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How Tia Norfleet, the First Black, Female NASCAR Driver, Is Shattering Barriers

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In a sport where females are still a rarity, Tia Norfleet has become the first African-American female driver to be certified by NASCAR and ARCA (the Automobile Racing Club of America). But she doesn’t let that stop her–or slow her down.

Native to Suffolk, VA, and living in Augusta, GA, today, Norfleet has made racing her life. She comes from a NASCAR family (her father, Bobby Norfleet, raced in the 90s) and spends as much time on the track as possible.

“You always want to keep the bread fresh, because it can get stale real quick,” she says with a laugh in a recent video for THINX by Harper’s Bazaar.

Norfleet had a passion for racing from a young age. Her father bought her a little Corvette at the age of 5 that she “literally drove… until the wheels fell off.” At 14, she knew she would spend her life in the driver’s seat.

“Just being a woman period is already a hard job,” she says. “So being a woman in a male-dominated sport, it allows me to bring out that inner beast, but gracefully.”

Norfleet doesn’t just deal with external pressures from the world, but internal ones as well. Diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome, a disorder characterized by small cysts that appear on the ovaries), Norfleet suffers from near-crippling pain and heavy, irregular menstrual cycles—two symptoms that could strike at literally any time. For hours at a time she is strapped to her seat, enduring G-force four times more than normal, and must remain laser-focused, or it could mean her life.

“For me being a driver, I could be in the car and boom, I don’t know when, where, how, but my period will come on,” Norfleet said to Harper’s. “I need protection and to make sure I’m not going to mess up my racing suit that costs $1,600. I’m not going to be caught slipping.”

Throughout everything, she stays on track.

Outside of racing, Norfleet also makes 80+ community appearances a year and participates in programs for the National African American Drug Policy Coalition and the Motorsports Institute, Inc. While she’s the only black female licensed by NASCAR currently, she advocates for more minorities to participate and follow her lead.

“What I stand for is something way bigger than me,” she says. “Hopefully I’m someone that someone can look up to and say, ‘She did it when no one else thought she would. She stuck with it to the end. She gave out before she gave up.”

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