Alexis DeJoria is not one to focus on being a female race car driver, but ahead of the Route 66 Nationals in Chicago, she is more than happy to think about it.
DeJoria hits a milestone this weekend as she becomes the first female in NHRA history to make 200 starts in a Funny Car. It comes a little over seven years after she hit the 100-start mark in the 2016 season-opener in Pomona.
“I just don’t think about it. I don’t think about how I’m the only female in a male-dominated class, let alone sport, and they don’t really treat me any different,” DeJoria told RACER. “At least not to my face. I’ve earned my spot in this seat and definitely earned my respect among my peers. But 200 races; my God that’s a lot. That’s incredible.”
There are only 22 events on the schedule (there used to be a few more), so it’s a mark DeJoria has been working toward for quite some time. DeJoria made her first Funny Car start in 2011 in Dallas.
“That’s mind-blowing; the time goes by so fast,” DeJoria said. “To think, I started racing in NHRA not as a pro but in the Sportsman classes when my daughter, who is going to be 21 this year, was a little thing. So, I’m like, ‘Wow, 200 starts later is pretty amazing.’”
The significance of the start goes beyond being the first female to accomplish it. DeJoria has had a career fitting of a Hollywood script or a multi-part sports documentary.
There have been wins and losses. DeJoria even walked away from the sport for a few years to put priority on her personal life. She’s come back better than ever and continues to be a contender. Through the years, she’s driven for greats like Connie Kalitta and now runs the DC Motorsports team with friend and mentor Del Worsham.
“All the ups and downs, all the trials and tribulations, everything that I’ve learned over the years, all the incredible crew chiefs and teams that I’ve been blessed to work with and soaked up so much information, it’s a huge accomplishment,” DeJoria said. “I have to take a breath and realize that this is everything I’ve ever wanted. This is my passion in life. I’m living my dream right now. You get so wrapped up in the moment and winning and qualifying well and making sure the car runs well, and the team is OK because that’s my family away from home.
“It’s incredible. Really incredible. I’m really proud.”
It started with Frank Hawley’s drag racing school, where DeJoria learned the ropes. Her driving career began in the Super Gas division, using her savings to get started. DeJoria’s first NHRA race was in Phoenix.
“I remember going down the track and being like, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing,’” she recalls. “Then turning around, driving right back into the staging lanes to try to go again.
“It’s a really family-oriented sport, so where we were parked in the pits, we happened to park next to this incredible family, the Robbins family and they helped us out. I just wanted to race. I didn’t know which way was up. I just wanted to go and they were like, ‘No, you have to come back and refill the car, let it cool off, and wait for your second run’ because there are other classes. But I remember being so excited.”
DeJoria went on to race as teammates with the Robbins family. She’s also run in the Super Comp division in a dragster and the Top Alcohol Funny Car division.
“What an incredible time,” DeJoria said. “It prepared me for where I am now, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way.”
The good and the bad stand out to DeJoria when she’s asked what she’s most proud of from her career.
“My first win to my win at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis in the 60th anniversary,” she said. “Having wrecks in the Alcohol Funny Car where my parachutes ripped off the back of my car in Englishtown and I went flying into the sand trap and the barrels. Being on fire. Explosions. All those things really make you what you are as a driver. You have to take the good with the bad, and in our sport, we’re not trying to crash, but it’s an unfortunate part of these cars. But I’ve been through quite a few of them, and it’s definitely made me a better driver.”
DeJoria has six Funny Car wins in 13 final-round appearances. Over the years, as she’s grown, DeJoria points to learning how to balance everything required of her, including fans and the attention that comes with being recognized. She’s also gotten stronger about negative comments or reviews that used to leave her heartbroken.
In the race car, “I’m learning how to lower my heart rate with breathing,” DeJoria said. “This is such a humbling sport and these cars are very humbling. You think you’re on a great run, and everything is awesome, and the car will just smoke the tires or whatever. It’s an incredible sport, but emotionally, you have a lot of ups and downs. But you just get back up and keep going.”
DeJoria’s car this year is fast. Entering Chicago, she is second in the Funny Car championship standings, has two semifinal appearances, and most recently was the runner-up at zMAX Dragway in the 4-Wide Nationals. She also captured the first-ever Mission Foods #2Fast2Tasty challenge and has been the No. 2 qualifier three times.
It is the payoff from a challenging 2022 that DeJoria called one giant test session. The team went through a new clutch setup and adjustment to the new Toyota Supra body, which brought a change in driving and aerodynamics. DeJoria had to remind herself quite often they were building toward ’23 and the results seen now.
“We have the most consistent race car on race day that’s for sure,” DeJoria said. “The first race we went to the semi-finals that was incredible. The second race in Phoenix, we did really well. We were getting down the racetrack when really no cars were getting down the racetrack, so Del and Nicky [Boninfante] have really figured out what’s up with the car right now.
“We have a bracket car, it’s so consistent. It’s great to drive. It’s fun. When the car is going well and we’re going rounds, it sure is fun to drive, and you remember why you do this.”
A return to the winner’s circle in the NHRA’s return to Chicago would be a great way to cap off DeJoria’s milestone start.
“It’s a great racing facility,” DeJoria said. “Del loves it too. I don’t think I’ve ever done that great there – I can’t remember it’s been so long. I think I’ve gone a couple of rounds. But we’re right on the brink (this year).
“Any given Sunday, we’re going to have a trophy in our hands. We were (expletive) close that last race in Charlotte. So, to say I’m looking forward to Chicago is an understatement. We’re stoked. We’re pumped right now. We’ve got a great race car and we’re going to win.”