CHANDLER, Ariz. – The 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season opener at Pomona marked the 100th career Funny Car race for Alexis DeJoria, and as she heads into her fifth full season, the three-time winner feels more comfortable than ever behind the wheel of her 10,000-horsepower Tequila Patrόn Toyota Camry.
The improvements have been noticeable throughout her career, but DeJoria appears poised for her best Funny Car finish yet heading into this weekend’s CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
DeJoria, who finished a career-best seventh in 2014 and won the event that same season, had a strong pre-season testing session at the facility this year – something she feels has already benefited her Kalitta Motorsports team.
“Off-season testing is very important,” said DeJoria, who went winless in 2015. “We will never skip another winter test session again. We didn’t test prior to the season in 2015 and I honestly feel like last year, I was trying to play catch up to all the changes that were made on the car that made it react differently. That’s not the case this year. We came out very strong. Our Patrón Toyota Camry is set up very well and it’s getting down the track consistently.”
She qualified fourth in Pomona with an impressive 3.942-second sprint at 324.59 mph, picking up a round win in the process, and she continues to grow more comfortable at each event, even as adjustments are made to her Camry.
“I’ve acclimated to the changes that were made at the end of last season,” DeJoria said. “The way we have our Patrón Toyota Camry set up now, it wants to take you out of the groove more so than it ever did. The thrust is a lot heavier with the new headers and various other changes. Now with 100 professional Funny Car races under my belt, I feel more solid and more comfortable in my Tequila Patrón Toyota Camry.”
DeJoria is also motivated after watching Kalitta Motorsports teammate Del Worsham’s championship run in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship a year ago. Already a close-knit group, DeJoria, who has continually praised the camaraderie and unity of the two Top Fuel and two Funny Car teams, learned a number of valuable lessons as Worsham clinched his first Funny Car world championship.
It’s pushed her and the team, led by crew chief Tommy DeLago, to constantly improve and strive to do better. It’s also given DeJoria, who advanced to the Countdown for a second straight year and finished eighth in 2015, a new list of goals to shoot for during the 2016 campaign.
“It’s incredibly motivating for not only myself, but for the entire team,” DeJoria said. “It gives us a new outlook on the possibilities. We know we have the goods to win races. We have a great team. It’s just a matter of building on the consistency that we’ve started the season with. Towards the end of the year, that’s when it all truly counts and that’s what the DHL team did. They built on the consistency that they had at the beginning of the season and charged hard to the very end. That’s definitely something we can learn from.
“Also, having that communication between our two Funny Car teams and with Del as a driver is helpful. Del had all the new changes implemented on his Camry before I did. He experienced those changes and shared that information with me so I knew what to expect. Obviously you don’t know exactly what to expect until you experience it yourself, but it’s nice to have someone let you know what to look out for. Del has always been very generous with sharing information. He’s my mentor and has always been very helpful. I really appreciate that and I think it’ll help me perform better this year.”
While DeJoria already feels ahead of the game as compared to 2015, she’ll have to deal with a star-studded Funny Car field in Phoenix as she goes after a second win at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
Along with Worsham, DeJoria will face a strong lineup of challengers, including national record holder and seven-time 2015 winner Jack Beckman, 16-time world champ and eight-time Phoenix winner John Force, Tommy Johnson Jr., Ron Capps, who won the opener in Pomona, defending event winner Hagan, Courtney Force, Cruz Pedregon and Robert Hight.
“Returning to a track where we’ve been successful absolutely lifts our spirits,” DeJoria said. “Do I think because we’ve won in Phoenix before that it will make it easier for us to win again? No, not necessarily, but our spirits are definitely higher going back to a track where we have had success in the past.”