Needell's racing career took off after he won a Formula Ford car through a competition in the United Kingdom's Autosport magazine. Having been interested in trying to advance his career but not having the money, Needell leapt at the opportunity and won the Formula Ford title in 1975. The remainder of the 1970s saw Needell as a front runner in the British Formula 3 series and then in the Aurora British Formula One championship. In 1979 he was unable to graduate to the F1 World Championship due to the lack of the correct licence, but he was back in 1980, driving two Grand Prix for Ensign, qualifying for one, the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder.
Since then, Needell's racing career has mainly consisted of racing tin-tops (hard-topped cars), with varying levels of success in sports cars, historic racing and touring cars. He achieved particular notoriety after an accident with Nigel Mansell at the 1993 TOCA shoot out race at Donington Park. However, Needell is best known in his native country as a noted television presenter and television and print motoring journalist, in particular in association with the BBC TV series Top Gear. In 2002, the BBC had indefinitely cancelled Top Gear (at this time there was no sign that it would return any time soon), Tiff and the whole cast defected and signed with Channel 5 to produce and host a new motoring show named Fifth Gear. He is also known for his almost legendary powerslides.