ENNIS, Texas (Dallas-Ft. Worth) – Alexis DeJoria emerged unscathed from an engine fire that burned her ROKiT Phones/ABK Beer Toyota Camry to the ground Sunday at the Texas Motorplex during the 35th running of a AAA Texas Fall Nationals event in which she earlier made her quickest run of the new season.
After qualifying No. 5 at 3.895 seconds with a finish line speed of 325.85 miles per hour on Saturday, a not-so-funny thing happened to the former U.S. Nationals champion on her way to a first round win Sunday over veteran Gary Densham.
As her black-and-red Camry neared the finish line, crew chief Del Worsham was able to determine that two connecting rods failed in the 11,000 horsepower engine. That started a fire that spread to the carbon fiber body and eventually engulfed both DeJoria and the car in thick, black smoke that forced her to exit through the roof hatch for the second time in as many NHRA events.
“There was not much of a warning except (for) some sparks,” DeJoria said. “I couldn’t see anything (once the body caught fire). I popped my head up (through the roof hatch) and put my foot on the brake handle to try and get it stopped. Then I saw a Safety Safari guy (a member of the NHRA’s safety team) and I did a Dirty Dancing move and just threw my arms out and jumped.”
After being checked out by the medical staff and getting a little oxygen, DeJoria shook off the effects and climbed back into the cockpit of a backup car for a second round match with former world champion Ron Capps which, unfortunately, had a negative result with the ROKiT Camry losing traction almost as soon as she hit the throttle.
“Unfortunately, we ruined another car,” she said of the day “We’re just having some gremlins but we’ll work them out and no matter what happens, it’s always a better day when you’re at the drag races.”
Coming on the heels of a supercharger explosion that destroyed an identical carbon fiber Camry in the second round of the Midwest Nationals at St. Louis two weeks earlier, Sunday’s incident was particularly perplexing to Worsham, the two-time world champion who co-owns DC Motorsports with DeJoria, and to his cohort, veteran tuner Nicky Boninfante, who will spend the week trying to determine if there is a recurring internal problem or if the two were isolated incidents.
“Sorry about the mess. It was a little crazy,” DeJoria told FOX Sports when she was interviewed after being extricated from the fire. “The whole cockpit filled with smoke. That thing burned to the ground.”
Despite Sunday’s incident, the five-time tour winner still was able to focus on the positive, noting that because of the earlier situation in St. Louis, the team was better prepared this time to go immediately to a backup car.
DeJoria moves on to Houston in eighth place in Camping World driver points, 64 ahead of Paul Lee and 80 in front of two-time world champion Cruz Pedregon.
The ROKiT Report with Alexis DeJoria
Driver of the ROKiT Phones/ABK Beer/Lucas Oil Toyota Camry Funny Car
Event: 35th annual AAA Texas FalllNationals
Site: The Texas Motorplex, Ennis, Texas (Dallas-Ft. Worth)
Qualifying position: No. 5 at 3.895 seconds, 325.85 miles per hour.
Qualifying bonus points: None.
Race day results: Round 1, Alexis DeJoria, 4.089 seconds, 273.22 mph, def. Gary Densham, 4.699 seconds, 186.61 mph; Quarterfinals, Alexis DeJoria, 11.211 seconds, 76.74 miles per hour, lost to Ron Capps, 3.903 seconds, 327.35 mph.
Perspective: Alexis made her quickest run since returning to competition after a two-year absence when she stopped the 1,000 foot timers in 3.895 seconds.
ENNIS, Texas (Dallas-Ft. Worth) – Coming off her best outing yet in the ROKiT Phones/ABK Beer Toyota Camry – a No. 2 start and semifinal finish in the NHRA Midwest Nationals at St. Louis, Alexis DeJoria returns this week with high expectations to the track on which she began her professional Funny Car career just nine years ago.
In 2011, less than two months after winning her first Top Alcohol Funny Car title in the NHRA’s Lucas Oil Series, DeJoria slid into the cockpit of a nitro burning Toyota Solara to compete in the AAA Texas FallNationals, contested this weekend for the 35th time at the Texas Motorplex.
The two-day event, featuring nitro qualifying at 1:30 and 5:45 p.m. Saturday and eliminations at 10 a.m. Sunday, is the first of two consecutive tour stops in Texas leading into the season-ending Dodge Finals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the track on which DeJoria has enjoyed more success than any other in the series.
With the next two races within driving distance of her Austin home and the finale contested on a Nevada track on which she won twice in three years (2014 and 2016), DeJoria is excited about the prospect of finishing the season on a high note and achieving one of her stated goals – finishing in the Top 10 after being out of racing for two years.
Such an achievement would lay the foundation for a concerted 2021 bid to make drag racing history as the first woman ever to win an NHRA Funny Car championship. The Funny Car class is the only one in the series over which a woman has yet to reign as champion.
The 2014 U.S. Nationals Funny Car Champion, DeJoria returned to racing this year as co-owner of a new team with former Funny Car and Top Fuel World Champion Del Worsham, who also serves as co-crew chief on the ROKiT Camry with veteran Nicky Boninfante. It was in Worsham’s Funny Car that DeJoria qualified for her Funny Car license.
“Our Toyota Camry is running consistently quick ETs and the crew chiefs and I feel like we’ve found the setup,” DeJoria said. “I’m stoked about racing the next two weekends in Texas and then going on to Las Vegas.”
A self-proclaimed “daredevil” who as a youngster used to ride her BMX bike off her grandmother’s dock and into a saltwater pond, DeJoria became enamored with drag racing the first time her dad took her to an NHRA event at Pomona, Calif.
That ultimately led her to Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School for basic training where her instructor was Jack Beckman, now one of her Funny Car rivals.
Explosive Performance, Literally and Figuratively, for ROKiT/ABK Toyota Camry
MADISON, Ill. (St. Louis) – In her best outing since returning this year to the NHRA pro tour, Alexis DeJoria qualified the ROKiT Phones/ABK Beer Toyota Camry in the No. 2 position and raced into the Funny Car semifinals before a massive supercharger explosion changed the momentum of Sunday’s 23rd Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway.
In the second round, as DeJoria neared the finish line at more than 320 miles per hour and prepared to deploy the parachutes after beating former world champion J.R. Todd, a cylinder misfired in the 11,000 horsepower engine. That failure started a chain reaction that led to a massive supercharger explosion that blew the body apart.
Although the explosion was spectacular, DeJoria was able to maintain her composure and get the car under control before it hit the retaining wall or anything else.
Despite the damage, crew chiefs Del Worsham and Nicky Boninfante supervised a complete rebuild of the car and engine that enabled DeJoria to make the semifinal call to face former world champion Matt Hagan just 35 minutes later.
Unfortunately, there was no time to warm the engine and check all the systems and when DeJoria hit the throttle, she felt the car shake and had no choice but to abort the run as Hagan advanced in 3.938 seconds.
“It was definitely a crazy day,” said the five-time pro tour winner of an afternoon during which Top Fuel driver Leah Pruett and Ron Capps also had to deal with major failures. “Leah, Ron Capps, myself. It banged me up a little, but I think I’m all right. It was incredibly important (to get back in the car after the incident). I want to thank everyone who helped us (put the car back together). I think we had four teams that jumped in to help. We really are family out here.”
By reaching the semifinals, DeJoria solidified her hold on the No. 8 position in points with just three races remaining in a 2020 season reduced to 11 events by the COVID-19 pandemic. She will lead Paul Lee by three racing rounds when qualifying begins Oct. 17 in the 35th annual AAA Texas Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex, the track on which DeJoria made her professional Funny Car debut in 2011.
She attributed her second semifinal appearance of the year to the team’s aggressive testing program which included two runs at Tulsa, Okla., Raceway Park won the way to Midwest Nationals.
“The car was running really good and consistent (until the explosion),” DeJoria said, “(and) getting past the second round felt so good. At least we’re good to race another day.”
The ROKiT Report with Alexis DeJoria
Driver of the ROKiT Phones/ABK Beer/Lucas Oil Toyota Camry Funny Car
Event: 23rd Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals
Site: World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Madison, Ill. (St. Louis)
Qualifying position: No. 2 at 3.929 seconds, 288.21 miles per hour.
Qualifying bonus points: 2 for second quick time in Q1.
Race day results: Round 1, Alexis DeJoria, 3.907 seconds, 329.50 mph, def. Dale Creasy Jr., 5.624 seconds, 129.29 mph; Quarterfinals, Alexis DeJoria, 3.918 seconds, 322.96 mph, def. J.R. Todd, 6.559 seconds, 99.33 mph; Alexis DeJoria, 8.043 seconds, 87.47 mph, lost to Matt Hagan, 3.935 seconds, 328.62 mph.
Perspective: From her best qualifying position in her last 44 tour starts, Alexis took the ROKiT Phones/ABK Beer Toyota to the semifinals in her best ever result in the Mopar Express Lane Midwest Nationals.
2020 MIDWEST NATIONALS
Final Round Results:
FUNNY CAR – Tommy Johnson Jr., 3.884 seconds, 326.08 mph, def. Matt Hagan, 3.886, 333.00 mph.
TOP FUEL – Doug Kalitta, 3.690 seconds, 322.58 mph, def. Steve Torrence, 9.111, 82.58 mph.
PRO STOCK – Postponed due to track conditions.
During the second round of eliminations at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals presented by Pennzoil in Madison, Ill., Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria's Funny Car body blew off. DeJoria exited the car under her own power.
Five-Time Tour Winner Drives ROKiT/ABK Toyota in NHRA Midwest Nationals
MADISON, Ill. (St. Louis) – Alexis DeJoria’s need for speed manifested itself long before she first climbed into the cockpit of the 330 mile per hour ROKiT Phones/ABK Beer Toyota Camry in which she will contest the Funny Car championship in this week’s 23rd Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
While those around her were dreaming of careers in fashion, education, medicine and the movies, as a young girl she informed her parents that when she grew up, she wanted to become a jet fighter pilot.
Fascinated by combat aircraft after watching television documentaries on them, she could rattle off statistics on the capabilities and armament of fighter jets like the F-15C Eagle as if she had flown them for years. They were her obsession until her dad took her to her first drag race at Pomona, Calif.
Although she ultimately realized her childhood dream when she flew in an F-15E “Strike Eagle” operated by the “Thunderbolts” of the 389th fighter wing at Mountain Home AFB in Idaho, DeJoria’s passion for drag racing has been unquenchable since that first exposure and, after a two year absence, she is back at work in one of the fastest vehicles on the planet that doesn’t have wings.
With a new team born of old relationships, DeJoria is on a journey to become the first woman to win the NHRA Funny Car championship. This year was to have laid the foundation for that quest, but COVID-19 has made it far more difficult for DeJoria and the tuning tandem of Del Worsham and Nicky Boninfante to establish the competitive rhythm so crucial to success.
Only now, with four races remaining in a season shortened by the pandemic, do DeJoria’s co-crew chiefs believe their 11,000-horsepower hot rod is beginning to respond positively to their on-site adjustments. The proof, of course, will have to come on race day.
Although she has won five times on the Mello Yello tour and even though her resume includes a 2014 victory in the world’s most prestigious drag race, the Labor Day U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, DeJoria hasn’t hoisted a trophy since she prevailed in the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd, Minn., in August, 2017.
That said, this weekend she will be back on a racing surface on which she and her team legitimately expect to be competitive. After all, Worsham won the Midwest Nationals three times as a driver (2003, 2009 and 2015) and the last time DeJoria was here she posted career best 1,000-foot performance numbers of 3.863 seconds and 333.16 miles per hour.