Fan-favorite Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria stepped away from the world of professional drag racing at the end of the 2017 season. She said she always knew she’d be back, and late last year she announced that she would be returning to full-time driving in 2020.
[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #155, the Women of Power Issue, in April of 2020.]
“Honestly, I didn’t want to wait too long,” she says. “It seemed like all the right things were lined up for us to put together a plan and a team that we had been hoping to do for a while, and it just seemed like it was the right time to do that.”
And that team is stacked with some heavy-hitters, including crew chiefs Del Worsham and Nicky Boninfante. Worsham, an NHRA legend in his own right, has had a massive impact on DeJoria’s racing career, and it was important that he be part of her 2020 team.
“Del alone is just a remarkable racer and crew chief. I’ve had a long-standing relationship with him and his family – they’re really great people,” DeJoria says. “He taught me how to drive a Funny Car, and he was my very first crew chief at Kalitta Motorsports. He’s always been the one – no matter if he was my crew chief or teammate – that I could go to with any issue.”
The team had an impressive first weekend out in Pomona earlier this year, qualifying 11th and making it to the semifinals. They qualified 10th in Phoenix, and had a first-round loss to Tim Wilkerson.
“We’re not the fastest car out there right now,” DeJoria admits. “We’re just starting out and gaining information. But the one thing we do have on our side is that none of us are newbies. Even the young guys on the crew are old salts – everyone has been out here before.”
DeJoria’s team was in Gainesville in early March ready to try to get in the Winner’s Circle for the first time at the track when NHRA canceled the race because of the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve since suspended racing until June, and will start the season off back in Gainesville at the Gatornationals, and that’s something DeJoria is excited about.
“We used to live outside of Gainesville when I raced in Alcohol Funny Car, so we have a lot of good memories there,” she says. “I’ve never won there and it’s definitely on my bucket list of races to win.”
DeJoria is known for driving a Funny Car with Patrón Tequila on the side, but this year she’s got some new sponsors. And not just new to her, but new to the sport of professional drag racing. ROKiT Phones is a glasses-free 3D mobile phone provider that DeJoria says is big in Europe.
“They’re trying to stretch out their fanbase in the United States, and I thought, ‘Well, what would be better than being on a professional, American racing team?’” she says.
In addition to ROKiT Phones, she’s also boasting the ABK Beer logo on her Toyota Camry Funny Car. ABK Beer is one of the oldest beer breweries in the world, starting in 1308 in Bavaria, Germany.
“We hope to have tasting bars at different racetracks where people can try out the beer, and hopefully one day have a beer garden,” DeJoria reveals. “That would be incredible. The product really is incredible.”
And DeJoria’s favorite beer, you ask? Hell. It’s touted as a light, bright, and very satisfying beer.
After a two-year break, DeJoria was eager to get back in her nitro-burning Funny Car, and says that the hiatus definitely put some things about her racing career in perspective.
“When you’re in it [racing], it’s hustle and bustle and go-time,” she says. “It’s eat, sleep, and breathe racing. It can be hard to appreciate it. My break allowed me to look at things through an outside point of view.”
The Austin, Texas, resident says she was a little worried about getting back in the car after her two-season break, but after a pass down the track, everything came back to her like second-nature.
“Even in the offseason when you’re out of the car for maybe a solid month and a half, and you get that ‘Whoa, what’s it going to feel like’ feeling of getting back in the car,” DeJoria says. “It’s not like you’re scared, but you forget the feeling. The first time I made a pass this year, I was like ‘Man, these are pretty fast! I forgot how fast these are!’”
DeJoria is trying something this year to engage more with her fans off the track. During every warm-up in the pits, they’ve been whacking the throttle of her Funny Car, something Scott Palmer is known for doing with his Top Fuel dragster.
“The fans love it, my guys love it,” DeJoria says. “It’s been a riot! It doesn’t serve much of a purpose anymore, but it adds a little more excitement and I love doing it. Anything to get a little rowdy!”