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Alexis DeJoria is another force to reckon with

Courtney Force, a daughter of drag racing legend John Force, isn’t the only funny car rookie who figures to get a lot of attention on the National Hot Rod Assn. circuit this year. There’s also Alexis DeJoria, whose father is businessman John Paul DeJoria.

It would have been easy for Alexis DeJoria to have chosen to live life in the fast lane, a la Paris Hilton. Instead, she has chosen a different kind of fast lane and has been drag racing competitively since 2005.

This will be her first full season in the professional nitro funny car division.

According to Forbes magazine, her father’s net worth is in excess of $4 billion. He co-founded John Paul Mitchell Systems with hairdresser friend Paul Mitchell in 1980 and among his other businesses is Patron Spirits, which is best known for its high-end tequila.

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His 34-year-old daughter, a single mother of a 9-year-old girl, started out driving a super gas 1963 Corvette. Alexis DeJoria had most recently been competing in the non-professional alcohol-burning funny car division. She became not only the fastest female driver ever at that level but also the second-fastest driver, male or female.

Toward the end of last year’s NHRA schedule, she joined the big boys in nitro funny car and competed at that level in four of the last five NHRA stops. By limiting herself to four competitions, she was able to retain her rookie status going into this year.

“With each race, there was significant improvement,” she said. “We had some good learning experiences, got to race in difficult conditions and really jelled as a team. For us to do everything that we did in such a short period of time was phenomenal.”

She had her best run in the second day of qualifying at the NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Nov. 11. In that run, her elapsed time for 1,000 feet was 4.158 seconds with a top speed of 306.88 mph. The NHRA distance was reduced from a quarter-mile (1,320 feet) to 1,000 feet in 2008 for safety reasons.

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In the first round of the Sunday eliminations at Pomona she left the starting line a fraction too early and was disqualified.

“She gambled a bit with her reaction time, but that’s all right,” said Jim Oberhofer, who was then her crew chief. “I always tell drivers, ‘If you’re not red-lighting every now and then, you’re not trying.’”

This year’s 23-event calendar NHRA begins with the Winternationals at Pomona, Thursday through Sunday.

“She is by far the front-runner for rookie of the year,” said funny car driver Jack Beckman.

Only one woman has ever won an NHRA national event in nitro funny car. Ashley Force Hood, an older sister of Courtney Force, won once in 2008, twice in 2009 and once in 2010. (Shirley Muldowney, another drag racing legend, raced top-fuel dragsters.)

An interesting battle between Courtney and Alexis could be brewing, with both fathers directly involved. Courtney drives for her father’s racing team, as did Ashley. Alexis’ father doesn’t own her racing team, but Patron Spirits is her main sponsor.

Not long after finishing high school, Alexis, who was living with her mother in Venice, went to work for her father at Paul Mitchell headquarters in Beverly Hills, starting out as a receptionist.

“In drag racing, I started at the bottom,” she said. “I did the same thing when I went to work for my father. I started at the bottom. I didn’t want any special treatment, I just wanted to do my job and be like the rest of the people there.”

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She was working her way up through the company ranks when the drag-racing bug bit. She had been to the drag races in Pomona with her father as a teenager and fell in love with the sport. But this was different. She wanted to be a participant.

She used some of her own savings to attend Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School in Pomona, where Beckman served as one of her instructors and signed her first license.

Asked about the appeal of drag racing, besides the excitement of going fast, Alexis said: “There is basically no room for error. It is do or die. You get just one shot. One mistake and you’re done. So many things can go wrong. But when nothing goes wrong and all the planets are aligned, it is so gratifying because of all the things you went through to get to that point.”

sports@latimes.com


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