Tia Norfleet's background called into question
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The credibility of Tia Norfleet, who claims to be the first black female to drive in a NASCAR race, has come under attack within the past week.
But according to her father, former NASCAR driver Bobby Norfleet, it is a "witch hunt."
Norfleet's racing background was questioned in a New York Times article.
In a February news release, Norfleet said she planned to race on the NASCAR Nationwide series this season. In a 2010 news release, she purported to be "the first and only African-American female driver in NASCAR and ARCA."
Norfleet has never competed in a touring series event in NASCAR or an ARCA event. Despite that, Norfleet's public relations' staff told espnW she had competed in NASCAR's Late Model K&N Pro Series.
According to Marcus Jadotte, NASCAR's vice president for public affairs and multicultural development, there is no record of Norfleet competing in any of NASCAR's touring series.
Jadotte said Norfleet did compete in one NASCAR-sanctioned event, which is not part of a touring series. It was a late-model race last year at Motor Mile Speedway in Fairlawn, Va., where she finished 23rd out of 25 competitors. Norfleet ran only one lap and then parked her car.
Al Shelor, the track promoter at Motor Mile, said a NASCAR license is not required to race at his track. He said Norfleet had a license she purchased at another track.
"I know two things," Shelor told ESPN.com. "She came up here on a Friday before the event and practiced a little bit. Two, she ran one lap on Saturday and pulled off.
"I don't know what she looks like. I've never seen her before. Our competition director doesn't know her other than she was here."
Jadotte said he is "uncomfortable" with the way Norfleet has represented herself in the national media.
"Historically, she is one of thousands of aspiring drivers and hobbyist that purchase NASCAR licenses in the late model program of our sport," Jadotte said. "Her attempt to manipulate that process are not productive and are inconsistent with NASCAR's goal of developing the most diverse and competitive drivers in the world."
Jadotte said NASCAR is not looking in Norfleet's background. Under her full name, Shauntia Latrice Norfleet, she has faced criminal charges in Virginia and Georgia.
ESPN.com confirmed in public records that from 2005-2008 a Shauntia Latrice Norfleet, 26, of Augusta, Ga., was charged with possession of drugs and possession of a firearm during a crime in Georgia, and with assault and destruction of personal property in Virginia.
In the Times interview with Norfleet, the driver did not deny having a criminal record.
ESPN.com's attempts to reach Norfleet were not immediately successful. On March 9 she wrote on Twitter, "I'm not going to let a biased, smear campaign stop me. I've been dealing with this type of obstruction since I got my license back in 2010."
On March 11, she posted the following on her Facebook page: "never lied about anything in my career!!! I never said I was a nationwide driver! I said I had dreams of becoming a nationwide driver and ultimately racing in the daytona 500 one day. . . . People say I don't have a license but in the same sentence say I raced and did a start and park in VA! How can you start and park in a sanctioned nascar race without a license??? I know the truth and Im not bothered by this smear campaign at all!! What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!"
Also on Facebook, Bobby posted pictures with his daughter's name on four licenses -- the most recent 2013 -- for NASCAR's Whelen All-American Series, a points championship for NASCAR sanctioned local racetracks around the United States and Canada.
"The license she has came from Daytona Beach," Bobby said. "It was signed by [NASCAR chairman] Brian France."
Bobby said his daughter never has misrepresented herself.
"She is the first African American [woman] to be licensed by NASCAR. That's a fact," he said. "She is the first to drive in a race. That's a fact."
Regarding her decision to park after one lap at the Motor Mile, Bobby said: "There are start and parks every day in NASCAR, cut and dry."
Bobby said his daughter never said she ran in a K&N race.
"She said we intend to run K&N," he said. "She's never said, 'I ran ARCA.' We intend to run ARCA. We intend to run NASCAR."
Bobby said Tia was prepared to run in the K&N's Battle at the Beach at Daytona International Speedway to start the season until the sponsor pulled out.
"We finished the application form for Battle at the Beach, filled out the entry form and intended to be there," he said. "But someone, I don't want to say who, told the sponsor Tia doesn't have a license. The sponsor pulled out."
Tia is pictured on her website wearing a firesuit with a Nationwide patch, again implying she misrepresented herself. Bobby said the firesuit was donated by the company that made it and the Nationwide patch already was on it.
"We didn't design it," he said. "We didn't do anything. It came like that."
Bobby said much of what has been written is "splitting hairs." He said plans for his daughter's next race will be finalized soon.
"We are more determined now than ever," he said. "It's a witch hunt. It is what it is. You just smile and keep going. To try and take away from her being the first African-American [female] driver to drive in NASCAR, that's wrong. That's not right.
"But it is what it is. You just move forward."
Jadotte said NASCAR will help Norfleet, like any other driver.
"NASCAR has provided Ms. Norfleet with info on how to pursue racing numerous times in the past, and we will continue to do so," he said.