Alexis DeJoria had a solid final qualifying run at Saturday’s Circle K National Hot Rod Assn. Winternationals, but that pales in comparison to the bigger story: the fact that she competed at all.
The funny car driver is returning from a debilitating 2016 in which she suffered a broken pelvis and multiple concussions. The last straw was a concussion at the NHRA Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas, which forced her out of the event along with the next month’s Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona. She qualified seventh this time around at Pomona, an important steppingstone in feeling a sense of normalcy.
“Getting back in the seat, it was kind of like everything is new again,” DeJoria said. “There’s a new sense of excitement and anticipation. I’m just out here enjoying myself, having a good time, and trying not to put too much pressure on myself for the first race.”
Unlike her broken pelvis, which had a clearly outlined rehab schedule, DeJoria’s head trauma had no recovery date.
“Every day, every morning, I’d wake up and say, ‘OK, is today the day I’m going to feel better?’ I’d sit up out of bed and take a couple breaths, look around, and I knew right away that nothing had changed,” DeJoria said.
Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into a month and a half of little progress. DeJoria was beginning to worry about her prospects for the upcoming drag racing season. And then, a breakthrough arrived around Christmas.
“It was one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever had,” DeJoria said. “It was just nice to start to feel like a normal person again and not like a version of yourself. You really don’t feel like you’re in your body. It’s an odd deal. It’s not something I ever wish to experience again, and I don’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
At that point, DeJoria knew she’d have to play catch-up to stay on the level of her competitors. It was perhaps the most challenging off-season of her career.
“Come January 1, I was in that gym and I was working out like I had never worked out before trying to make up for lost time,” DeJoria said. “I don’t think I ever really recovered from the pain I felt. Not working out for a while, your body really feels it. But now I feel good, I’m in shape, I’m solid and focused, and I’ve got a great team that supports me.”
DeJoria is mindful of her health moving forward, and will be taking extra precautions on the advice of her doctor to watch out for tire shake — the catalyst for her first concussion last year in Denver. But she’s committed to racing and improving upon her 10th-place finish in the 2016 Countdown to the Championship.
“I’ve been through quite a lot, so you’d be surprised,” DeJoria said. “After a couple tumbles, you get back up and learn to put the blinders on when you need to.”
Sunday’s elimination rounds begin with nitro at 11 a.m. Fox will provide live TV coverage from 1 to 4 p.m.
--Pro stock qualifying ended the same way the playoffs ended in November, with Jason Line in first, followed by Greg Anderson. Line recorded a top time of 6.525 seconds, and Anderson was close behind at 6.530 seconds. Saturday marked Line’s 50th career No. 1 qualifier.
--Matt Hagan held off his opponents for a second straight day and kept the top spot in funny car with a 3.822-second time, a track record. The Force family had a good showing — John Force qualified second and Courtney Force qualified third.
--Leah Pritchett picked up her second career No. 1 qualifier in top fuel, recording a 3.672-second time on her last run. Doug Kalitta will start Sunday in the No. 2 spot, followed by defending champion Antron Brown.
“We did it when it counts, and I couldn’t be more excited,” Pritchett said. “I’m relishing this moment. You don’t know how long it’s ever going to last. It’s a good way to kick off the season.”