Driven to race

Published 10:16 pm Saturday, February 5, 2011

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories profiling black Suffolk natives in honor of Black History Month.

Tia Norfleet dreamed of racing when she was a child.

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Her father, Bobby Norfleet, a driver and car owner himself, raised her around motorsports of all kinds. For a daughter to follow in her father’s footsteps seems natural.

“He’s been in racing all my life, so that’s pretty much all that I’ve seen around me,” Tia Norfleet, 21, said in a recent phone interview. “Whether it was drag racing or motorcycles or any kind of motorsport, he was always involved. It slowly progressed into a passion of mine.”

Driver: Tia Norfleet is touted as the first and only black female driver to be licensed to drive in NASCAR. She and her father Bobby Norfleet, also a race driver, are from Suffolk.

Just two things seemed like roadblocks: Tia is black, and she’s a woman. Auto racing in America is dominated by white men.

But those things didn’t stop Tia Norfleet.

“I don’t look at it like that,” she said. “I just look at it as I’m being blessed with the opportunity to do something I want to do. It just so happens I’m a black woman.”

Bobby and Tia both are from Suffolk. Tia began racing go-carts in 1995, and racked up a record of 22 top-10 finishes, six top-5 finishes and two wins before moving up to the Bandoleros Series in 2000. After an impressive showing there, she drove a NASCAR Late Model in the 2004 series, finishing with 18 starts and two top-15 finishes.

Her drag-racing career is even more stellar. Tia recorded 37 wins in only 52 starts.

She currently races in the ARCA series, she said, and has Velocity Wireless as a sponsor.

“I don’t want to just be involved in one,” she said. “I’m the type of person I want to be involved in everything as much as possible. I want to do it all.”

Norfleet said her faith in God keeps her focused while she’s driving.

“The whole time in my mind I’m just praying, thanking God and asking Him to cover me and keep me safe,” she said. “The first rule is to never get too comfortable with the car. You can never get to the point when you’re not scared because that’s when stuff is going to go wrong.”

Norfleet said her first win at a Dover, Del. track was “like a breath of fresh air” at a time when she was otherwise getting discouraged.

“During that time I was just kind of going through issues,” she said. “Everyone feels inadequate sometimes. [The win] kind of tapped me a little bit. It was just my seal of approval.”

Norfleet said she hopes her auto racing success will inspire other young women of all races to follow their dreams.

“I’m all about empowerment,” Norfleet said. “That’s my main focus — racing and empowering other young women, no matter what race, creed or color. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough. Dreams do come true, and I’m living proof of that.”