DeJoria’s NHRA Career Is Starting To Take Off

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, March 13 2014

Alexis DeJoria is doing better than just OK in Funny Cars this season. (RacinToday/HHP photo Christa L Thomas)

At an age when most girls were busy choosing wardrobes for their Barbie and Ken dolls, Alexis DeJoria dreamed of flying a fighter jet.

The best dreams never fade, they simply take longer to become reality – complete with forearm tattoo. And so it was that DeJoria recently traded the seat of her nitro-burning NHRA Funny Car for one in an F-15.

“I got to go out to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, and I flew for about an hour in an active F-15 Strike Eagle and it was absolutely amazing,” said DeJoria, bona fide adrenaline junkie for 36 years and counting. “I even got to fly it for a good half-an-hour. I did absolutely everything. They did everything to try to make me sick and pass out. They’re like, ‘Oh, big, tough race car driver, let’s see what she can do.’ So that was just a dream come true.

“I actually got the tattoo before I got to go up, but I knew. It was already set in stone. I got the government clearance and everything, so I was ready to do it. Yeah, that was kind of like a commemorative thing.”

Back on terra firma, DeJoria is experiencing a breakout season behind the wheel of her Kalitta Motorsports Patrón XO Cafe Toyota Camry. During the 2014 season-opening and prestigious Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., DeJoria became the first woman to power a Funny Car below four seconds with a 1,000-foot pass in 3.997-seconds.

DeJoria continued her strong start during Race 2 in Chandler, Ariz., on Feb. 23, winning her first career Mello Yello Drag Racing Series national event. The 14th woman to win a series event and only the fourth in Funny Car, DeJoria will roll into this weekend’s 45th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway third in points and with the confidence of a championship contender.

“Well, I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” said DeJoria, whose flopper is tuned by Tommy DeLago and Glen Huszar. “We won one race. This is our first race. We have a ways to go. But obviously our short-term goal

Alexis DeJoria is a NHRA winner.

right now is to stay in the Top 10, and whatever happens after that happens. Keep the consistency getting the car down the racetrack and hopefully win more rounds and win more races before the season is over.

“I know as far as myself is concerned and Tommy and Glen are pretty modest as well, even though they have won championships, they know how these things can go. You can go really strong in the beginning of the season and fizzle-out toward the end. So you never know how it’s going to be. You just have to take it race-by-race.”

En route to her victory at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix, DeJoria defeated Jeff Arend, teammate/former crew chief Del Worsham, reigning Funny Car world champion John Force and former champ Robert Hight. The mosh pit-style celebration that broke out at the starting line – a Kalitta Motorsports tradition – included DeJoria’s husband, custom car/motorcycle craftsman Jesse James.

“I got to see it on tape,” said DeJoria, who finished 12th in points last season. “I record every race, so I come home and I basically kind of like I’m doing my homework when I watch the races. But I got to see the mosh pit, and it was pretty amazing that my husband and my crew chiefs kind of did a back shimmy and got themselves out of the mosh pit and unscathed. So it was pretty fun.

“I mean, the guys have been working so hard to get to this point. We were hoping to get a win last year but it’s better now than ever. And to do it in the beginning of the season like this in the first two races is unreal, so we’re really excited and charged.”

Generating headlines never has been a chore for DeJoria, self-described “wild child” daughter of businessman John Paul DeJoria, co-founder of John Paul Mitchell Hair Care Products and owner of Tequila Patrόn. While Alexis’ family fortune gave her the opportunity to pursue any career, she followed her passion and need to stand on it.

That led her to eventually cross paths with James. Former owner of West Coast Choppers and star of the “Monster Garage” reality TV series, among others, James garnered almost as much notoriety for his tabloid divorce from movie star Sandra Bullock. DeJoria reiterated the fact that she and James qualify as a rock star couple has nothing to do with her on-track performance.

“It is nice though to have my mate finally be able to find someone like him who finally appreciates and respects what I do and can hang with me, basically, in the pits,” said DeJoria, who graduated to nitro Funny Car fulltime in 2012 after five seasons in the Top Alcohol FC ranks. “He’s got a common respect for the guys and they like having him there, because he’s also an extra set of hands on the car when we need it and he knows what he’s doing. So it’s really nice to have that support from my husband.

“But the whole rock star thing, I don’t know. I guess I’m so focused in my little world that I don’t really see any of that. The fans are really supportive. When he’s done working on the car, he’ll go up to the ropes and sign some autographs and stuff. But he doesn’t want to steal my thunder. He’s like, ‘I’m not here for me. It’s all about you.’ So he’s been really cute about it. It’s nice to have that. Of course, my father comes out to the racetrack and the fans love having him out there as well.

“He worked really hard to get to where he is today. He’s a very successful businessman and philanthropist and a wonderful father. He taught us from the very beginning to fight for what you believe in, stay focused and try to find something that you’re passionate about. If you’re passionate about something and you can make it work and make it your profession, you’ll be very successful.”

Alexis said her father didn’t blink as she gravitated toward skydiving to snowboarding to a big block Chevelle, and away from the family businesses.

“He wasn’t very surprised at all,” DeJoria said. “No one from my family comes from racing professionally. I guess I could say he’s done Cannonball style-races all over the world, and done really well and had amazing stories when he would come home from them. But I’ve always kind of been the sports enthusiast. I played all sports in school and snowboard, riding dirt bikes and whatever. But yeah, I mean, he was pretty proud though when he saw just how determined I was and when he saw, ‘Hey, you know what, she can do this. And she’s going to be good at it.’^”

Force, the record-setting 16-time/reigning Funny Car champion, has built John Force Racing into a family juggernaut that includes daughters Courtney (Funny Car) and Brittany (Top Fuel), as well as son-in-law Hight. And Brut said DeJoria is considerably more than a curiosity.

“She really is a real tiger,” said Force, driver of the Castrol GTX Ford Mustang. “We’re excited. Even though she beat Robert in the final (in Arizona), we’re really excited for her and for her dad and everybody, because we’ve got to build new stars.”

Similarly, former Top Fuel world champion Anton Brown said DeJoria and her team appear to be on the cusp of greatness in their second full season together.

“They are out there to win it,” Brown, driver of the Matco Tools dragster fielded by Don Schumacher Racing, said during a recent teleconference. “If you know her crew chiefs, Tommy DeLago and Glen, they’re the ones that brought Matt Hagan his first world championship in Funny Car. Everybody knew it was a matter of time. What happens is having a championship caliber team does not happen overnight. It takes synergy and time to jell and build. They’ve been together long enough to actually grow, and you’ve seen them grow. Now the car is going up and down the track every lap. Not just consistently, but fast.

“She had a couple of times where she was low E.T. of the round. When you look at that, that’s where it starts. Now Alexis is getting her confidence, she’s cutting the lights and she’s keeping the car in the groove. That team is just as deadly as any other team in the sport of Funny Car. Don’t let Alexis’ demeanor fool you because she’s modest and humble, but that girl is out for blood. You line up against her and she’s going to try to chop your head off. I tell her all the time and she laughs and giggles, and she’s got all you guys in the media fooled.”

DeJoria said DeLago and Huszar rate as “super brains” when it comes to tuning her 10,000-horsepower hot rod. “They bring a different approach to tuning the car,” DeJoria said. “Their setup is completely different from what Del did. It’s not any better or any less, it’s just different. But again, it was like we kind of had to start all over again. So last year was kind of like a learning experience for the whole team in just getting it all right. They’re amazing. It’s been so great to work with Tommy and Glen. They’re hard-core.”

A native of Venice, Calif., DeJoria and James have relocated from Southern California to the rolling hills of Austin, Texas, where Alexis is mom to her 11-year-old daughter Isabella and James’ children. DeJoria is well-aware that her tattoos and outlaw image may be a bit too unconventional for some fans with young daughters still busy choosing wardrobes for their Barbie and Ken dolls.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s hard to go out there and say I consider myself to be a role model. Nobody’s perfect,” DeJoria said. “But I think if I can go out there and show girls that they have other options, you know, that anything is possible and if they have determination and perseverance, they can accomplish anything.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com


WHAT: 45th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories _ Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle _ earn points leading to 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.

WHERE: Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, Fla. Track is located on 11211 North County Road 225 in Gainesville.

WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, March 13-16 (All times EDT)

SCHEDULE: THURSDAY, March 13 – LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying at 8:30 a.m.

FRIDAY, March 14 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations at 8 a.m.

PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES qualifying at 1:45 p.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at noon and 2:15 p.m.

SATURDAY, March 15 – LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations at 8 a.m.

PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES qualifying at 11:30 a.m. and 1:45 p.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at noon and 2:15 p.m.

SUNDAY, March 16 – PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES eliminations begin at 9:30 a.m.

Pre-race ceremonies at 10 a.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

TELEVISION: Sunday, March 16, ESPN2HD will televise two hours of qualifying coverage at 1 a.m. (EDT).

Sunday, March 16, ESPN2HD will re-air 90 minutes of qualifying highlights at 7:30 a.m.

Sunday, March 16, ESPN2HD will televise two hours of eliminations coverage starting at 7 p.m.

2013 EVENT WINNERS: Antron Brown, Top Fuel; Johnny Gray, Funny Car; Allen Johnson, Pro Stock, Hector Arana Jr., Pro Stock Motorcycle.

MOST VICTORIES: Warren Johnson, 9, PS; John Force, 7, FC; Don Prudhomme, 5, FC; Joe Amato, 4, TF; Kenny Bernstein, 4, FC/TF; Larry Dixon, 4, TF; Don Garlits, 4, TF; Jason Line, 4, PS; Ed McCulloch, 4, FC; Tony Schumacher, 4, TF; Dave Schultz, 4, PSM; Terry Vance, 4, PSM.

TRACK RECORDS: Top Fuel – 3.749-seconds by Morgan Lucas, March ’12; 326.87 mph by Lucas, March ’12.

Funny Car – 4.026-seconds by Cruz Pedregon, March ’12; 317.12 mph by Robert Hight, March ’12.

Pro Stock – 6.473-seconds by Mike Edwards, March ’12; 214.31 mph by Edwards, March ’13.

PS Motorcycle – 6.750-seconds by Eddie Krawiec, March ’12; 199.26 mph by Krawiec, March ’11.

NATIONAL RECORDS: Top Fuel – 3.701-seconds by Antron Brown, Oct. ‘12, Reading, Pa.; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12, Concord, N.C.

Funny Car – 3.965-seconds by John Force, Feb. ’14, Pomona, Calif.; 324.12 mph by J. Force, Feb. ’14, Pomona, Calif.

Pro Stock – 6.471-seconds by Mike Edwards, April ‘13, Concord, N.C.; 214.35 mph by Line, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.

PS Motorcycle – 6.728-seconds by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.

TICKETS: Call (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Tickets also available online at www.NHRATIX.com.

POINT STANDINGS: Top 10 following the second of 24 events:

Top Fuel: 1. Doug Kalitta, 191; 2. Khalid alBalooshi, 165; 3. Antron Brown, 156; 4. Steve Torrence, 155; 5. (tie) Brittany Force, 127; Spencer Massey, 127; 7. Shawn Langdon, 124; 8. Tony Schumacher, 92; 9. (tie) Richie Crampton, 84; David Grubnic, 84.

Funny Car: 1. John Force, 225; 2. Robert Hight, 159; 3. Alexis DeJoria, 156; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., 136; 5. Del Worsham, 132; 6. Matt Hagan, 129; 7. Bob Tasca III, 124; 8. Jack Beckman, 92; 9. Ron Capps, 88; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 84.

Pro Stock: 1. V. Gaines, 191; 2. Jason Line, 180; 3. (tie) Allen Johnson, 161; Vincent Nobile, 161; 5. Dave Connolly, 128; 6. Shane Gray, 127; 7. Erica Enders-Stevens, 120; 8. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 88; 9. (tie) Larry Morgan, 82; Shane Tucker, 82.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, March 13 2014
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