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TheRootDC
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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 10/11/2012

NASCAR driver Tia Norfleet breaks racial barriers


Tia Norfleet is the first black female to be licensed by NASCAR. (Tia Norfleet Motorsports Inc.)
Tia Norfleet is on a race to the top.

Daughter of race car legend Bobby Norfleet, the 25-year-old has been racing since she was a kid, and she is the only black woman to be licensed by NASCAR.

Norfleet’s career began with go-kart racing and has included numerous top finishes in the Bandoleros series, late-model car series and drag racing, where she had 37 wins in 52 starts.

She competes under her dad’s old number, 34, and finished her first race under NASCAR in August.

Norfeet spends her time outside work talking to students about overcoming adversity in sports and working with her child-literacy program, “Driven 2 Read.”

As an African American, Norfleet is helping to usher in a wave of diversity in the racing industry.

We recently spoke with the Suffolk, Va., native about breaking barriers in race car driving, her passion for music and keeping her dad hip.

What do you think it will take to bring more black females into the sport?

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.

What can be done to increase awareness of the sport?

I think actually seeing someone that they can identify with [doing it] would be a stepping stone toward that goal. A lot of people don’t pay attention to things they don’t identify with.

You completed your first race under NASCAR in August without sponsorship. Have things picked up since then? What are you doing to increase your following?

Things have definitely picked up. We’ve come a long way but we still have a long way to go. I go to schools all around the country . . . and I speak to kids. I go on what you would call a ‘mini-tour,’ and I use social networks as much as possible. 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.”

What would you be doing if you weren’t racing?

Music. I would be a singer.

If you were to release an album, what kind of music would be on it?

Everything. I believe that there’s only two genres of music — good music and bad music. I’m so diverse when it comes to that. With music, I can listen to Bob Dylan and then turn around and listen to Rihanna and then listen to Adele or listen to Betty Wright. I just love music . . . from country to hip-hop, rock and roll, the blues, gospel, everything.

You and your father co-own Bobby Norfleet Racing. How do you balance a business and a personal relationship with him?

He’s more of a mentor. The relationship — we balance it by just being ourselves. Everybody has those days when they don’t want to be bothered, or when you may have a small disagreement, but that’s just life. We just take it as it is. He’s older, so a lot of things that I know [are] hip, and I try to tell him “Hey Dad, that’s not cool anymore, you have to do it this way,” and he’s like “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” We always have disagreements, but . . . we agree to disagree, and we’re okay with it.

When you told your mother you wanted to be a race car driver, was she opposed to the idea or supportive?

She supported me 100 percent. Of course, her maternal instinct is to be very protective over me, because I am her child, but she encourages me to do whatever it is that my heart desires. She would support me even if I wanted to make stop signs, as long as I was the best at making stop signs!

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By Erin Williams  |  10:30 AM ET, 10/11/2012

 
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