Over the past year, Tia Norfleet has gotten significant publicity centered around being the only licensed African-American female NASCAR driver.
While the licensing part may be true -- Norfleet is licensed to participate in bottom tier races -- it's overstated at best and inaccurate at worst. According to this report from the New York Times, Norfleet has bought a license to compete at local and regional events -- licenses that are not regulated. However, she hasn't earned NASCAR approval to move up to one of its national touring series. Why? well, in her only sanctioned start last August she completed one lap before parking her car.
On her website, her racing schedule lists the 2013 Nationwide Series schedule, and there are pictures of her in a firesuit with the Nationwide Series logo. That's NASCAR's second-tier series. A series she obviously hasn't been approved for. NASCAR officials are uneasy over Norfleet's claims.
“Ms. Norfleet is one of thousands of individuals who have purchased licenses in the Late Model Division of our sport,” NASCAR Vice President for Public Affairs and Multicultural Development Marcus Jadotte said in an e-mail. “I am uncomfortable with attempts Ms. Norfleet and her representatives have made to forgo the sport’s development process.”
Nascar officials said they were also concerned with questions about Norfleet’s legal record. Public records indicate that Tia Norfleet’s full name is Shauntia Latrice Norfleet, and that she has a criminal record in Virginia and Georgia. (No public records were found with the name Tia Norfleet.) According to her Web site, her hometown is Augusta, Ga.
When Norfleet was contacted by the Times, she said she raced in nonsanctioned races "all the time." That's the equivalent response of calling yourself a professional baseball player and playing weekly in a Tuesday night beer league. It's also entirely possible there are other African-American women drivers competing at local events around the country. They just don't have a marketing campaign.
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 charges on her criminal record include assault and drug related offenses. Her father Bobby Norfleet (referred to as a race car legend by the Washington Post), made one start in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series in 2000 -- the sanctioning body's third-highest level -- and according to Racing Reference, finished 32nd after starting 33rd and last.
NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program, the series' effort to facilitate opportunities for women and minorities, has received a lot of attention lately as participants Darrell Wallace Jr. and Kyle Larson have made headlines. Wallace, running full-time in the Truck Series, is the fourth African American to race full-time in a NASCAR national series and Larson (who was involved in that scary crash at Daytona) has been touted for his star potential. And of course, outside of the program, there's been Danica Patrick, who became the first woman to win a pole in the Sprint Cup Series at Daytona.
Norfleet would obviously be a perfect fit for NASCAR's development system, and because of the Drive for Diversity and NASCAR's broadening appeal, it's likely just a matter of time before there's a black woman competing regularly in a NASCAR touring series. And it very well could be Tia Norfleet. However, it seems that she's still got a ways to go.
-Follow Nick Bromberg on Twitter at @NickBromberg-
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