Alexis DeJoria’s path to professional drag racing began in Arizona, at the wheel of a 1963 Corvette roadster.
By chance, she parked next to a group of drag racers who walked her through the basics of drag racing.
Then she got in the car.
When DeJoria hit the gas, she found the vintage car wouldn’t automatically shift. She had to shift herself — the first of many things she learned about drag racing.
“I had no background,” DeJoria said of her first race. “I just wanted to race, and when I did it I realized, ‘This is something I wanted to do.’ ”
That was 10 years ago, the beginning of her pursuit of competing in professional drag racing. She began competing in NHRA events in 2005, assembled her own racing team in 2009, and signed with Ypsilanti, Mich.-based Kalitta Motorsports.
DeJoria is in her second season as a pro drag racer, and the 36-year-old will compete this weekend in the Funny Car category of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk.
“It’s a bucking bronco that goes 300 miles an hour, and you have to control it,” DeJoria said of driving a funny car, which has a specially designed chassis and a tilt-up body made of either fiberglass or carbon fiber.
“But with drag racing, it’s very much a mental sport. There’s a lot of preparation. You have to be so perfect on the run. Every move you make, it has to be absolutely perfect, and you have to be prepared each time.”
DeJoria is one of seven women to compete in four NHRA Mello Yello racing categories this weekend at the Summit Racing Nationals, and she entered Norwalk with a goal — to qualify through the course of the weekend, something she didn’t accomplish as a rookie last year at the track.
She entered the weekend 12th in the NHRA Mello Yello Funny Car points standings (503) and joins a 16-driver funny car field that includes Courtney Force, the 2012 NHRA rookie of the year. Brittany Force and Leah Pruett are entered in the top fuel competition. Erica Enders-Stevens is entered in the pro stock competition, and Dawn Minturn and Angie Smith are entered in the pro stock motorcycle competition.
Courtney Force will appear in ESPN The Magazine’s “The Body Issue,” which depicts 21 athletes who pose nude for the annual edition. Originally asked to pose in 2012, she initially declined.
“I turned it down because I wanted to focus on drag racing,” the daughter of 15-time NHRA champion and team owner John Force told ESPN.com. “It was my rookie year, and I wanted to establish myself as much as I could before bringing all that type of media attention. I wanted to get media attention just based on my driving and nothing else.”
While Force is a familiar name in racing circles, DeJoria might also be known to the glossy-magazine-and-tabloid set. In March, she married Jesse James, the founder of West Coast Choppers and former husband of actress Sandra Bullock, and she is the daughter of John Paul DeJoria, the co-founder of Paul Mitchell Systems and the Patron Spirits Company.
Patron Tequila is her primary car sponsor, but DeJoria believes her path to reaching the top level of competitive drag racing was self-made and not bestowed upon her, whether it was learning how to handle a specific car or understanding the mechanics of each classification of car she drove.
“I wanted to take it slow and learn the ropes to really understand the sport, 100 percent, from the ground up,” DeJoria said. “I learned patience. I learned about understanding, about perseverance, and that hard work pays off. Some days are going to be tougher than others. And all the hard work and rough days you go through make the good day that much sweeter.”