GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Two days after celebrating her birthday aboard a 2,800 horsepower cigarette boat, Alexis DeJoria will slip into something far more powerful, but less seaworthy, when she sends the ROKiT Phones/ABK Beer Toyota Camry after the Funny Car championship in this week’s pandemic-delayed 51st annual NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.
At the wheel of one of the world’s fastest racing vehicles, one capable of zero-to-100 mile per hour acceleration in less than one second, DeJoria is attempting to regain the form that from 2014 to 2017 carried her to five tour victories and established her as the woman most likely to break through the sport’s last major gender barrier.
That’s because after coming back from injuries suffered in a 2016 crash at Sonoma, Calif., to win the 2017 Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd, Minn., she decided to take a break from racing for the first time in 12 years.
“I honestly knew deep down when I made the announcement (to step away after seven pro seasons) that it was going to be sort of an open-ended retirement,” she said. “I was blessed to spend time with my family during the two years off, but I’m beyond exited to be back out here.”
While women have won series championships in drag racing’s Top Fuel, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle classes, none has hoisted the Mello Yello trophy in Funny Car. DeJoria, who prides herself on having excelled at every level of competition, aims to be the first.
Nevertheless, the Texas resident, daughter of entrepreneur John Paul DeJoria, a co-founder of John Paul Mitchell hair care Systems and currently a partner in the ROK Group, had no illusions about the current campaign.
“We knew we weren’t ready to race for the championship,” she said. “This season was about making more runs and getting more data and getting everyone ready for next year.”
Unfortunately, the game plan devised by DeJoria and her crew chiefs, Del Worsham and Nicky Boninfante, ran afoul of the governmental restrictions imposed in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Instead of the 24 races that typically comprise an NHRA racing season, there will be only 11 this year. That means that instead of the typical 130-150 straight-line laps in a season from which Worsham and Boninfante could extract data, they will have to make do with less than 50.
“We’ve made progress,” DeJoria said, “but now that we think we have a car Del and Nicky can work with, there are only five races left. That makes it kind of bittersweet.”
Although the Gatornationals is one of the events she has yet to win, DeJoria should benefit from the experience of her crew chiefs, especially Worsham who won the Gators in 2004 as a driver and who, during his career behind the wheel, became one of only three to win NHRA championships in both Top Fuel and Funny Car (along with Kenny Bernstein and Gary Scelzi).
DeJoria’s relationship with Worsham, with whom she is partnered in the new race team, dates to her transition from alcohol to nitro. She earned her fuel Funny Car license in Worsham’s car in 2010 and after the veteran served his first stint as her crew chief in 2013, she was his teammate at Kalitta Racing during a 2014 season during which she won the Labor Day U.S. Nationals, the world’s most prestigious single event.
NHRA Mello Yello Series
Remaining 2020 Events
Oct. 4 23rd AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals St. Louis, Mo.
Oct. 18 35th AAA Texas FallNationals Dallas, Texas
Oct. 25 33rd Mopar Express Lane Spring Nationals Houston, Texas
Nov. 1 20th Dodge Finals Las Vegas, Nev.
The ROKiT Report with Alexis DeJoria
Driver of the ROKiT Phones/ABK Beer/Lucas Oil Toyota Camry Funny Car
Event: 51st annual Amalie NHRA Gatornationals
Site: Gainesville Raceway, Gainesville, Fla.
Career starts: 6
No. 1 Qualifier: 0
Final Rounds: 0
Won-Lost record: 3-6
2012 10. Beat John Force; lost to Jack Beckman
2013 10. Beat Blake Alexander; lost to Johnny Gray
2014 14. Lost Jack Beckman
2015 11. Beat Matt Hagan; lost to John Hale
2016 11. Lost Matt Hagan
2017 11. Lost Ron Capps
2018 Did Not Compete
2019 Did Not Compete