It’s a warm afternoon in central New Jersey and as Alexis DeJoria’s team works methodically on her Toyota Camry NHRA Funny Car, there’s the booming roar of engines in the distance. Preparing the 10,000-horsepower hot rod to zoom down the track is no easy task, yet her crew makes it look effortless – quietly tinkering with the engine in the hopes of ensuring success for the upcoming qualifier.
DeJoria, 39, is the closest thing professional racing has to an astronaut, battling several g-forces in an attempt to power and maneuver a miniature rocket ship to victory in the blink of an eye. That danger doesn’t scare DeJoria. In fact, it’s something she embraces – turning adrenaline and passion into success. But success took time – and experience – for DeJoria, who holds NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) track records and is both the first female to compete in 100 Funny Car events as well as the first female to record a sub-four second run.
Through it all, Dejoria’s husband, TV personality and well-known gearhead, Jesse James, is right by her side, working on the vehicle and sharing in either the thrill of success or the agony of defeat. James can often be found doing the labor intensive work or picking the brain of the mechanics – and vice versa.
“The first time he ever came to a race, when we first started dating, I could tell he wanted to be a part of it and get his hands dirty,” DeJoria recalled. “He’s only missed probably a handful of them. He’s not one to just stand on the sidelines – he wants to get in, he wants to help and he’s very knowledgeable.”
With her husband and crew watching, the Patrón sponsored Funny Car explodes down the track, pumping a dose of adrenaline into thousands of onlookers. With her blood pumping and another successful race under her belt, it’s back to the pit for more work. It’s a typical day at the office for one of the fastest women in motorsports but while she might seem to be all business during race weekend, the more you’re around DeJoria, the more evident her constant thirst for both fun and adrenaline.
LONG LIVE ROCK ‘N’ ROLL
Much of DeJoria’s motivation for high-intensity racing stems back to music. Her love of music began as a teenager, when she would purchase records, and from there her collection expanded. It’s not rare to see her with headphones in while roaming the pit area and, as she admits, music is necessary.
“Music has the power to get you hyped up – it gets you in that head space,” DeJoria said. “I love music – I have to have it. If I don’t have some sort of music throughout race weekend, I kind of lose myself.”
No two races are alike and neither are DeJoria’s playlists, admitting she changes it up every weekend but it really just depends on her current mood. Rock ‘n’ roll and metal seems to be preferred but mixing in hip-hop or something “a little more groovy” can be just what she needs when chasing thrills. Some of the recent songs on her playlist included works from Future, The Animals, Thousand Foot Crutch, Lil Wayne, Metallica and James Brown – though she admits Tool and A Perfect Circle are her favorite.
“I’ve always liked a wide range of music – it really depends on what kind of mood I’m in” she added. “My playlists are just so massive they don’t fit on my electronics anymore.”
But there’s one band with which DeJoria shares a special relationship – and it all began at the track.
Over the course of the NHRA season, which spans from February to November, DeJoria meets thousands upon thousands of racing enthusiasts – but one meeting while at the Gatornationals Gainesville was especially exciting for the Funny Car driver. Nicko McBrain, the drummer for Iron Maiden and a noted auto racing follower, was in attendance hanging out with Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher and knowing what a massive fan she was of the band, Schumacher introduced the two.
“I totally fan-girled out,” DeJoria laughed. “I meet a lot of people and it doesn’t really faze me but someone like that – it was just super awesome. He’s a fan of the sport, he loves NHRA drag racing.”
DeJoria incorporates artwork into the inside of her roof hatch each season and one year she decided on the cover of Iron Maiden’s album Aces High, featuring the band’s mascot, Eddie, as a fighter pilot.
“It’s taken from two things I’m very passionate about – one of them being Iron Maiden and the other, my love for fighter planes,” DeJoria said. “When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a fighter pilot.”
Rather than paint over it, she wanted to see if she could get it signed and, after sparking a friendship in northern Florida, McBrain was able to get the roof hatch signed by the whole band. Since meeting, the two have crossed paths several times and McBrain recently got to warm up DeJoria’s vehicle, while the drummer gave DeJoria’s crew backstage passes for Iron Maiden’s show at the Prudential Center.
THE NEED FOR MORE SPEED
Music might help fuel DeJoria, but adrenaline and a daredevil attitude keeps her feeling alive.
Years ago, while racing in Las Vegas – which is situated right next to Nellis Air Force base – DeJoria met members of the Air Force who were preparing to go to Afghanistan, and they became friends. After talking, the two sides joked about a vehicle swap, and DeJoria, thinking nothing of it, went about her day. A few years later she got a call about it, complete with government clearance to fly an F-15 Eagle – which is a pretty big deal, given that only other military members are typically given clearance. For DeJoria, it was a chance to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a fighter pilot – and it didn’t disappoint at all.
But flying is a much different animal than driving an NHRA drag racer straight for 1,000-plus feet.
“On the ground, obviously, you feel the speed way more,” DeJoria claimed. “When you’re up in the air, you don’t really necessarily feel it. You feel the g-forces a lot more when you bank or do vertical climbs and things like that – which we did. We pulled seven and a half [g-forces] and they went Mach 2.”
Having known some of the officers, there was no chance they were going to take it easy on DeJoria, who eats speed and g-forces for breakfast, so they pulled out all the stunts to test her limits in the sky.
“These guys were my friends and knew where I came from, so they were trying to get me sick or to pass out the entire time, she added. “They were pulling every trick on me they could – as soon as we left the tarmac we went straight vertical, which is amazing. I didn’t pass out – none of that. It was perfect.”
A little more than half way through the flight, DeJoria got to check another item off of her bucket list, when the pilots relinquished control of the aircraft to the rookie passenger. Not even a little fazed or nervous by the opportunity, DeJoria immediately inquired about doing a barrel-roll. She was told to have fun and go for it by the pilot – that she couldn’t break the aircraft and he wouldn’t let it crash.
“You just want to do a barrel-roll, Top Gun style,” she laughed. “They’re really easy to fly, believe it or not. I didn’t land it or take off but once you’re in the air, it’s very easy to fly.”
FUTURE MOTHER TRUCKER
The opportunity to fly was one DeJoria will never forget but she’s better equipped for four wheels and while she will always be a drag racer, there is a second love in her life – besides James, of course.
A large portion of her life has been spent enjoying off-road vehicles, more specifically trophy trucks. These powerful trucks offer a different kind of intensity for DeJoria, one that she discovered at age 16, when she got the chance to join her father, billionaire John Paul DeJoria, at the Baja 1000 – one of the world’s biggest off-roading events. The love affair has not faded and could lead to a new hobby.
Not to mention, it just so happens her husband builds and drives trophy trucks professionally.
“I told my husband he better be careful, I might just steal his trophy truck when he’s not looking,” she joked. “I got to do a shock test with him on Zoo Road in San Felipe when he did the San Felipe 250 and that was really fun. I kept expecting us to just launch in the air and flip but he handled the four-foot little hills so incredibly well, I was like amazed.”
It’s clear that DeJoria has a passion for driving off-road and while she hasn’t had the chance to get behind the wheel of an 850-horsepower trophy truck, she did drive a smaller Pro 2 truck.
“It just definitely put a fire in my system and I wanted to do it instantly, DeJoria recalled. “I’ll say right now, most likely I’ll get a chance to [drive a trophy truck] and love it.”
When she’s not yearning to get behind the wheel of a trophy truck, piloting fighter jets at dizzying altitudes, or driving her Funny Car at unbelievable speeds, DeJoria is just a regular person who enjoys an evening at home on the couch with her children and a good movie. And if you’re wondering what she drives when she’s not staring death right in the face, well, chances are you might have one.
“I have a Toyota Sequoia,” she laughed. “I have kids, eight dogs and a monkey, so I definitely need the space and a car that I can just kind of, you know, rough up and not really worry about.”
Alexis is back in action for the Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Chicago. Qualifying airs live Saturday, July 8 from 5:00-7:00 p.m. EST and eliminations air live Sunday, July 9 from 3:00-6:00 p.m. EST on FS1.
Photos courtesy of Alexis DeJoria Racing