By Jerry Bonkowski Alexis DeJoria is ready to ride her ROKiT ship Funny Car again this weekend as the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series returns for its second consecutive weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis.
DeJoria is coming off a strong run at Indy this past weekend, the NHRA’s return to racing after nearly 4 ½ months off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
DeJoria advanced to the quarterfinals last Sunday before losing to former Funny Car champ and former Kalitta Motorsports teammate JR Todd.
Like the rest of her full-time peers, last weekend was DeJoria’s third race of the season. In the season opener at Pomona, California, she impressively reached the semifinals after a two-year layoff before suffering a first-round loss the following race at Phoenix.
She wants to pick up where she left off last Sunday by reaching the final round – and potentially winning – this weekend’s event back in Indy.
Indianapolis is a familiar and friendly place for DeJoria, who won the sport’s biggest race – the U.S. Nationals – there in 2014.
“I was really excited when I heard we would open at Indy,” DeJoria said of the NHRA’s decision to end its coronavirus hiatus at Indianapolis. “Winning the U.S. Nationals there was the high point of my career.
“As it kept getting closer, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The night before our first test day, I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited. I was like a little kid.”
As is the case with many of her fellow competitors, DeJoria, driver of the DC Motorsports ROKiT Phones Toyota Camry Funny Car, understood why the NHRA stopped racing due to the pandemic, as well as the inability to have fans in the stands.
But it wasn’t easy.
The way that Alexis DeJoria looked at me, you would have thought that I’d asked her if maybe crew chief Del Worsham was going to run the big tires on the front of her new ROKiT Phones/ABK Beer Toyota.
It was one of those softball, warm-up questions you ask to get the party started, the way a crew chief might warm up the first engine of the year after the off-season. After all, it had been more than two years since she’d driven a flame-throwing 11,000-hp Funny Car.
“So, did you ask Del to take it easy on you the first couple of runs, maybe a little softer tune-up?”
“Oh, God no,” she said good-naturedly, laughing. “I don’t have any training wheels on. I want everything he has got.”
DeJoria was in her trailer lounge at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com, the first official event of her comeback season, signing hero cards by the dozen for the ROKiT employees on hand who’d driven over from the company’s Santa Monica, Calif., headquarters to see the debut of “their” car. Her father and No. 1 fan, entrepreneur and philanthropist John Paul DeJoria, was part of the autograph process, waving around each of the photos to air-dry her stylish signature.
Truth be told, DeJoria entered the Winternationals with more laps under her belt than any other driver since last year’s season finale, testing in Bakersfield in November, in Tucson, Ariz., in mid/late January, and then taking part in the annual Pro test session in Las Vegas the week before the Winternationals.
“Obviously, the first run in the car was, ‘Oh man, this is loud and fast,’ but I already feel very comfortable in the car. Del and Nicky [Boninfante, co-crew chief] have made this really easy. Almost from the start, it didn’t feel like I’d been gone two years. I was more worried about the warm-up — stressing out and hoping that I remembered the procedures — than the actual runs.”