Alexis DeJoria was exultant. The Funny Car driver, who had solidified her No. 2 qualifier status at the Sonoma Nationals the night before, had finished warming up her Toyota Camry (including whacking the throttle to send a garbage can flying and a fan falling over) when she enthusiastically popped out.
DeJoria bounced into her hauler, removed and put away her gas mask, and then peeked out and bounded over to the crew. She playfully smacked one and interacted with others while looking eager for the day ahead.
Welcome to the second act of Alexis DeJoria, and in this edition, life is settled and peaceful.
“I love her this time more, I think, because her attitude and her demeanor are a little bit different,” Paul Doleshal, Toyota group manager for motorsports and assets, tells RACER. “She’s more confident and more aware of things now, and I think she is having a lot more fun doing it, and it’s great to see. I want for her to have a good time and it to be fun and to win, and she’s just coming from a different and better place, and it’s great.”
Finding peace between work and home has been a journey. After a two-year sabbatical, DeJoria, 43, returned to the NHRA last season as driver and co-owner of DC Motorsports with Del Worsham. She’s done so with an admitted different level of maturity, growth, and acceptance.
Stepping away was necessary at the time, but coming back was always the plan. DeJoria, who drove for Kalitta Motorsports, had come to the hard realization by 2017 that her family needed her more. In truth, her marriage required fixing.
“Toward the end of those last few years, I had an incredible team of great crew chiefs, great car, great team owner, great sponsors. Everything,” DeJoria tells RACER. “And to walk away from that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I had to do it; it was necessary. It was for my family.
“A lot of people were like, ‘What the hell are you doing? You’re at the top of your game right now,’ but I was doing my team a disservice, and I was doing my family a disservice because when I was at the track, I was worried about my family and what was going on at home. When I was at home, I was worried about my race car. So, after a while, something is going to suffer, and both sides were suffering. There was just too much turmoil at home, and I needed to be home.”
Daughter Isabella was turning 16 at the time, and DeJoria wanted to teach her how to drive. DeJoria and now ex-husband Jesse James were also having issues.
“It just was really difficult, and I didn’t feel like it was fair to my team because they could tell I wasn’t there,” DeJoria says. “I was too worried about what’s going on over here because I lost that support. It’s so hard to be in a relationship, married or whatnot, and I don’t know how it is for the guys; I feel like it’s worse for me because I’m a female, and it’s not normal for chicks to have this sort of job, but it’ll bring the worst out in people, their insecurity. Very tough, strong men will get very insecure real fast. It’s hard.
“If things are right and things are solid, the confidence that headspace puts you in is amazing. Like right now, I don’t have a care in the world.”
In the end, as DeJoria returned to racing in 2020, she and James had split while Isabella blossomed into a young adult enjoying what the world has to offer. Work and home are healthy again, and Isabella is happy that mom is happy and questioned DeJoria when she stopped racing.
“She’s like, ‘I never asked you to do this,’” DeJoria says “She’s like, ‘Mom, you’ve always raced. That’s what I’ve always known you to do.’ She (said), ‘The fact that you would (stop) is incredible, but you’re not happy.’ And I’m like, ‘But you guys are happy, right? I just want to make sure everyone else is happy,’ and then she goes, ‘Mom, when are you going back racing? I don’t know if I like this helicopter mom.’
“I tried really hard, but things went south with my marriage, and I had to make a decision that was best for myself and my daughter. I’m so grateful, so, so grateful that I was able to step back into this sport and work with incredible and the best people ever with Toyota, that still had my back after everything – thank you so much, my God – and was able to handpick a team with Del Worsham.”
Working with Kalitta was a dream, and DeJoria learned a ton. It prepared her for this opportunity since she and Worsham routinely discussed the idea of potentially doing something together in the future. During the time that DeJoria was away, she stayed in contact with Worsham and co-crew chief Nicky Boninfante, “and every month or so we would talk and then we’d be like, ‘so when are we going to do this? When’s it going to happen? We’re going to make it happen.’”
Last year, it did. While everyone on the team knew each other previously, they were new together as a group, and building a team from the ground up was hard. Fortunately, Worsham had done so before and already had a shop (based in Orange County, California), the trucks and trailers from his driving days, and then it came down to getting parts and pieces.
“I have to give credit where credit is due: Del Worsham is a badass, and he made that happen,” DeJoria says. “He, his wife, and his dad are just incredible. And Matt [Bynum], my car chief, does a lot.”