by Ayvaunn Penn, YourBlackWorld.com
From the drive-it-yourself Barbie car she had at age 5, to getting serious about racing at the age of 14, 23-year-old Tia Norfleet is out to become the first African-American female to start a NASCAR race. Her ambitions are not too surprising given that
she is the daughter of NASCAR racer Bobby Norfleet who was mentored by legend Wendell Scott and a teammate of Winston Cup champion Alan Kulwicki. She says that although she has a love for racing, reaching her goal is more that just about her. Tia and her father want to bring African Americans into the sport whether or not they decide to be racers or spectators. She states:
“[My father and I] want to bring a different light to NASCAR. You ask the average person, black, what NASCAR is, and they say, ‘You drive around in a circle, and that’s it — so what?’ Well, they don’t see anyone there they recognize, or that they can identify with.”
Bobby remembers the days of being “the lone black racer” and all of the stigma that went along with it, but he acknowledges that there have been some positive changes since then. He says:
“It’s not the 1950s and 1960s NASCAR anymore. In the last five to seven years, they’ve made a lot of strides for inclusion. It’s a work in progress.”
There is now a “Drive for Diversity” program by NASCAR that not only takes action in recruiting minorities and women but also promoting them. As a result, there is a growing number of black racers – like Bill Lester and 22-year-old Michael Cherry – and fans. The media has helped in the effort as well with Max Siegel getting NASCAR onto BET, a challenge many thought was impossible to overcome. That said, there is still one thing that has not happened: the first African-American woman to start a NASCAR race.
Tia Norfleet has come a long way from driving her Barbie car. According to AOL Sporting News, once Tia made her final decision to be a racer at the tender age of 14, “[she]…raced go-karts, then drag-raced, then started winning on short tracks, leading up to her attempts to get on the circuit today.” Whereas this young lady is not the only reason that NASCAR has grown to become more inclusive of minorities and women, reaching her goal will make a great historical contribution.