would actually drive down the street," Weschenfelder said. "Even now, I continue to tinker with the Rampage and use the vehicle daily."
Since moving on her own four years ago, Weschenfelder, 22, has worked as a waitress, fast food clerk, business assistant and on a cleaning crew, often working two to three jobs a day to make ends meet.
"I struggled with finding my life's purpose," Weschenfelder said. "But at the recommendation of my uncle, I researched Universal Technical Institute and discovered a field that fits me and that I fit in."
That field is automotive repair. Weschenfelder's journey to a promising career is unfolding at UTI's Houston campus, where she's a student training as an automotive service technician.
Better yet, she's found her life's career ambition.
"I've learned I have a knack for figuring out what is wrong with cars and identifying immediate fixes that extend use until a proper fix can be implemented," Weschenfelder said.
Her favorite classes, she said, are undercar, powertrain and brakes.
"Taking apart a transmission is really cool, and brakes are so much fun to take apart and put back together," Weschenfelder said. "The UTI instructors are great. If you have questions, they have no problem sharing every bit of their knowledge."
In search of financial assistance last December, a school admissions counselor and close friend both encouraged Weschenfelder to apply for a UTI Brienne Davis Memorial Scholarship.
"I have a friend who wants to open an auto repair shop and have me work for him," Weschenfelder said. "He told me, 'Just apply for it. What will it hurt? The worst is you won't get it. The best is, of course, you will.' That's what really got me to apply for it."
That proved to be sound advice. Earlier this year, Weschenfelder was named a recipient of a $10,000 scholarship.
Brienne Davis was a Sprint Cup Series official who died in an automobile accident on April 8, 2008, cutting short a promising career. Her legacy lives on in the UTI Brienne Davis Memorial Scholarship Fund, established by NASCAR officials in 2008 to encourage women to seek careers in the automotive industry.
The scholarship program provides an opportunity for qualified female students who wish to attend one of eleven UTI campuses across the United States, including UTI's NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville, N.C.
Like Weschenfelder, Davis attended UTI Houston and graduated at the top of her class in 2001. She blazed a unique career path, first working at Dale Earnhardt Inc. as an engine builder before joining NASCAR as an official and inspector in 2004.
Davis had a leg up on the competition because of UTI's automotive technology training program, which included six weeks of a NASCAR-approved curriculum on racing.
That, and drive.
She was proof that with determination and persistence, anything is possible for women in today's NASCAR and automotive field.
Eleven years later, Weschenfelder follows in Davis' footsteps on the UTI Houston campus.
"I feel very blessed to be able to get a scholarship in memory of someone who had a real passion for automotive like me," Weschenfelder said.
Since 2008, NASCAR officials and the NASCAR industry have held fund-raisers such as golf and bowling tournaments as well as "Jail & Bail" charity events to benefit the scholarship fund.
With the successful completion of an automotive training program, there's never been a better time to encourage women to enter the automotive career field. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of automotive technicians will increase 14 percent by 2016.
"Since establishing the fund in 2008, we've seen many young women who have received scholarships go on to careers in automotive and racing," NASCAR official John Sacco said. "We're seeing these young women becoming employed at places like Cummins Diesel, Roush Yates Racing Engines, Champion Tire & Wheel and automotive shops around the country. It makes us all very proud."
Beginning in 2013, a total of four scholarships will be awarded. By the close of the program in 2023, the Brienne Davis Scholarship Fund will have awarded 50 scholarships.
Year after year, scholarship recipients continue to emulate the same passion for automotive that Davis demonstrated during her NASCAR career.
"We are grateful to the NASCAR family for making these scholarships possible," said Veronica Meury, vice president and executive director of the UTI Foundation. "Brienne's accomplishments are an inspiration for all. This scholarship fund, supported by NASCAR's officials, drivers, partners and fans in memory of Brienne, is substantially helping young women pursue their dream careers in the automotive and NASCAR industries."
Set to graduate next year, Weschenfelder's long-term plans are to pursue a NASCAR career. Her short-term goals are to gain hands-on experience working on passenger cars in auto shops along the East coast.
"My ultimate dream would be to work on the race cars in NASCAR," Weschenfelder said. "But my immediate plan right now is to start off working on cars in the Northeast part of the country and then work my way down back to Texas."
Being awarded a UTI Brienne Davis Memorial Scholarship has helped Weschenfelder ease financial burdens and has allowed her to focus on her education.
"I just want to thank the NASCAR officials, all the drivers, sponsors and fans who contributed to the scholarship program. It has been such a tremendous help," Weschenfelder said. "I couldn't have done it without the scholarship. It's helped out so much."
Know a female interested in pursuing a career in automotive? UTI Brienne Davis Memorial Scholarship Applications are currently being accepted at www.utifoundation.net .