NASCAR pioneer Norfleet's driving passion


Fri, 29 Apr 21:07:00 2011

Ever since she was given a souped-up Barbie Car by her father at the tender age of seven, Tia Norfleet has been addicted to racing, and racing as fast as possible.

Fast forward 16 years and the petite native of Suffolk, Virginia is poised to become the first African-American female to compete in the elite ranks of National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).

Hardly surprisingly, earning a NASCAR license counts as the biggest highlight of her career to date and yet Norfleet's principle objective is to inspire other young women to follow their own dreams.

"That's my main goal -- to motivate young girls of all colours, all races and all creeds, and to let them know that you don't have to go out and do something that is immoral or not right," Norfleet told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"I want them to know you can be positive and you can achieve things. When people tell you you can't do something, I just want to motivate them to be all that they can be.

"I'm all about empowerment and, at the same time, I want to grow into the woman that I want to be."

Although Norfleet's first love as a young child was music, racing was in her blood. Her father, Bobby, was a protege of African-American NASCAR driver Wendell Scott and has spent most of his career racing in motorcycles, drag cars and stock cars.

"I have been racing for all of her life and Tia decided a long time ago as a small child that she wanted to race," her proud father told Reuters.

Bobby Norfleet recalls the moment with sharp clarity when he knew his daughter was destined to follow in his footsteps.


"She was just seven years old and her first car was the battery-powered Barbie Car," he said. "She wanted me to soup it up so she could beat the other kids in the neighbourhood.

"So I went to work on that car. We put two car batteries in and it would just fly. She loved it, she loved going fast. I knew then that she was interested in racing."

Tia, who is just five feet (1.52 metres) tall, remembers that Barbie Car with great affection.

"I drove that car literally until the wheels fell off," she said with a chuckle. "I have hardly done anything else ever since because I have been so attached to racing."

Addicted to speed largely because of that souped-up Barbie Car, Tia took up go-cart racing in 1995 and went on to record 22 top-10 finishes, six top-fives and two wins.

In 2000, she moved up to the Bandoleros Series before driving a NASCAR Late Model in the 2004 series, producing two top-15 finishes in 18 starts. Most recently, she has been practising in Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) cars.

Tia's best record to date, however, has been on the drag racing circuit where she recorded 37 wins in 52 starts.

"She beat a lot of men, not boys, but men over there in drag racing," Tia's father said. "With her being so short and small and petite, they all thought: 'What is this?'

"There she is in a 230mph drag car and they thought she wouldn't be able to do it because of her size. When she makes up her mind she wants to do something, she's going to do it."


Tia, who will celebrate her 24th birthday on Sunday, has earned a NASCAR license to compete in the Late Model and K&N series on tracks no longer than three-quarters of a mile.

"So she is not yet qualified to drive at Daytona or Talladega, which is almost three miles long," said Bobby.

Asked when Tia would make her NASCAR debut, her father replied: "She is ready to go now.

"We have left that up to her sponsors to decide when they want to unveil her car. Then it's all in 'go-mode'."

Although there are never any guarantees on how a young driver will adapt to the elite challenge of NASCAR, officials hope that Tia Norfleet can help broaden the sport's growth.

"We are always excited when we have new and young drivers who enter the sport, especially if they can be competitive, really tap into the fan base and have an impact on NASCAR's growth," NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston told Reuters.

"We have the best race car drivers in the world and so it is a very, very competitive sport. For someone like Tia, it will be a matter of time, dedication and working up through the system. The proof will be in the pudding."

Tia has already established a growing fan base via the social network Facebook, and concedes that she herself has gained extra motivation from IndyCar driver Danica Patrick, who made her NASCAR debut last year.

"I have been inspired by her a lot," Tia said. "Danica has shown that as a female we can hang with the boys. We can do it just as well as anyone else can.

"She is motivation for me to get out there, do good and give it my all while knowing that I don't have to back down because I am a female. It makes me work even harder."


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