By Briar Starr, NHRA Staff Writer
In this edition of first-seasons, where Kickin’ The Tires catches up with a motorsports figure past and present to talk about their rookie years in racing, we caught up with current NHRA Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria.
DeJoria has competed in the Funny Car class for 12 years and currently races for DC Motorsports. During this interview, the Venice, Los Angeles, Calif. native discusses how she got her start with the Funny Car class, racing for Connie Kalitta of Kalitta Motorsports, memories of making her first start at Phoenix after failing to qualify in her first slated start at Dallas among many other memories regarding her rookie years in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series.
While DeJoria already had plenty of experience in the Alcohol Funny Car ranks prior to her nitro debut back in 2011 and 2012, the now Texas native says it was a ‘dream come true’ to get to race for a legend of the sport Connie Kalitta who owns Kalitta Motorsports and discusses how she met the Kalitta family in an interesting way.
“It really was a dream come true for me, ever since I saw the nitro cars at age 16,” DeJoria said about her interest in Funny Cars. “To have an opportunity to work and drive for Connie Kalitta was a definitely dream come true. I met them when I had a bad wreck at Englishtown, New Jersey, the site where Connie’s son (Scott Kalitta) had his bad wreck.”
“Unfortunately, Scott did not come back from that but we bonded over the safety things that were implemented. We were friends ever since then. I loved being able to learn from him because he’s honestly done it all in the sport.”
After DeJoria met Kalitta and the two formed a bond, she describes how they were able to put a deal together for her to drive some races for the team.
“Nick Boninfante was one of the crew chiefs over there at the DHL car at the time,” she said. “So, I had already had a relationship with them. He made the connection for us and that worked out for me really.”
As the deal came together for DeJoria to run full-time in the Funny Car class, she made her debut at the age of 34 back in 2011. These days in ages, making your debut at that age can be considered late. However, for the DC Motorsports driver, she ponders if she wishes she could’ve started in Funny Car earlier.
“I actually started in my mid to late 20s because I didn’t really compete in the Jr dragsters (NHRA’s developmental league),” DeJoria explained. “I spent some time racing in the sportsman categories such as Super Gas and Super Comp for almost a year. Then, Alcohol Funny Car for probably eight years. I was prepared and I was definitely ready for the nitro ranks when the time came.”
2011 marked the first limited time that DeJoria would be racing in the Funny Car class. She would race in three races that season before jumping to full-time the season after. The Funny Car driver explains why she was only racing part-time before going full-time.
“It was all based on time,” she added. “I had just gotten there and got my license. Del Worsham was my crew chief and my mentor, I learned everything from him. I got licensed in his own family car. It was like, let’s get your feet wet with just four races left starting with Dallas.”
“Dallas was my first race and then just finished out that year to get a little head start.”
Even though DeJoria already had experience driving a Funny Car in the alcohol ranks, she says her expectations weren’t winning right away.
“Oh god no,” Dejoria says jokingly. “For me, my expectations were just to do everything properly. Stage right, get down the track, and just have no mistakes. If I get a round win early on, then so be it. Quite honestly, the transition from alcohol Funny Car to nitro Funny Car was a lot smoother than I anticipated for it to be.”
“They are very similar in retrospect. A lot of driving down the track, a lot of input in the steering wheel. It did prepare me for the nitro ranks, but once I got in, it was like Star Wars for me when I first started making really fast passes. I absolutely loved being in the car.”
As DeJoria was setting her expectations for the limited 2011 season, her first race was at Dallas. She describes if there were ever nerves going into what was supposed to be her first start.
“I was definitely ready,” Dejoria said. “I was testing a lot and by the time I got to the race, I treated it like another test session. I just remember being very confident and very focused, and somewhat getting pissed off because all these photographers were around me sticking the cameras in my face as I was driving up to the starting line.”
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘get the hell out of my way.’ It was great. It was like family racing over there with Kalitta. The whole crew and everything. When one car does well, everyone else does well too.”
Unfortunately, DeJoria missed the field in her first start but says not qualifying for the race wasn’t a big deal breaker for her.
“Not really,” she said if there were ever any second thoughts about not qualifying. “We had an explosion. My windshield blew up at the top end of the track. It was more of just like, we did our best and it was a good learning lesson that weekend.”
After failing to make her first race in Dallas in late 2011, DeJoria kicked off her 2012 campaign with a strong first-round victory over the one and only John Force at Gainesville. The Texas native goes into detail about that round win and if John said anything to her after the run.
“He (John) thought it was pretty funny because I was the only female that didn’t have the last name Force that had beaten him,” DeJoria said laughingly. “That was pretty funny, he’s a good sport. John actually signed my Funny Car license when I was testing early on in my career.”
As DeJoria was getting experience in a Funny Car, she had to wait two years later until 2014 at Phoenix where she would earn her first win. She discusses what it was like getting that victory and what did for her driving career.
“(Winning Phoenix) was a huge confidence booster,” the Funny Car driver said. “I was just ready to win. That was a huge win and I went against some pretty heavy hitters that day. After winning that first race, the victories just kept coming in.”
Speaking of wins, DeJoria would then go on to win another race that season. The U.S. Nationals, home of the prestige race in NHRA every Labor Day weekend. She thinks about whether winning the U.S. Nationals was bigger than her first win.
“Winning the U.S. Nationals is something every driver wants to do, whether they won a championship or not,” DeJoria said. “That’s the biggest race of the year. It’s incredible. The fact we won that race on the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Nationals was huge. We all got these championship rings which was really cool.”
“The whole day was perfect. To also win against John Force in the finals, it was like my favorite race to win.”
“If I had to say which one means the most to me, I think winning Bristol back in 2021 was very special in its own right.”
As DeJoria continues to reflect on her early years as a Funny Car driver, she explains what she has in her collection.
“I usually try to keep or save a sweatshirt for memory from every year,” she said. “I actually signed some t-shirts this past weekend from my alcohol Funny Car days which was pretty amazing. One of them was very cool, I wish I would’ve offered to buy it off of them.”
When the interview came to a close, DeJoria reflects back on a learning memory from her rookie year and if she could do anything differently.
“I think being cool under pressure is a big deal,” DeJoria said. “Not really thinking too much about who’s in the next lane opposite of you or what they have already accomplished. Additionally, just don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Throughout DeJoria’s career, the DC Motorsports driver has earned six career wins with six runner-up finishes. Furthermore, she has earned 33 semi-final appearances, made 51 quarterfinals, and had 96 first-round appearances. Finally, the Funny Car driver has six No. 1 qualifiers and a career win-loss record of 159-186.