Make room Danica Patrick, there’s a new girl in town. Tia Norfleet was recently licensed as Nascar’s first African-American female driver. She made her NASCAR racing debut in August. The 25-year-old is the daughter of racing veteran Bobby Norfleet, and she’s out to break even more ground.
“Around the age of 14 is when I really, really knew that this was what I wanted to do for a living; this was my passion,”Norfleet told the Huffington Post. When she was young, her dad put two car batteries into a little corvette she had and she drove that car “until the wheels fell off. Ever since then, I’ve just been so enthused about motorsports.”
Her father nurtured that love of racing in his little girl.
“As a young girl, I knew she had the desire to do it,” Bobby said on Norfleet’s website. “I sort of stepped back on myself and my driving to spend the time on her….The talent, that has to be groomed but [she had] the drive and the ambition to do it. [It was] nothing I or her mom ever pushed her in to, so that’s half the battle right there. The rest of it is being taught the racing business, and then being taught the discipline of racing. Because racing is not just getting in the car and driving.”
It seems like Bobby Norfleet did a good job. Besides being very beautiful, this young lady is also focused: she is a businesswoman and a philanthropist.
Norfleet didn’t have any national sponsorship but completed her first NASCAR race anyway. And let’s not forget that there are only 25 Black people alive who’ve ever seen an entire NASCAR event (just kidding, NASCAR). But it’s safe to say that the sport is not particularly popular among African Americans.
Norfleet wants to change that, telling the Washington Post:
A lot of people don’t know anything about [race car driving], especially minorities, especially people of color. Because it is a predominately White sport — a predominately White male sport, at that — a lot of people just don’t know about it. Hopefully with seeing an example, that “hey, if she can do it, I can do it” hopefully that’s the kind of effect that will happen.
Norfleet co-owns Bobby Norfleet Racing with her father. The national sponsorships, she says, are forthcoming.
“Things have definitely picked up. We’ve come a long way but we still have a long way to go,” she told the Post. “I have a team of people that also help [bring] awareness to people that don’t know about me. It’s working for me. It’s encouraging and it’s motivating to get the positive feedback from people. It makes me feel like, Okay, this is what I’m doing this for.”
NASCAR, one of the most-popular sports in the country, routinely draws 100,000 people to its events but still has to change with the times, Bobby told Loop 21:
The sport is changing. It’s not like it was when I first got in. You are seeing more minority participation in the sport. NASCAR is doing more to promote inclusion. They are trying to show people that it’s not like it was 20 years ago. NASCAR is big business, and in order to succeed in big business, you have to include everybody. I’ve seen rapid growth in the last six years. They are trying to come up with new ways to get more people involved in the sport. Keep in mind, NASCAR is 60 years old and this is all brand-new to them, but they are making an assertive effort.
Norfleet is more than excited to be a part of that change. Her goal is to win the Daytona 500, the Super Bowl of NASCAR events. But does she worry about the danger while speeding in a car at up to 200 miles per hour?
“I don’t focus on getting hurt,” Norfleet said. “I don’t pay attention to the crashes. I believe in God and that everything happens for a reason. I say my prayers, I thank him, and I just go for what I know.”
And what she knows that as a groundbreaking athlete, she has the responsibility to reach out to other young women and people of color. Norfleet has a foundation named “Driven 2 Read,” which focuses on child literacy. And when she’s not preparing to race, she speaks to young people about overcoming the odds. She tells Bleacher Report:
“When I am not racing on the track I am racing to help the next child with their dreams and ambitions. I want to empower young people to be positive, especially young girls….When the world tells them they can’t, I want them to see my face and hear my voice that’s saying, ‘Yes, you can!’ I want young people to know that they can do whatever it is that they want to do in life as long as they believe in themselves and that can achieve their dreams no matter what.”
For breaking new ground and following her dreams, Norfleet is the Shine Awards Crafty Kid Winner. Congratulations, Tia! Now I might flip to a NASCAR event once in a blue moon.