2012 was Tia Norfleet’s coming-out party. The 20-something from Georgia was featured in numerous national publications, including ESPN, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and our own BSO. She was heralded as a pioneer as NASCAR’s first and only African-American female driver. Now the accolades and accomplishments that have been Norfleet’s claim to fame have been questioned in an article featured in the New York Times.
In speaking engagements and on her website, Norfleet represents herself as an experienced driver who intends to compete this season in Nascar’s Nationwide Series, which is one notch below the top-tiered Sprint Cup series. The only problem with this claim is that Norfleet isn’t licensed to compete at that level and the only Nascar sanctioned race she has competed in was a low-level event last year at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, VA. She only completed one full lap before driving off and parking her car.
As more questions arose about the validity of Norfleet’s on-track accomplishments, questions have been raised about her reputation off of it. Public records indicate that Norfleet, whose full name is Shauntia Latrice Norfleet, has a criminal record in Virginia and Georgia, where court documents show she was found guilty of assault and drug related offenses in 2005 and 2009. Norfleet stopped short of admitting to these in an interview.
“People make mistakes in their life and move forward and make a better way,” she said in a telephone interview. “I think things that I’ve done, people make mistakes, as a child, as a teen, and basically, it’s things that you may not be proud of but you move forward and you help others. And they may be in the same situation and you can relate and they can relate to you, and you help them as much as possible.”
In a response to questions about her credentials, Norfleet tweeted a picture of her stock car license (which is affiliated with the lowest level of stock-car racing and has no vetting process) and said this in an interview Monday.
“I’ve been racing in nonsanctioned races before. I’ve been racing forever. For as long as I can remember. I race in nonsanctioned races.”
Nascar officials are distancing themselves from the controversy and have expressed discomfort with her portraying herself as a representative of the sport.
“I am uncomfortable with Tia representing herself in the way that she has,” said Marcus Jadotte, Nascar’s vice president for public affairs and multicultural development.
“Ms. Norfleet is one of thousands of individuals who have purchased licenses in the Late Model Division of our sport,” 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.”
We’ve all heard the saying that where there’s smoke there’s fire and there seems to be a lot of smoke and mirrors around Norfleet’s claim that she is a Nascar pioneer.
As a sports journalist – and in my personal life – I like to deal with the facts. The fact is, Ms. Norfleet has a lower level stock car license that does not validate her skill as a driver. The fact is, Ms. Norfleet has competed in one sanctioned race in which she only completed one lap. The fact is, she has not earned approval from Nascar to compete at a higher competition level. The fact is, Norfleet didn’t even obtain a license to compete in events that were on her “schedule” to race in this year. The fact is, historically it has been hard for blacks to break into Nascar. The idea having of a respected African-American female driver is awesome, but to claim to be a pioneer at anything, you must have the resume to back it up. And unless there’s something I’m missing at this time, Norfleet doesn’t.