For years, stock car driver Tia Norfleet was heralded as a shining example of diversity in the historically not-so-diverse NASCAR. She has been touted in the media as the first black woman to race in NASCAR. But how much sanctioned racing has Norfleet done exactly? About one lap in a low-level event last year, despite her claims to the contrary.
The New York Times has a rather fascinating report on Norfleet's career to date. As they note, her website lists her as running a full season in this year's Nationwide Series calendar. But she hasn't been in any of those races so far, nor is she listed on NASCAR's list of Nationwide drivers, nor is she even licensed to compete at that level, according to the Times.
Over the past few years Norfleet's supposedly barrier-breaking "meteoric rise" in the sport has been covered by the Huffington Post, ESPN, and also our sister site Jezebel. But despite the claims made in public and on her website, Norfleet hasn't really done a whole lot. From the Times:
For the past four years, Norfleet has purchased a license to race at the lowest level of stock-car racing. There is no vetting process for such a license; individual racetracks must approve drivers for competition.
To move up to a higher level of competition — a regional touring series like the K&N Pro Series East or the K&N Pro Series West — a driver must earn approval from Nascar. Norfleet has not done that yet.
The only sanctioned race she has apparently been involved in was at Virginia's Motor Mile Speedway last year, where she ran a single lap before she drove into the pit and parked her car. And her performance was so spotty that during her practice runs, other drivers didn't want to be on the track at the same time, according to one driver quoted by the paper.
For her part, Norfleet said she has competed in nonsanctioned races for many years. But she has been coasting on her apparently self-manufactured reputation as a NASCAR driver for some time. Again, from the Times:
One of the first public mentions of a Tia Norfleet appears to be in a news release in January 2010, a month after Shauntia Norfleet’s conviction in Lincoln County, Ga., for crossing a guard line at a jail with contraband and possession of marijuana.
The release announced Tia Norfleet as “the first and only African-American female driver in Nascar and Arca,” and said she had signed to be represented by Platinum Sports Entertainment Group.
At that time, Norfleet had not raced for Nascar or Arca, another auto racing organization in the United States.
Her racing record has some strange discrepancies as well, which is noted by Yahoo Sports:
At first glance, her stats coming up through racing series seem impressive; she claims 37 wins in 52 starts. But this ESPNW article says those achievements were in a drag racing series. This Washington Post piece referenced the same statistic, but in a late-model series. That's a significant discrepancy, as those are two distinct racing disciplines. There's also a discrepancy over Norfleet's age.
The Times' story notes that Norfleet has a criminal record (which she and her father, former driver Bobby Norfleet, are extremely evasive about), something NASCAR officials say they find troubling. I find that less concerning myself, as she's hardly the only racing driver in the world who has had some run-ins with the law.
What is concerning is that Norfleet seems more adamant about being portrayed as a racing driver than doing any actual racing.
I think all of us can agree that NASCAR stands to benefit by becoming a more inclusive sport. But no one should claim to do something they aren't doing, regardless of who they are. This is a very strange case where the facts don't seem to add up.
Photo credit Tia Norfleet Official Website