NHRA Funny Car: One-On-One With Alexis DeJoria

She might be a billionaire heiress, but she races her hot rod more like a risk-taking daredevil.

Ed Millerby Ed Miller

For NHRA Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria, fast is the only speed she knows.

DeJoria, 37, is one of the up-and-comers in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) and drives a 10,000-horepower nitro Funny Car sponsored by Patrón – a company close to her heart. Her father, John Paul DeJoria, is the founder of the tequila giant (and co-founder of Paul Mitchell hair care products), impacting his daughter’s life in a big way. While DeJoria might be a billionaire heiress, that’s not a title she truly embraces. Instead, this 300 mph racing, fighter jet riding, snowboarding speedster embraces a more suitable title – risk-taking daredevil.  

With three wins under her belt last year, DeJoria is turning heads in the sport she loves, all while balancing an extensive workout schedule, a wide range of hobbies and a marriage to speed enthusiast and reality TV star Jess James. We recently caught up to DeJoria to discuss her background in racing, the chance of a reality show and much more.

How It All Began

CraveOnline: How does a billionaire heiress get involved with racing 10,000-horsepower cars?

Alexis DeJoria: While I have that label, that’s definitely not how I live [laughs]. I’ve always kind of been under the radar, because my father raised us well. I always loved fast cars growing up, in high school especially – my friends were building hot rods and racing them around. That was just something that kind of stuck with me. My father raced cannonball races in Europe and the United States, just for fun, but it still seemed like such an awesome thing to do. So, it was a love of mine ever since I was a kid.

Crave: You said your dad raced, were you around that environment a lot?

DeJoria: I was somewhat – it was more so the stories and photos he’d come home with. Of course, I was too young to go on them with him [laughs], as it was way before I had my driver’s license.

Crave: It’s safe to say risk-taking kind of runs in the family, but are you the only daredevil of the group?

DeJoria: For the most part, yes [laughs] – definitely.

Crave: How important was it for you to make your ascent through the NHRA rankings, to kind of build a reputation and go from there?

DeJoria: I mean, with anything you don’t know that much about, you kind of have to start at the beginning and work your way up through the ranks. I didn’t have any history in racing, no one in my family raced professionally – I just have the drive and passion for it. It was the best way for me to learn.

Crave: Were there a lot of challenges that you faced along that path?

DeJoria: More so, just like learning the ropes – getting in touch with the right people and meeting the right people, which really just takes time. Being around that field, it’s like on-the-job training [laughs], there’s only so much you can learn from textbooks and talking about it. You need to live it.

What It Takes To Drive 300 MPH

Crave: What do you focus on during a race, because it all happens so quickly?

DeJoria: There’s so much going on, especially in the professional ranks – in the nitro ranks. You have large corporate businesses on the side of your car and you’re representing a hospitality tent right next to the pit with distributors and family members as well, but there’s a lot of entertaining that goes on, so it’s just kind of learning to balance everything out but still, when it’s game time, being able to focus on your job and being in the moment.

Crave: How hot does it get in the vehicle when you’re on the track, ready to go…?

DeJoria: [Laughs]

Crave: I was watching the NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas and it looked pretty hot there.

DeJoria: You know, it depends where we are at, obviously, during the race weekends. The summer months in like Chicago and Norwalk, OH are incredibly humid and hot [laughs]. So, those are the times you’ll have sweat dripping down into your eyes and you’re like, ‘thank God it’s only four seconds’. But for the most part, I’ll just say for myself, it’s really mind over matter, you know. You kind of teach yourself not to feel anything – not to be distracted by the heat or whatnot.

Crave: So essentially, you kind of just become numb to it after a while.

DeJoria: Very much so.

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Crave: What does it mean for you to race a vehicle sponsored by Patrón, given your family ties?

DeJoria: I think it’s an honor, honestly, because my father is a very smart businessman and he’s not going to put his company at risk just because I’m a family member – he’s never been that way. I even had to start on the phones at the company when I was working there right out of high school. So, just because I’m his daughter and he wouldn’t necessarily just put me in a high-ranking job like that, but it can sometimes be a double-edge sword because people think I’m only racing because one of my dad’s companies is sponsoring me – and that’s not the case. I’m just very fortunate to have his support but at the same time, if I wasn’t good at what I do, they would never put their name on the side of my car and I would find another way, another sponsor. But it just so happened they were already involved in racing and it sounded like a good idea for them and definitely proved to be successful for all parties.

Crave: That was going to be my next question. If Patrón wasn’t sponsoring you, would you go out, find another sponsor and continue to do what you love?

DeJoria: Definitely. It’s not like I just have Patrón. I am sponsored by Toyota, Mac Tools, Red Line Oil and a number of others but yeah, it’s definitely a big deal. And I actually race for Connie Kalitta, who is a legend in the sport and he’s been out there forever. He’s such a great man, I mean, I feel so fortunate to be able to race with him.

Building A Winning Culture  

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Crave: You mention a legend – I think it was last year in Indianapolis you beat John Force. What was it like to beat a legend like that?

DeJoria: I’ve actually beat John Force a few times in different rounds but in the finals, at Indy [laughs]. You know, in the beginning when I first started racing nitro, I was so excited just to be there and racing people like John Force, who is one of my favorite racers – I always watched him. I was pretty stoked in the beginning but now they’re my opponent. In the pits we will laugh, smile, wave and whatever but they’re just regular guys to me now.

Crave: That must be a good feeling having seen what these drivers accomplished and then building up a friendship with them.

DeJoria: Oh yeah, for sure. I mean, John Force and Del Worsham have both signed my nitro Funny Car license, so that was like a dream come true – that’s my favorite racers that I’ve always looked up to, so to have them sign off on my license was a really big deal for me.

What The Future Might Hold

Crave: Would you ever consider racing in any other competition – do you strictly like drag racing or have you thought about expanding your horizons?

DeJoria: I love all forms of motorsports. From MotoGP to off-road racing, IndyCar, NASCAR – I just love motorsports all together. For me, I think I would probably try some off-road stuff. My husband races in off-road, doing the Baja and desert and stuff like that. And that’s something I think I would really like, because driving a nitro Funny Car is – well, there’s a lot of driving in that four seconds. The car is like a bucking bronco sometimes and just doesn’t do what you want it to do. I think off-road is kind of like my car but on dirt [laughs].

Crave: I’m with you. I got the chance to go out to Maine this year, Red Bull put on an event called Frozen Rush and they raced Pro 4 trucks on a ski slope.

DeJoria: Wow, that’s amazing.

Crave: It was awesome. You should have seen the tires on these trucks. Each one had hundreds of individual spikes. It’s incredible what they can do and how each one of these sports evolves.

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DeJoria: Most definitely. I actually got to ride a Pro Lite to test one out and that was just a Pro Lite, you know – that was one of the smaller ones. But I had a blast.

Crave: I got a chance to ride in one while I was up there. Luke Johnson gave me a ride in a Pro 2 truck and it was pretty intense.

DeJoria: Oh, I know Luke! He was actually the one who was teaching me how to drive the Pro Lite. It was actually his car when he was racing with Traxxas.

Crave: Yeah, he’s a really cool dude.

DeJoria: Yeah, he’s way cool.

Jesse James And A Reality TV Career

Crave: Now, you mentioned your husband earlier and he’s a fellow car enthusiast as well. Do you guys talk a lot of shop, or do you kind of keep that for when you’re at the race?

DeJoria: No, we’re always talking about shop [laughs]. I mean, it’s out at the track but it’s also at home. They’re building bikes, guns, hot rods, cars and everything at his shop, so we are always talking about everything pretty much. That’s pretty much how we met, as well. We first met at the race track and I was talking to him about his trophy track and he was coming there to watch the races, so it was like the best platform for us to kind of come together.

Crave: He’s done a few reality shows and you have a life perfect for a reality show. Is that something the two of you have ever considered?

DeJoria: I don’t know [laughs]. He’s done so many – I think he’s over it. You know, having those cameras in his personal space, I don’t know. I’m a pretty private person as well. It would take the right, I guess, group and the right kind of filming but we are both very much like real, down to earth people. I don’t know – I wouldn’t rule it out completely because it would be a pretty fun show I think, given all the stuff we do at home and for work. It’s very different.

Crave: Has the NHRA ever had a reality show like that, because that could be something that could tap a pretty good market?

DeJoria: Actually, they did. The Force’s had a show on A&E called Driving Force and they had a couple of seasons – it was pretty funny. I’ve watched a couple of episodes. It follows John and his daughters at the track and at home and everything. This was when Ashley Force was racing. I think we might bring something like that back, I know they’ve been doing a lot of filming at the racetrack.

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The Woman’s Perspective

Crave: You mentioned [John] Force’s daughters, so in a sport that’s still predominantly male focused, how to women continue to make strides?

DeJoria: You know, it’s not that big of a deal for us now. In our sport, compared to other forms of motorsports, we have way more women – people like Shelly Payne and Shirley Muldowney back in the day. It really opened the door for us to be able to come in and be respected. I think because of them, it’s a lot easier and there’s still just a handful of us, but when we’re on that racetrack, that car doesn’t know if you’re a girl or a guy [laughs] and does not care. I will tell you right now, those guys want to beat us just as bad as we want to beat the guys.

Crave: You were the first woman to break a sub-four second run. What was that like?

DeJoria: That was incredible. I got to do that in Pomona, which was my home track for a while, because I’m a Los Angeles native but I mean, for me, being such a serious driver, when there’s only two females racing in the class that I’m racing in, including myself, it’s not that big of a deal. I’d rather be the fastest driver not the fast female out of two females [laughs]. You know what I’m saying?

Crave: Absolutely.

DeJoria: But it was still definitely an accomplishment for my team and we were very much excited. Any time a team runs in the threes, it’s a pretty big deal. These cars are just getting so much faster every year and they’re just incredible.

Crave: What has been your focus going into this year? I know we’re several races in…

DeJoria: This year, it’s just – we accomplished so much last year. We won our first races and we wound up winning three races total, one of which was the 60th Anniversary of the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis – the biggest one of our series. Our team learned so much as a whole, so this year it’s just adding to that – learning more, getting more wins and working forward to that eventual championship.

Hobbies And Workout Routine

Crave: Now, I see in here you have rode in an F-15 Strike Eagle fighter jet. Do you have a lot of other extreme hobbies besides hot rods?

DeJoria: Yes, I do. I like to ride motorcycles and dirt bikes – I like skydiving. I haven’t bungee jumped yet, but that’s something I’d love to do. I snowboard and all of that kind of stuff. Yeah, I’m definitely kind of a wild child – I always have been, I think that’s why my family wasn’t that surprised when I said I wanted to be a racecar driver [laughs].

Crave: Do you enjoy the thrill of it, or does it take you guts to build up to it? For me, I wouldn’t skydive. I’ve rode in an IndyCar and that’s as crazy as I’ve gotten – and that was scary for me.

DeJoria: That is still really cool. I’ve always been into sports because I was a tomboy growing up, obviously. But I like the challenge of it, the high level of competition and being able to accomplish something most people can’t do, or don’t want to do [laughs], so all of that together for me is a thrill. But I love the thrill of getting out there and going down that racetrack at over 300 mph – there’s absolutely nothing that compares to it.

Crave: Can you talk a little bit about your diet and workout routine? I’m sure it’s a rigorous one that most fans might not know too much about.

DeJoria: Definitely. We’re not in the car that long, but if you could imagine a horse running the Kentucky Derby four times a day, or the jockey I should say, it’s kind of like that [laughs]. It does take a lot out of you, because the g-forces are very major and it’s a lot of pressure on your entire body. And with these cars, the nitro Funny Cars in particular, all of the sudden you’re getting pulled in one direction, I mean it’s like you’re literally trying to fight the beast and you have to manhandle it, so to speak. I do a lot of weight training and circuit training and I’ve been doing these cycling classes in between to keep my rate up and get in my cardio – I do a mixture of both. I just try and keep it balanced but I definitely do a lot of upper-body weight training. I try to eat as healthy as possible, which isn’t always that easy at the track [laughs]. I have a coach that my husband and I stay in when were at a race and I try to pack it with the healthiest food possible. I try to keep it pretty light.

Crave: Yeah, I saw you posted a picture of Whole Foods on your Twitter account a few weeks ago and you were pretty excited about that.

DeJoria: It was like gold – I was like, ‘oh my gosh’.

Crave: It’s the little things. Going back to your workout for just a second, when you take a lot of time off from doing that, does that affect your racing?

DeJoria: I think so. You know, mentally as well as physically. During the offseason, I take a little bit of time off but just all around, I feel so much better – and I sleep better when I get good workouts. I mean, it definitely would take a toll on me and my racing, if I stopped for a couple of weeks and just kept racing. I don’t think I would perform the same.

Ed Miller is a contributor for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @PhillyEdMiller or “like” CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.

Photos courtesy of Gary Nastase Photography and Cesar Andre Photography