Norfleet announces new racing program By Marty Smith
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 18, 2000) Bobby Norfleet never aspired to be a spokesman for African-Americans, and has no burning desire to start now. But by placing himself in the fore of NASCAR racing he has little choice. "I'm here to compete, not to blaze trails," said Norfleet, 39. "I feel like I have talent, but there's an astronomical amount of talent in this business. I think NASCAR thinks having African-Americans (in racing) is due, but they're not gonna give you anything. You have to be a competitor. They're not gonna take it easy on me in any way, and I don't expect them to."
Beginning with the March 26 Dodge California Truckstop 250 at Mesa Marin Raceway outside Bakersfield, Calif., Norfleet plans to compete full-time in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2000. He had hopes of making his series debut in the No. 34 Chevrolet during Speedweeks 2000, but after discussing the issue with NASCAR, he opted against it due to his lack of superspeedway experience.
Not only does Norfleet have ambitions in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series; he also plans to run five to 10 races in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division. The individual races have yet to be determined. Above all, he wants to be recognized for his ability, not his skin color.
"We've got a lot of people expecting us to be competitive, and we expect to be successful, too," Norfleet said. "I want to be competitive. That's it. I don't want to be the 'black driver.' I want to be like Charlie Pride was in country music. I want fans, whether they're black, white, blue or whatever."
The sponsorship of the No. 34 Chevrolet is unique in that it is designed to serve multiple purposes. Record companies So So Def Records, 40 Speed Records and Laface Records are among those who will help fund the team, as well as various apparel companies. However, they still seek a major sponsor.
"We did a lot of research and we were told that there were three ways to attract African-Americans -- religion, entertainment and fashion -- so that's what we're focusing on," Norfleet said. "African-Americans per capita spend more money than any other group in the country, and this is a market (NASCAR) doesn't have.
"African-Americans haven't had anyone to identify with. It's like golf. When Tiger (Woods) started playing, everyone started watching. Everyone started buying clubs and going out and playing. That's what I'd like to do."
Norfleet's path to NASCAR racing is not unlike many drivers. While all the other kids in his Suffolk, Va., neighborhood were at the park playing basketball, Norfleet was tinkering with a race car. He started in drag racing and enjoyed a wealth of success. He said that success continued when he made his way into stock cars, racing at venues in the Virginia Beach, Va., area.
Then, in 1992, Norfleet thought a break into big time racing was right on his doorstep. The late Alan Kulwicki befriended him, and according to Norfleet was in the process of setting up a NASCAR Busch Series program with Norfleet as the driver. After Kulwicki won the championship, "he just got too busy," Norfleet said. Then, in 1993 Kulwicki died in a plane crash near Johnson City, Tenn., and Norfleet's big break went with him.
"With this opportunity, we're taking NASCAR to places it's never been," Norfleet said. "The African American community still thinks NASCAR is a good ol' boy, backwoods, tobacco chewing sport. That's not what it is anymore, and I'm gonna prove it to them."