Drives ROCKiT Phones/ABK Beer Toyota Camry at 66th U.S. Nationals at Indy
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – During the two years in which she abandoned the seat of her 330 mile-an-hour Toyota Funny Car to spend more time with her teenage daughter, Isabella, Alexis DeJoria learned some things about herself.
Mainly what she learned is that, for her, drag racing is not a spectator sport.
That’s why, when qualifying begins Friday in the 66th annual Denso U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway, the 42-year-old resident of Austin, Texas will be strapped firmly back into the cockpit of the ROCKiT Phones/ABK Beer Toyota Camry in which she will try to become just the 12th Funny Car driver to win the world’s biggest drag race more than one time.
She joined a slightly less exclusive fraternity, one that includes co-car owner and crew chief Del Worsham, when she used a .037 of a second starting line reaction to beat multiple-time world champion John Force and win her first U.S. Nationals title in 2014. It was a benchmark in a career that obviously is far from over.
Ultimately, her goal is to hoist the Mello Yello trophy in the only NHRA pro category that never has crowned a woman as champion.
Of her 2018-2019 hiatus, Dejoria told the NHRA’s John Kernan: “I realized that I don’t make a very good spectator. It was really hard to watch it on TV (and) it was tough being at the starting line (as a bystander).
“I honestly knew deep down when I made the announcement (to retire) that it was going to be sort of an open-ended retirement,” she said. “I’m beyond excited to be back out (here). I have this incredible opportunity to build a team with two of the people who were by my side when I started my nitro Funny Car career (Worsham and co-crew chief Nicky Boninfante).
“Del is my mentor and the person whose car I licensed with in the first place and Nicky was one of the first people at Kalitta (Racing) who I talked to when I made the transition from Top Alcohol Funny Car to nitro Funny Car. Del and Nicky (are) the ‘dream team’ for me,” she admitted.
In the short term, that “dream team” has struggled to race up to its own high expectations in a season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s hard to get in a rhythm when you’ve only got a handful of races,” DeJoria said. Indeed, what the team has needed since it assembled in late 2019 is just more runs down the racetrack. Normally, by Labor Day weekend, DeJoria, Worsham and Boninfante likely would have made in excess of 100 competitive runs during qualifying and eliminations.
This year, though, because of event cancelations and the imposition of a new format in which there are only two qualifying runs per event instead of the traditional four, DeJoria has made only 21 competitive runs in five events and reached the finish line under power only nine times.
That’s why the team spent last week testing, an investment the three principals hope will pay off in performance this weekend.
A five-time pro tour winner whose career began in Super Gas and Super Comp and included a national event victory and a pair of runner-up finishes in Top Alcohol Funny Car, DeJoria’s “need for speed” dates to her childhood when she used to ride her BMX bike “off my grandma’s dock and into her saltwater pond.”
Early on, she was enamored with jet fighter aircraft but when her dad, John Paul DeJoria, took her to the drag races in Pomona, Calif., when she was 16, the world’s fastest accelerating land vehicles became her passion. They still are.
A single run Friday at 6:30 p.m. (Eastern time) will kick off the qualifying phase. Two more sessions at 12:45 and 5:20 p.m. on Saturday will set the field for eliminations beginning at 10 a.m. Sunday. Fox television coverage will commence with qualifying highlights at 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. (Eastern time) Saturday on FS1. Race coverage will begin on FS1 at 11 a.m. Sunday, switching to the Fox broadcast network at 1 p.m.