Alexis DeJoria, daughter of a co-founder of Paul Mitchell hair products, could have taken the easy way and immediately accepted one of the NHRA top-level offers that came her way in 2005.
That’s not the route she chose.
Her father, John Paul DeJoria, rode a demanding work ethic to go from a poor upbringing in Southern California to a self-made billionaire.
It’s an example that got passed down, so Alexis DeJoria worked her way through drag racing’s minor leagues to earn a nitro Funny Car license in 2010 and compete in four national events the following year.
DeJoria not only earned a spot in what now is called the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, but the 36-year-old from Venice, Calif., claimed her first career victory at Phoenix on Feb. 23.
The victory “definitely helps lift a big weight off our shoulders that we’ve had for a while,” DeJoria said Thursday. “We were hoping to get that first one last year, but we changed a few things on the race car, and it definitely takes time to get those things figured out. We were starting to get it at the end of last season, but we didn’t get that final round we needed. So when we were going to the final round in Phoenix, I just felt like this was really our time.”
She is third in the Funny Car standings entering the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals, which begin today at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The top three classes begin qualifying at 1:30 p.m.
DeJoria fell in love with drag racing when she went to watch the sport as a teenager. Already a big fan of fast cars, she immediately was drawn to the bursts of noise, nitro smell and pure speed.
She first tried the family business, serving as a Paul Mitchell executive, before branching out on her own into drag racing nine years ago.
When word got out about her interest in competing in the sport, some teams — sensing an opportunity to reap some of the Paul Mitchell riches — approached DeJoria, but she turned them down.
She didn’t want an elevator to the top; DeJoria was taking the stairs.
“I said, ‘You know what, I’ve got to pay my dues. I just started in this game, and I really don’t know anything about drag racing,’ ” she said. “So I didn’t feel like it was right to go straight up to the top. Plus, I didn’t feel like I was ready for it. I had never driven anything like that in my life. My goal was to drive a Funny Car for a long period of time and to get really good at that because that’s one of the hardest cars to drive.
“So I felt if I could master that, then I would be ready to go on to the next level. Once you’re at the top, you’re there.”
Her father ingrained that detailed approach to life in his four children, refusing to let them grow up feeling privileged and that life would be easy.
“None of his kids ride on his coattails,” DeJoria said.
If DeJoria can continue to build on her fast start this season, she could be a cross-over star in the sport. Just more than a year ago, she married Jesse James, whose tumultuous divorce from actress Sandra Bullock made tabloid editors ecstatic.
DeJoria knew she was entering the gossip world of TMZ and “Us Weekly” when she married James.
“I’m a fighter. In the beginning, I wanted to punch everybody,” she said, laughing, “and fight for myself and defend my honor and my family. But it comes with the territory. I finally had to just let it go and walk it out. When you put yourself out there in the spotlight, you’re going to get positive and negative feedback. It’s just part of the game.”
Her thoughts this weekend are on racing. Another strong set of performances will keep DeJoria in the mix for a season championship.
Not that she’s thinking that far ahead.
“I like to stay modest,” DeJoria said. “It’s just one win. It’s too early to even think about (a title). It’s possible. Anything’s possible. I know we have a really good car.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter @markanderson65.