From the first pass of her return, Alexis DeJoria knew 'This is why I do what I do'
After two-year hiatus from the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series, Alexis DeJoria returned to the tour in 2020 behind the wheel of the ROKiT Toyota Camry Funny Car. The five-time Funny Car national event winner teamed with former world champion Del Worsham to return to racing action. After an eventful season DeJoria took some time to look back at her successes as well as look ahead to the 2021 NHRA season.
Can you talk about the highlights of your 2020 season?
The highlight of the season I would say was coming off a two-year hiatus and having a great showing at the Winternationals in Pomona. We had a new team, and I hadn’t been out there for two years. Even with all that newness we went out and ran good numbers and made it to the semifinals. That was a huge, huge highlight for me. Unfortunately, after that our season got cut short and we had to sit for a while. When we did come back out, we struggled a little bit at first but as soon as the guys figured out the tune-up we were running really good and consistent. Coming back after being off for so long and getting back to running well in itself was a huge highlight, too.
What did you miss the most? What was it like getting back behind wheel of 11,000-hp Funny Car?
I missed my team. Really this is a racing family. Being away for two years was like losing 12 people that are your friends and family all at once. I missed that and the camaraderie. I missed those G forces! I missed going those speeds and driving my Toyota Camry Funny Car. I missed the competitiveness of the nitro Funny Car class.
I was excited, hands down, when I got back to the track. I wasn’t really nervous about driving the car as much as I was nervous about the warm-up and the minute little things like packing my parachute. Once we went through the warm-up and I had packed some chutes, everything was good. As soon as that Funny Car started up on the starting line that was it for me. I have been racing for quite a while, not as long as some of my competitors, but enough to feel good about getting back up on the horse again.
How did the 2020 season make you a better driver?
The few mishaps that I had this year, the explosion in St. Louis and then the fire in Dallas, definitely made me a better driver. Going through those experiences brings so much more to the table. Some drivers don’t ever experience those things. On the one hand, I am not happy it happened but on the other hand, I am grateful for the experience and to be able to walk away from it to race another day.
DEJORIA CLOSES WITH A FLOURISH
Takes ROKiT Phones/ABK Beer Toyota Camry to the Semifinals at Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Buoyed by an impressive late season run that included semifinal appearances in three of the last four races in an abbreviated NHRA Camping World championship series, Alexis DeJoria left The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday counting down the days until the 2021 season opener.
After qualifying third and once more taking her ROKiT Phones/ABK Beer Toyota Camry to the semifinals, the former U.S. Nationals Funny Car champion ran afoul of newly-crowned series champ Matt Hagan, who prematurely ended her bid in the 20th annual Dodge Finals.
Although she failed to add a third LVMS victory to her resume, the Texas resident nevertheless was exhilarated by her car’s consistency over the last wo months during which she put together the best five-race qualifying performance of her professional career.
Over the final five events in an NHRA season abbreviated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the five-time pro tour winner qualified fifth, second, fifth, fifth and third. Her Toyota consistently has been the quickest Funny Car not running out of the Don Schumacher Racing stable.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” DeJoria said of a team anchored by co-crew chiefs Del Worsham and Nicky Boninfante. “We really came together as a team. It sucks that this is the last race but I’m beyond excited about the 2021 season. So, to Toyota, ROKiT Phones, ABK Beer and all the people that support us, thank you so much. Can’t wait to get this car back in the winners’ circle.”
The No. 3 qualifier behind only finalists Hagan and Ron Capps, DeJoria stopped Terry Haddock in round one with a solid 3.982 before improving to 3.930 in a quarterfinal victory over Blake Alexander to the utter delight of her father, John Paul DeJoria, co-founder of Paul Mitchell hair products.
Although DeJoria won just four rounds in the season’s first seven races, she went 7-4 down the stretch to lock up the No. 8 position in Funny Car points, thereby realizing her pre-season goal of securing a Top 10 finish in her return to pro racing after a two-year absence.
DEJORIA BETTING ON A BIG FINISH
Five-Time Tour Winner Drives ROKiT/ABK Toyota on Her Favorite Track
LAS VEGAS, Nevada – With earlier mechanical issues apparently resolved, Alexis DeJoria and her ROKiT Phones/ABK Beer Toyota Camry loom as the biggest threat to the continued Funny Car dominance of Don Schumacher Racing this week when an abbreviated version of the NHRA Camping World tour speeds to a close at the 20th annual Dodge Finals.
Contested at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a track on which DeJoria has enjoyed her greatest success, the series finale provides the five-time tour winner and her crew chiefs, Del Worsham and Nicky Boninfante, an opportunity to show off what they’ve learned in a season meant to lay the foundation for a serious championship run in 2021.
“Words can’t describe how much I’m looking forward to this weekend with this Toyota and this race team on that racetrack,” she said.
Her enthusiasm is understandable. Over the last four races, she has qualified no worse than fifth while twice taking the distinctive red-and-black Camry to the semifinals, all of that despite a supercharger explosion at St. Louis and a catastrophic engine failure at Dallas that seriously impacted the team’s parts inventory.
With those issues behind her, the 2014 U.S. Nationals champion sped last week to the quickest time of the entire event at Houston (3.874 seconds) while accelerating to a finish line speed of 330.39 miles per hour, her best since returning to the tour this season after a two-year absence.
The Houston performance, Worsham and Boninfante’s ability to diagnose and positively address the mechanical issues and DeJoria’s history of Vegas success suggest that if anyone can stop the Schumacher juggernaut (which has delivered 13 straight Funny Car victories dating to 2019), it is the woman in the ROKiT Camry.
After all, she earned two of her five pro tour victories at The Strip, winning the spring race in both 2014 and 2016. Furthermore, LVMS is the only track on which she has reached the finals in both the Top Alcohol Funny Car and nitro Funny Car classes (she was the TAFC runner-up at the fall race in 2009).