Alexis DeJoria off to fast start
Alexis DeJoria expected progress this season. She didn't expect this. Not to win her first two career NHRA Funny Car events in the first four rounds of the season. Not to reach the finals in three of the first five. Not to become the first female to make a sub-4-second pass in Funny Car.
But she did it all. And it's still early. So with the NHRA approaching an inevitable milestone of 100 wins by female drivers, DeJoria's attitude is "more, please."
"Of course, I want to do that," she said. "I am a racer. Hell yeah, I want to get that 100th win for me and my team, no doubt."
Anything that shows women can be competitive with men and come out on top, it's a good thing. There are a lot of cars capable of getting that 100th win.Shirley Muldowney
Fourteen women have combined for the 98 all-time wins, led by Angelle Sampey, who amassed 41 in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Legend Shirley Muldowney, second on the all-time list with 18 wins in Top Fuel, will attend the NHRA event this weekend at Houston. Erica Enders-Stevens (who claimed the 98th win in Pro Stock at Las Vegas), DeJoria and Courtney Force (Funny Car), and Brittany Force and Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel) figure as likely producers of the historic victory.
"I think it's a terrific thing," Muldowney said. "A lot of ladies played a big part in getting to 100 wins, and it's good for the sport. Anything that shows women can be competitive with men and come out on top, it's a good thing. There are a lot of cars capable of getting that 100th win."
DeJoria isn't alone in seeking the 100th win. Courtney Force hopes the scheduling of an NHRA weekend will set up the Force family with a shot at history yet again.
"To get the hundredth win for women, it would be amazing," she said. "I mean, it's definitely going to be my goal at this point. If I had a picture-perfect world, honestly, it would be me getting 99 and Brittany getting 100 all in this weekend. Obviously, Top Fuel runs after us. That would be a picture-perfect world."
Muldowney won NHRA championships in 1977, 1980 and 1982, becoming the first driver to three and a mainstream star, she said, because the NHRA "knew I could sell tickets and that I had the goods." She established the NHRA as a destination for females not only by her presence but by her unabashed drive and unparalleled success.
"She blew the doors open and she was so good at what she did," DeJoria said. "NASCAR doesn't have anybody like that. I think IndyCar was close with women like Lyn St. James and Danica [Patrick], and she moved to NASCAR. Maybe there was a lack of interest there or they just were lacking a very strong individual female like Shirley Muldowney to kind of blast open those doors like she did with NHRA.
"She did a lot and it was not easy for her."
DeJoria's path to the top levels of the NHRA was not necessarily easy, although she had the advantage of a wealthy and supportive family. The daughter of Paul Mitchell hair care products co-founder and billionaire John Paul DeJoria, who also owns the tequila brand that sponsors her race team, she worked her way through the NHRA's sportsman classes after becoming engrossed in the sport at age 16.
"Fortunately, my father had a company that was already sponsoring other race teams in Patron and they were already in that realm," said DeJoria, 36. "I started getting really, really good, and at that point they were like, 'Hmm, OK ...' and they started looking at the numbers and if it would even be good for their company. My father is a businessman and he's very smart and he's not going to put his name on something he feels is not going to be successful and good for his company, whether it's his child or not."
Her father's friendship with former "Monster Garage" fabricator Jesse James introduced her to her husband. James met DeJoria at a race and has hardly missed one since their marriage last spring. James, known more broadly for his previous marriage to actress Sandra Bullock, will market his firearms brand this weekend on a Top Fuel car for the same Kalitta Motorsports team for which DeJoria races.
With a father who offered her a job out of high school at Paul Mitchell -- answering phones -- DeJoria feels pressure, she said, to justify her family commitment.
"I feel like I almost have to go above and beyond to prove myself because it is my family's company," she said. "That's the double-edged sword, but if they said tomorrow they want to move in a different direction, I would still try to find a new main sponsor."
Continuing her early-season run of success figures to keep the sponsor happy no matter their DNA connection. At Las Vegas she defeated Robert Hight in the final round of eliminations for the second time this season with a pass of 4.026 seconds at 309.98 mph. She also had beaten Hight in the season opener at Phoenix. At Pomona, she became the first female and ninth Funny Car driver to cover the 1,000-foot distance in less than four seconds when her Toyota made a pass in 3.997 seconds at 318.32 mph in qualifying.
Making more history would be a nice addition to a breakout season made possible by some key personnel tweaks and the invaluable accumulation of experience.
"It definitely would," she said. "But there are so many great women out there racing in the pro ranks right now. Erica Enders, Courtney Force, Brittany Force ... I think it's very possible any one of us could win that."