This Georgia Driver Didn’t Have To Fake Success
When the press releases and news reports about Tia Norfleet planning to be the first black female to race in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series came out, long-time followers of the Georgia short track scene likely thought: “Here we go again.”
Back around 2000, Norfleet’s father Bobby Norfleet showed up for Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway with similar lofty plans. But like his daughter, he didn’t have the driving resume to back them up.
The New York Times this week ran a story pointing out Ms. Norfleet’s lack of credentials, something some basic fact-checking could have turned up before the first story about her was ever published.
Back in 2000, some reporters also bought into Bobby Norfleet’s stories about his prowess on the short tracks around Augusta, Ga.
The unfortunate part of that story is that there really was a black driver winning races on the dirt tracks around Augusta. But his name was Preston Tutt.
Tutt eventually moved on to asphalt racing and ran in the Super Late Model division at Lanier National Speedway, at that time a NASCAR-sanctioned short track and one of the most – if not the most – competitive asphalt short
tracks in the South.
Every week, Tutt and his brother Tony would make the drive from Augusta, pulling his well-worn race car on an open trailer while most of his competitors had much fancier enclosed rigs and far more funding.
Most of the time, Tutt ran tires he bought from competitors, tires that had already been run the week before. But soon the offers of tires began to dry up, and it wasn’t because of racism on the part of his fellow drivers.
“We were taking a 10-year-old car and 50-lap tires and outrunning two-thirds of the field,” Tutt said. “When I started outrunning those guys in the top-five I couldn’t get their take-offs any more.”
Although he never won a Late Model feature at Lanier, he ran second on numerous occasions and had his share of top-five and top-10 finishes.
Even though he steadily maintained at the time that he didn’t want his race to make a difference in his breaking into NASCAR’s upper divisions, he did seek to become a part of NASCAR’s then-fledgling Drive for Diversity.
He made one Camping World Truck Series start at Chicago Motor Speedway in 2001 in a Bobby Hamilton Dodge as part of Dodge’s diversity program, but he broke a transmission in the race and finished 29th.
His chance at the big-time essentially ended there.
Others were chosen for the diversity program.
“That still baffles me to this day,” he said. “Of all the drivers I saw then, my resume was head and shoulders above theirs, but I got a letter from NASCAR saying I didn’t fit their criteria.
“I just put the letter away and went on to the next race.”
Tutt, now 46, eventually put aside his racing dreams, built the house his wife Jennifer wanted but had put off while he was trying to make it in racing, and focused on his construction company.
He said he sometimes wonders whether the controversy surrounding Bobby Norfleet, surfacing when it did, worked against him.
“When someone who doesn’t deserve a break kicks up dust, it seems to hurt the legitimate contenders,” he said.
Ultimately, Preston Tutt got one of the things he always wanted out of racing. He made a name for himself among the people who ever saw him race, and he did it not because of the color of his skin but with his driving ability, as the people who watched a race at Columbia Motorsports Park in Lake City, Fla., several years ago can attest.
Tutt and his brother took their car to that track and ran second to Wayne Anderson, one of short track racing’s toughest competitors.
“After the race there were about six people standing around Wayne Anderson and about 80 around me,” Tutt said. “The way I raced is what made those people want to come up and talk to me.”
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments