Alexis DeJoria stashed away a special bottle of Bordeaux several years ago that wasn’t supposed to be opened until her first nitro-victory in a National Hot Rod Association race.
After gathering dust for years, she finally was able to pop the cork. Victory never tasted any sweeter.
DeJoria isn’t the first woman to win in one of drag racing’s top series – Shirley Shahan became the first woman to win a national event in 1966 – but she might be the first woman rock star of the sport.
DeJoria has tattoos and is married to legendary West Coast Choppers motorcycle builder and bad boy Jesse James. She originally wanted to be a fighter pilot, but settled for a 300-mph, 8,000-horsepowered Toyota Camry.
In her spare time she likes to ride motorcycles and skydive – an adrenaline rush few could understand.
Although her progression through the Mello Yello NHRA ranks has been slow, a victory Feb. 23 in Phoenix provided some much-needed vindication for those who believed she’s nothing more than a spoiled brat enjoying the thrills her billionaire father, John Paul DeJoria, could afford.
Her father clearly opened doors. She did all the hard work.
“I think the pressure was really put on me by myself,” she said. “I’ve always strived to make my own name, and detach from my father’s famous name. I want to go my own my way, and be known for my own accomplishments. I’ve never been one to ride on my family’s coattails and take the easy way out.”
DeJoria, 36, will stop in Thailand before she’s scheduled to arrive in Gainesville, Fla., for this week’s Amalie Oil Gatornationals at Auto Plus Raceway.
When she races, she will be driving the same nitro-Funny Car she drove to her first national victory.
But for the first time since she graduated from the lower-level alcohol dragsters, she will be a winner of one of NHRA’s top-three classifications and one of 14 women to win on the national level.
And that’s something money can’t buy.
“I’ve never been one to ride on my family’s coattails and take the easy way out,” she said. “I think by doing that, it’s earned me even more respect and support from not only my father, but also my peers. I think that the racing community respects me as a driver because I didn’t just hop right into the seat of a nitro Funny Car.
“I paid my dues and worked my way up the ranks. I spent many years in the sportsman categories learning the ropes before working my way up to the professional level of fuel Funny Car.”
Her father is co-founder of Paul Mitchell products. He also owns Patrón Tequila, which sponsors her car through his Patrón Tequila XO Cafe brand.
DeJoria said she learned her work ethic from her father. While he afforded her with financial opportunities, she’s worked hard, perhaps even harder than most, to make her own niche.
“He taught us from the very beginning to fight for what you believe in, stay focused and try to find something that you’re passionate about,” she said. “If you’re passionate about something and you can make it work and make it your profession, you’ll be very successful.”
The daughter hardly is an overnight success or the product of money.
She spent six years in the lower ranks. After starting in Super Comp/Super Gas sportsman cars, she spent five years in the alcohol Funny Car class before moving up to nitro-Funny Cars after winning her first alcohol race in 2010.
“I think going through it makes you stronger,” she told National Dragster. “This sport is very demanding and very humbling. If you’re not mentally strong, it will kick your (rear).”
At the season-opening race at Pomona, Calif., she became the first woman in NHRA history to make a pass at less than four seconds at 3.997.
Two weeks later, she backed that up by beating Jeff Arned, Del Worsham, John Force and Robert Height in eliminations at the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Phoenix to become the second woman in NHRA history to win a Funny Car finals.
All of a sudden, Alexis DeJoria seemed legitimate.
“I’m not sure if I’d use the word vindication, but I think that win definitely proved to our peers that we’re competitive and our XO Cafe Toyota Camry is not to be taken lightly,” she said.
It wasn’t an easy ride. She finished 25th in the Funny Car standings in 2011 after competing in four races. As a fulltime driver she was 13th in 2012 and 12th a year ago.
Now she’s third in the rankings.
“When I was five and I saw that movie Cannonball Run, I wanted a Lamborghini Countach so bad,” DeJoria said. ”I made a bet with my dad. I just gravitated towards it.
“As soon as I got in high school, I got myself a ‘67 Chevelle SS with a 454 big block in it and raced that around. I was kind of like the wild child of the family. Everyone kind of went towards the family business, and I did at first, but I still had that drive in me. I wanted to go out and race.”
And she hasn’t slowed down since.