Alexis Dejoria knows only one way to get through life – by being tough. It’s just the way she was raised by her famous father, billionaire entrepreneur John Paul DeJoria and mother Jamie Briggs.
Let the record reflect, in 2016 when the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car driver was sidelined from injuries sustained in two separate crashes; her inner spirit was about to drive her crazy. Her mind was filled with the desire to jump into the battle regardless of how much her body cried it wasn’t ready.
Blame it on her upbringing, one which burned into her mind the importance of being resilient and the determination to face odds head on.
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“I was raised a fighter, what can I say?” DeJoria said with a smile. “My Dad had to fight really hard to accomplish the things he accomplished and to be as successful as he is. My Mom’s no slouch either, you know, it’s in my blood.”
DeJoria’s biggest fight has never been about 330-mile per hour opponents or a 10,000-horsepower, fire-belching Funny Car.
“My toughest fight is always with myself,” DeJoria admitted. “I mean honestly, you get beat up out here physically, mentally. People want to tear you down, they expect you to fail, or want you to fail. I think your worst enemy is always going to be yourself. No one can ever be as hard on me as I am on myself because I expect perfection. We’re human beings; we’re not going to be perfect. But in this world, in the world of drag racing, you have to be perfect at every move that you make.”
DeJoria comes from a family where success is very evident and quitting is not an option. However, with success, DeJoria adds, comes moments of failure.
“I get knocked down a lot,” DeJoria said. “I’ve gotten knocked down quite a few times last year. But, you know, the fact that I keep getting up and moving forward makes me who I am. If I didn’t, I don’t think I could live with myself. It’s the people that keep getting back up are the people that make it, that stay successful.”
To borrow a phrase from fictional boxer Rocky Balboa, “But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
Last season at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals in Sonoma, Ca., DeJoria appeared to have lost control of her Toyota Funny Car and slammed into the retaining, when in fact, credible sources have confirmed her car hit oil left from a previous pair of cars. The ensuing accident resulted in a fractured pelvis.
“That [injury] was very unfortunate, and you start to think, ‘Well, why did it happen to me?'” DeJoria said. “You’re out here, and you’re working hard, and you think you’re a good driver. I have a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities as a race car driver. I’ve been out here for a while going through the ranks. Heal up, everything’s good, come back out, and then, you know, go out to Las Vegas and have another unfortunate event which was completely out of my control.
“It’s like you think you’re in control all the time, and you are until you aren’t. And when you’re not, there’s not anything you can do about it. So, it’s like you want to sit there and cry over spilled milk, it’s not worth it man. Life is way too short. What happens, happens. For whatever reason, it happens. And we don’t know what lessons we’re supposed to learn. But obviously, there’s lessons to be learned in those instances.”
DeJoria, with the pelvis injury, went on the sidelines ranked 10th in the NHRA Funny Car points, and returned three races later, successfully repelling challenges for the final spot in the Countdown to the Championship. Her season ended in Las Vegas when her car drifted left past the finish line, the result of a parachute getting pulled underneath the car where it got wrapped around the rear axle. The parachute then got into the right brake preventing her from slowing the car. In the midst of this, the front end developed issues of its own, thus removing her ability to steer the car.
What appeared just to be a glancing blow had harsher ramifications.
“I was like, ‘Man, really?'” DeJoria said shaking her head. “So, if anything was learned through that, not by only myself but NHRA, our race team, (were) ways to make things better. Sometimes you’ve got to take one for the team for everybody to learn. Something about it, it’s made me a tougher driver. I mean, I’ve been through quite a few issues out here in my somewhat short racing career as a Funny Car driver. But it’s all things with lessons learned and things that really build character as a race car driver.”
DeJoria had the incident in Las Vegas during Saturday’s Q-3 session, but by Sunday’s warm-up for final eliminations, something was clearly wrong.
“I did the warm up, and I didn’t feel quite right,” DeJoria said. “My crew chief and my team, they’re looking at me like, ‘Man, you don’t seem right,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I don’t feel right, right now.’
“It’s hard because you’re in such this controlled environment and you’re so focused, and you’re so ahead of the game that you sometimes forget that you need to be aware of that your safety’s first, and obviously the safety all around us. I would never get in the car if I didn’t feel right. And that was the decision that I made.”
DeJoria admitted the decision to step out of the car for what amounted to the rest of the season was a tough one to make. Even when she crashed a car in 2009 while racing Top Alcohol Funny Car, the result of a parachute failure, she never missed a race.
This time she was forced to make one of her more complex decisions.
“It was a tough decision, but quite honestly, I’m looking at the big picture, not short term,” DeJoria said. “I want to race for a long time, not just today or tomorrow. With a broken bone, it’s kind of like OK, you have a broken bone. This is how long it takes to heal, and you’ll be back.
“Missing a couple of races, that sucks, trust me. But I was in so much pain. I mean, there was nothing you could do about it. So it is what it is. You know, just suck it up and move forward. And then with a concussion, it’s one of those weird deals in that you don’t know when it’s going to stop.
“I’ve had tire shake like you wouldn’t believe driving an Alcohol Funny Car and a Nitro Funny Car. I’ve been through some really hard ones. And I had a really bad one in Denver, and I got a concussion from it. But it was the last session of qualifying. So, you know, it wasn’t like ‘Do you get back in the car or not?’
“It was like, man that rung my bell worse than I initially felt when I hit the wall in Vegas, but the next day, I was fine.”
Let the record reflect, DeJoria owned up to the decision to withdraw in Las Vegas.
“It was a decision I made for the team,” DeJoria admitted.
Initially, Kalitta Racing’s management had decided to park the car until DeJoria could return to drive the car, but it was her choice to put veteran journeyman and former Kalitta driver Jeff Arend in her car to finish the season.
“I just kind of wanted the team to end the season, at least run the last race,” DeJoria confirmed.
First and foremost, DeJoria – in addition to being a competitive driver – is also a fan of the straight line sport. Even though she wasn’t at the races during her convalescence time, she tuned into the NHRA FOX broadcasts for every episode.
“As hard as it was, when I fractured my pelvis out in Sonoma, I mean I still sat there and watched the races in Seattle and Brainerd,” DeJoria said. “t was hard. I’m sitting there practically jumping up into the screen just wanting to be there and in that race car. But, you know, I had to heal. It’s one of those things; you just have to accept your fate. And if you want to keep on doing this stuff, you’ve got to take the punches.
“Some days are worse than others, it really, it builds you as a driver, and hell, it gives you a lot of heart. I can tell you that much.”
DeJoria smiles because she feels brighter days are ahead of her. With a reorganization of Kalitta Racing crew chiefs, longtime championship crew chief Tommy DeLago is now paired with another championship tuner in Nicky Boninfante making for an off the chain future.
DeJoria isn’t looking for sympathy from anyone, but clearly, commands respect from her peers clearly because of her will to succeed.
“I’m a fighter through and through,” DeJoria said. “I love what I do; I’m very passionate about the sport, I am extremely grateful for everybody who comes out here and supports our team and myself. Life’s pretty short, so you’ve got to be thankful for the days that you get.”
Make no mistake DeJoria is ready to fight as hard as she has to fight.
Bobby Bennett is the Publisher/Editor of CompetitionPlus.com, a leading independent online drag racing magazine, since 1999. For the latest in dragster news worldwide, visit www.competitionplus.com or follow on Twitter @competitionplus