DEJORIA REFLECTS ON HER REASONS FOR STEPPING AWAY
Alexis DeJoria knew her decision was going to be a tough one. Admittedly, a decision she pondered as early as July 2016, tested the boundaries of the entire emotional spectrum.
On Monday, October 9, 2017, just four days before the NHRA Fall Nationals outside of Dallas, Tex., the place where it all began for DeJoria, daughter of billionaire-entrepreneur John Paul DeJoria released a heavily emotional weight from her shoulders and announced her retirement at the conclusion of the 2017 season.
"I actually was kind of tossing it around last season, before Sonoma, just so you know," DeJoria said. "I don’t want anybody to think that was a deciding factor because it really wasn’t. But again I wanted you to know, it’s like you just want that one more year, just one more year, one more win, one more shot at the big, big trophy. And you know I started to lose sight of the things that I have done, and what I have accomplished.
"In sitting down with my Dad, he’s just like, ‘Alexis, you won Indy. Oh my God, you won Indy. You won Indy, you’ve won in every class you raced in, and that’s something to be proud of. You know, you’ve accomplished what you set out to do from the very beginning, and you should appreciate that and be proud of it."
"He’s Mr. Optimistic no matter what. You know, even times where you just want to feel so bad about yourself, he just won’t let you."
DeJoria admits she's had the time of her life.
"I'm still having fun out here doing this," DeJoria declared. "I should probably shut down all the rumors too. I’ve heard so many crazy rumors. I’m not racing for another team; I’m not pregnant, it’s not because we didn’t make it into the Top 10. In fact, that makes it even harder to retire at this point."
DeJoria, who has qualified for the Countdown to the Championship in the last three seasons, missed earning a fourth consecutive top 10 finish by less than a round of competition. The largest factor in this was missing three races in April and May citing family matters.
"I hoped I would make it into the Top 10 and actually finish off better than I ever have," DeJoria lamented. "The fact that we didn’t; makes it very tough for me to do this. And it has also nothing to do with any of the accidents that have happened. It’s something you have to take into account when you race these fast cars. It’s part of it.
"I crashed back in Englishtown, and that didn’t stop me. Hell, I wanted to get right back in the car."
Accomplishments, with the right team in drag racing, can be postponed to a later date.
Being there for your family during crucial moments, simply cannot.
DeJoria, who just turned 40, admits the life on the road pulled her away from her greatest passion in life, being a mother. And, with daughter Isabella now 15, packing up to hit the road and leaving her behind was getting tougher and tougher to accept.
"I kind of looked back at my life, and I thought what is the next chapter?" DeJoria admitted. "I’ve been racing for most of my daughter’s life. She grew up out at the race track. That’s all she’s ever known. It got to the point where I couldn’t take her to the races anymore unfortunately because she was getting older and school mattered so much more, and when she missed classes, it really took a toll on her and her schoolwork, and I didn’t want that to happen.
"I wanted to create a sense of stability at home for her and have her have that social life. But again I missed out on so much having the career that I had. I don’t have any real regrets. Would I have changed a few things? Maybe. But you know, I still stand by all these years that I chased my passion and my dream, and that’s what I want to instill in her as well. Don’t ever give up on your dreams and your passion, and go for what you want. And really anything, you’re capable of great things in your life, but you have to work hard."
If anyone provided a glowing example of climbing the ladder of success, it was DeJoria, who got her start in Super Comp before graduating to Top Alcohol Funny Car and then fuel Funny Car under the tutelage of two-time NHRA champion Del Worsham.
"All the hard work and moving through the ranks respectively, learning from the ground up in a field that I had no experience in whatsoever," DeJoria said. "You know, sometimes having my family’s support and other times not so much. I was determined, and I persevered, and I made it happen and eventually got the support from my family."
Having the support of your family is one thing. Watching your child express the pain of missing you is another.
"I don't think she ever came right out and said she missed me being gone in so many words, but did so more in her actions, I think," DeJoria said. "If you asked her today ... because I’ve asked her, ‘Aren’t you happy about me being home?"
"She'd likely respond, ‘I don’t know, Mom. You’ve always raced. I don’t know you any other way."
"You know, and then also I think the more I’m home, the more I can be a watchful eye on her, and I don’t know if she likes that necessarily. I’ve never been a helicopter mom, so I don’t know if she’s really going to appreciate that as much as I do."
Twenty-four races each season, with as few as eight days home in a month, can take a toll on even the most seasoned road warrior and their families.
"It’s hard for the drivers, definitely, but it’s even harder for the crew guys," DeJoria said. "I don’t think anybody could honestly appreciate that unless you are one of those people, or a family member, a wife, a husband, a child. You’ll never really understand it unless you are directly connected. It is a huge toll, but it’s a sacrifice that we make for the big picture, you know, for that next win, for that feeling that washes over you when you’ve accomplished something that not many people get to do, want to do, can do.
"It’s one of the most exciting things, it’s hard even to explain the feeling you get when you’re holding that trophy in your hands at the end of the day when you’ve accomplished so much when you persevere, when you look in the face of death, and you keep moving forward."
With this said, because of her overwhelming competitive nature, DeJoria couldn't say a shorter or part-time schedule would have changed her mind.
"I don’t know," DeJoria said. "And would I cut down my schedule to race still? I don’t think that would be sufficient enough. If I race, I want to do it all out, you know. All or nothing. I did tell the Kalitta’s, I said, ‘God forbid, or if you guys ever need a backup driver, I am here for you. You call me up for a test driver or whatever. I’m still here; I’m part of your family. You can call on me for anything. Who knows what the future holds?"
DeJoria chuckles at the notion it's an open-ended retirement.
"Open ended retirement; I like that," DeJoria admitted. "Well, after Bella goes off to college or whatnot, in a few years, you never know. Who knows if this retirement thing will be all it’s cracked up to be? Who knows. But I can honestly say that anything’s possible, nothing’s set in stone, things change, but I’m doing what’s right for today."
So what's an admitted adrenalin connoisseur to do, minus a regimen of 11,000 horsepower she's had at her disposal for six years?
"I’ve been thinking about it a lot," DeJoria said. "Am I going to attend some off-road races, maybe co-pilot some off-road races in the desert with my husband, maybe? I don’t know. Get on my motorcycle and put more miles on it, maybe? I mean, how can you replace that feeling you get from racing an 11,000 plus horsepower race car that goes from zero to over 330 miles per hour in less than four seconds? How can you replace that? You really can’t. There’s nothing that will suffice.
"And I mean, it is like a sickness almost being a race car driver because you’re always looking for that next win or that next thing, and it’s like everlasting."
Maybe DeJoria can make her private life a bit more private outside of the public spotlight professional drag racing presents?
"Private life? I don’t know if I’ll ever really have a private life," DeJoria said. "But I am looking forward to spending more time with my family, just really being a mom and a wife and a sister and a daughter, and enjoying family trips. I have weighed the pros and cons out, trust me. I’m like, 'Am I really doing this for the right reasons?"
"Yes, I am. I have this incredible family, and they all support me and surround me, and I love them so much. You know, if I was not a mom, and I was single, maybe that would change my perspective on things. But, I’m not. And I did just, there is no age limit in NHRA drag racing, but I did just turn 40 and I kind of feel like what’s that next step?"
Additionally becoming more involved in her business interests appears to be another viable option.
"I’ve invested in two different companies within the last couple years that I feel like really needs my attention to grow and succeed to the point that can be really exciting and incredible," DeJoria revealed. "I can’t really talk about that right now, but it is something that I think can help society and people as a whole in the medical field and whatnot. So I’m excited about doing that."
DeJoria still plans to visit the NHRA races from time to time and has even pondered the notion her daughter might want to drag race after college.
"Well, she has expressed an interest already," DeJoria said. "She's wanted to do competitive horsemanship like barrel races, and all this kind of stuff. So when she really nails it down and says, ‘Mom, I want to be a drag racer, then I’ll put more thought into it."
The notion of her daughter drag racing and the potential of the first mother, daughter fuel team is something which piques DeJoria's interest considering it will only add to her other firsts such as the first woman to compete in 100 Funny Car events, and the first female to make a three-second Funny Car run
"That would be incredible," DeJoria said. "I would totally support her if that’s something she wants to do. But again, I would make her go through the fields as I did; learn how to do it from the ground up. I would never just put her straight in a Funny Car or a Top Fuel Dragster. Never. Ever."
Simply put, DeJoria said Bella needs to learn those lessons just like she did.
"My biggest takeaway, I think, from all of this, I grew up, I matured as a racer, as an individual, as a human being," DeJoria said. "I definitely broke out of my shell. I was so shy; I was such a shy girl growing up. But you really can’t be shy out there and meet so many people and be shy. That’s one of the most unique things about our sport is that you do have access to so many people out there and they have access to you.
"I learned what it’s like to be part of a team, a family, the camaraderie. I’ve always played sports, you know, my whole life. I’ve played every sport you can imagine, but it’s something else being a part of a race team. Going through the trials and tribulations, ups and downs, the heartache, the enormous amount of satisfaction and amazement when you win, and you do good, and working so, so hard to get there. I appreciate every second of it."
DeJoria wants the remaining races to be a celebration of a rewarding career in such a relatively short time.
"I don’t want these last three races to be sad, and everybody crying," DeJoria said. "I want it to be a celebration of a wonderful career and a family, and you know, we’re going to go out there and have as much fun as we possibly can, and just remember every time I go out there, that I made the right choice."
Even if she did leave the retirement open-ended.