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.
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.
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).
BAYTOWN, Texas (Houston) – Alexis DeJoria’s season seems to be winding down just as her ROKiT Phones/ABK Beer Toyota Camry is cranking up.
The five-time NHRA pro tour winner enjoyed her best outing of the shortened season Sunday at Houston Raceway Park where she recorded the event’s quickest time before dropping a semifinal decision to Ron Capps at the 33rd annual Mopar Express Lane SpringNationals.
The No. 5 qualifier at 3.958 seconds, the Texas resident got everyone’s attention in round one when she unloaded a best-of-the-race 3.874 at a whopping 330 miles per hour to get the best of multiple-time tour winner Tim Wilkerson. After dispatching Bob Tasca III in round two and getting a starting line advantage against Ron Capps in the semis, she had her run aborted by crew chief Del Worsham.
“It was shooting fire out of number four cylinder,” said Worsham who, during his driving career, was one of only to win NHRA Championships in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car divisions. “It sucks, but after the last two races, we can’t take any chances.”
Worsham, who was a three-time Houston winner from inside the cockpit, was alluding to mechanical issues that led to a supercharger failure at St. Louis and an engine fire at Dallas, both of which played havoc with the team’s parts inventory.
“It’s really bittersweet,” DeJoria said of Sunday’s performance. “We’re finally figuring out the car and the combination but now we’re down to the last race of the year (this week’s 30th Dodge Nationals in Las Vegas). But I’m stoked about going back to Vegas. I’ve had some good days there (including wins in 2014 and 2016).”
The semifinal finish equaled DeJoria’s best finish at Houston where she also reached the penultimate round in 2013.
20th Dodge Finals
Oct. 31-Nov. 1
The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Las Vegas, Nevada
The ROKiT Report with Alexis DeJoria
Driver of the ROKiT Phones/ABK Beer/Lucas Oil Toyota Camry Funny Car
Event: 33rd annual Mopar Express Lane SpringNationals
Site: Houston Raceway Park, Baytown, Texas
Qualifying position: No. 5 at 3.958 seconds, 308.21 miles per hour.
Qualifying bonus points: 1 for third quick time in Q1.
Race day results: Round 1, Alexis DeJoria, 3.874 seconds, 330.39 mph, def. Tim Wilkerson, 5.426 seconds, 132.70 mph; Quarterfinals, Alexis DeJoria, 3.912 seconds, 323.19 mph, def. Bob Tasca III, 3.970, 296.96 mph; Semifinals, Alexis DeJoria, 5.175 seconds, 142.10 mph, lost to Ron Capps, 4.160 seconds, 247.38 mph.
Perspective: For the second consecutive weekend, Alexis put up her best numbers of the season, muscling the ROKiT Phones/ABK Beer Toyota Camry through the 1,000 foot timers in 3.874 seconds at 330.39 mph in a first round win over Tim Wilkerson.
Drives ROKiT/ABK Toyota Camry in 33rd Mopar Express Lane SpringNationals
BAYTOWN, Texas (Houston) – When former U.S. Nationals Funny Car Champion Alexis DeJoria returned this season to the NHRA drag racing tour two years after announcing her retirement, her primary goal was to establish some street cred for the new DC Motorsports team she co-owns with one of her drag racing mentors, Del Worsham.
Having already accomplished that goal at the wheel of the red, black and boisterous ROKiT Phones/ABK Beer Toyota Camry tuned by Worsham and co-crew chief Nicky Boninfante, she has a new target in the crosshairs as the tour moves this week to Houston Raceway Park for the belated running of the 33rd Mopar Express Lane SpringNationals.
If steps taken this week by Worsham and Boninfante have mollified the mechanical demons that at the last two events put DeJoria on the highlight reel for all the wrong reasons, it’s reasonable to expect the five-time tour winner to contest the Funny Car championship in the next-to-last event in the current series.
Despite a supercharger explosion at St. Louis that blew apart the carbon fiber body and a catastrophic engine failure and fire that burned the car to the ground last week at Dallas, DeJoria has remained upbeat and amazingly resilient. Furthermore, the ROKiT Camry, for all its volatility, has shown that it can run competitively with the Dodges that currently dominate.
DeJoria started from the No. 2 qualifying position and reached the semifinals at St. Louis and, at Dallas, as the No. 5 starter, posted her quickest 1,000-foot time since returning to the tour at 3.895 seconds.
“I think we’re ready to win one of these bad boys,” she said. “We’re running consistently quick ETs and the crew chiefs and I feel like we’ve found the setup. We’re just having some gremlins, but we’ll work them out.”
The last time DeJoria hoisted one of the iconic Wally trophies awarded to NHRA national event winners was August of 2017 when she beat Tim Wilkerson, Cruz Pedregon, John Force and Tommy Johnson Jr. to win the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd, Minn., in a Toyota she drove for seven seasons at Kalitta Motorsports. While her stint with Kalitta was rewarding, it was the challenge of competing as an owner/driver that brought the Austin resident back to the front lines of a sport that has been her passion since her dad, business entrepreneur John Paul DeJoria, took her to her first race at Pomona, Calif.
“I honestly knew deep down when I made the announcement 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.”
With only next week’s race at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway remaining on the 2020 schedule, DeJoria is just a couple of round wins away from realizing her goal of finishing in the Top 10 in points. She starts qualifying Saturday 63 points ahead of No. 9 Paul Lee.
Even before the pandemic shortened the campaign to 11 races, DeJoria and Worsham knew they would not be ready this season to contest the championship. Instead, it was about building a database from which the crew chiefs could tune and establishing a rhythm of operation through repetition.
“This season was about making more runs and getting more data and getting everyone ready for next year,” she said of a 2021 season in which she fully expects to contest the NHRA Camping World Championship.
As for this weekend’s race, she is motivated by Worsham’s past success at HRP. One of only three drivers to win NHRA series championships in both the Top Fuel (2011)and Funny Car (2015) classes, Worsham also is one of only three (with Mike Dunn and J.R. Todd) to have won in both fuel categories at the SpringNationals (Funny Car in 2001 and 2008 and Top Fuel in 2011).