DeJoria Feeling Re-grooved After Vegas Stunner

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, April 8 2016
Alexis DeJoria was reunited with her old friend "Wally" in Las Vegas last weekend. The had last met in 2014. (Photos courtesy of Alexis DeJoria Racing/Kalitta Motorsports)

Alexis DeJoria was reunited with her old friend “Wally” in Las Vegas last weekend. They had last met in 2014. (Photos courtesy of Alexis DeJoria Racing/Kalitta Motorsports)

Week after week in 2015, Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria would head on down the road after heartbreaking showings in NHRA national events telling herself the same thing: “We’re better than this.”

Turns out, she was right.

nhra logoLast weekend at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, DeJoria and her Alexis DeJoria Racing/Kallita Motorsports team got their first victory since their impressive 2014 campaign and they got in super impressive fashion as they beat the absolute best of the best.

On the day, DeJoria trailered, in order: Tommy Johnson Jr., who had two event wins and 42 elimination-round wins in 2015; Robert Hight, who is a past champion; John Force, a 16-time Funny Car champ; and Del Worsham, her Kalitta teammate who is the defending series champion.

DeJoria’s reaction to all that was one of joy and relief and big satisfaction, she said during a telephone conversation with RacinToday.com on Thursday.

“You know, it’s usually how we have to do it,” she said. “We don’t seem to ever get those super lucky
runs where somebody goes out and smokes the tires. It seems every time we go up there we are always battling someone with a proven car that is consistent and fast. We have to go out there and earn our stripes every time we go out there.

“But, it makes the win more sweet when you’ve accomplished that much and when you’ve gone up

Alexis DeJoria took down former Funny Car champion Robert Hight in eliminations at Las Vegas last weekend.

Alexis DeJoria and her Tequila Patron Camry took down 16-time Funny Car champion John Force in eliminations at Las Vegas last weekend.

against people that have won championships and when you have a car underneath you that you have confidence in, that’s consistent and quick and you know that it can get it done.”

DeJoria, whose Vegas victory was the fourth of her career, stopped short of calling the weekend perfect in general, but had no problem describing it as perfect for what her team needed.

A year ago, DeJoria had a Tequila Patron Camry underneath her that was not consistent and was certainly not giving her confidence that it could get it done.

A year after her breakout season of 2014 – a year in which she won three national events, one of which was the Everything Event; the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis – the team fell from grace.

There were no event wins in 2015. Her best showing was a runner-up finish at Englishtown. She managed to earn a berth in the Countdown but ended up the year eighth in points.

Driver and team were dazed.

“All those ups and downs, I can only speak for myself, it really made me second-guess myself,” DeJoria said. “Is it me? Am I not doing my best out there? Did we just lose it, I mean, what’s going on? Something is wrong here.

“We are a very capable team. We have all the best players. The best equipment. But there’s

Alexis DeJoria is staging for a big 2016 season.

Alexis DeJoria is staging for a big 2016 season.

something else. Something is plaguing us and Tommy (DeLago, here crew chief) will tell you the same thing. My crew chiefs, they were like, ‘What is going on here? Did we forget how to tune a car? This is ridiculous.’ ”

Turns out, human effort was being dragged down by aging parts and pieces.

“We were fighting our equipment,” the 38-year-old native of Venice, Calif. said. “We had a chassis that we had front-halved a few times but the back half had 200-some runs on it was just tired. It wasn’t taking the information my crew chiefs were giving it and running with it.”

DeJoria, DeLago and the folks at Kalitta knew they had to change the chassis out. Jigs for new cars being produced in-house were being developed but the chassis would not be ready for the start of the 2016 season.

The decision was made to donate teammate Worsham’s backup car, which only had 12 runs on it, to the Tequila Patron effort. That car was put on the track in Patron green-and-black livery in mid-March at the Gatornationals.

“And that was it,” DeJoria said. “I mean one race to kind of  get it figured out in Gainesville and then, bam, in Vegas, we were back.”

Ah, yep.

Car and driver started Sunday with a 4.006 pass against Johnson Jr. and ended the eliminations with a 3.968 pass against Worsham – her former crew chief and a man she calls, “my teammate, my mentor, my friend, my confidant who has been everything for me” – in the finals.

Blues? What blues?

Not only did DeJoria end her year-old winless streak, but Kalitta put two drivers into the final at Vegas. That, she thought, has not happened since 2006.

“Kalitta Motorsports is a strong team but we are small compared to the DSRs (Don Schumacher Racing) and the JFRs (John Force Racing) who have three Funny Cars, four Funny Cars and four dragsters,” she said. They’re huge teams with tons of information.

“We’ve been gaining information. Del’s got the championship. The (Kalitta) dragsters are kicking ass right now and they’ve been kicking ass the last couple of years. And we’re running good now. It’s incredible to be part of this. The success and the growth. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Especially not after Vegas. The weekend there was nothing less than rejuvenating for the driver who, despite her family’s money, opted to come up through the drag-racing ranks the same way as drivers whose families have no money – that is, up the ladder in series like Super Gas, Super Comp and Top Alcohol.

“This is incredible,” DeJoria, the daughter of John Paul DeJoria, the owner of the iconic Patron brand, said, the excitement level rising as she talked. “I feel like I, I feel like I’ve come back again. It’s like you’re back in that groove.”

DeJoria took a deep breath.

“It’s a humbling sport, you know,” she said with volume lowered. “These cars will make you feel like a hero one

Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria and her team put their 2015 woes behind them last weekend in Las Vegas. (Photos courtesy of Alexis DeJoria Racing/Kalitta Motorsports)

Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria and her team put their 2015 woes behind them last weekend in Las Vegas.

day and a zero the next. You can win a race and then the next, not even qualify. You just never know.”

There is one thing that DeJoria does know: It did not have to be pointed out to her that fuel Funny Car remains the lone NHRA class that has not yet been won by a female driver.

Just curious; does she think about that at all?

“All the time,” DeJoria said. “All the time. I would love, for myself and my team, to be the first ones. Courtney Force, very strong driver, very strong team. I’m sure that’s in the back of their minds as well. John Force would definitely like to put his daughter in that spot.

“If it happens for me, that would be great. I think it will happen eventually. When? I don’t know but we’re going to keep charging forward and gain as many points as we can and win as many races as we can and work toward that ultimate goal. That’s why we’re here. We’re not just here just to, you know, ‘Gee, let’s drive a Funny Car and make some 300 mph passes.’ No. I’m a very competitive person and the reason I am in this league is that I want that ultimate goal.”

Yes, she added, it’s more about being a championship race car driver than about being a female race car driver.

“But, it would be huge, huge, to be the first female Funny Car championship winner. The first fuel driver to win since Shirley Muldowney in the Top Fuel ranks.”

That being said, DeJoria, a victim of bizarre and fickle racing circumstance just a year ago, cautioned: “I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.”

Next up for DeJoia, DeLago, Kalitta and the rest of the NHRA are the Four Wide Nationals in two weeks in Charlotte. It’s a race that is bizarre and fickle in itself and one that can serve as a stout catchfence to the most ass-kicking of teams.

Probably wise of DeJoria not to get too far ahead of herself. Even though she knows that she is indeed better than she and team showed a year ago.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, April 8 2016
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