Interview: Alexis DeJoria and Andy Petersen, Team DeJoria, Toyota Dream Build Challenge
Teen Passion Turns to Full-Time Career for One of NHRA's Rising Stars
Many of us have a defining moment in our lives when our passion is sparked in a certain interest. For some, it's music; for others, writing, or entrepreneurialism. Alexis DeJoria's defining moment was at age 16 at the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California. Up to that point, she'd seen drag racing on TV. But it was ballistic exhaust pulses and flames shooting out of the tailpipes of the drag cars that lit her passion for racing.
Since that time, she worked for the family business, but yearned to get back into racing. After getting her start in the Pro Gas class in a modified 1963 Corvette and later in the Super Comp class, DeJoria raced in the Top Alcohol Funny Car series for five seasons, and is one of only two women ever to win a series event. This year, DeJoria made it to the finals stage in Bristol, Tennessee, in her rookie season in the Funny Car series with Kalitta Motorsports.
As part of her involvement in the Toyota Racing Dream Build Challenge, we interviewed DeJoria by phone to get a sense of her passion for the sport and competitive spirit, as well as her choice of the Tundra as her vehicle of choice for the project.
Andy Petersen, project manager for the Team DeJoria Tundra, has six years' experience in fabrication, and has built race vehicles for several off-road racers, including Johnny Greaves and the Herbst brothers. He's been working at Racer Engineering for the past three years.
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Q: When did you get started in motorsport?
A: I started seven years ago in NHRA drag racing in the Sportsman class and Super Gas. The first time I ever saw drag racing in person is when I was 16 at the Winternationals in Pomona. That's what kind of opened my eyes to the whole sport. I knew about it and had seen it on TV, but I'd never seen it in person. Once I experienced the Nitro cars, that was it; I knew that's what I wanted to do. I went to Skip Barber's racing school at Willow Springs. When I went to Frank Colley's drag racing school in Pomona eight or nine years ago, I got licensed in the Super Gas and Super Comp classes. I was planning on working in the family business, but four years out of high school, I still had the itch to race.
Q: Do you feel women get the recognition they deserve in professional motorsport?
A: I don't separate myself. There are only a few women out here, and I know we get more publicity than the guys do. As far as driving is concerned, and the support I've gotten from my peers, it hasn't made a difference. You definitely have to work extra hard to prove yourself, because all eyes are on you, but you just have to be super-confident in your abilities.
Q: What figures in professional motorsport do you consider an inspiration, either personally or professionally?
A: Frank Manzo in Top Alcohol Funny Car, Bob Newbury, and Mickey Ferro. They were the best of the best. Bob Newbury was actually my crew chief for two years. I learned so much from those guys when I was racing alcohol funny cars for five years. When you have to race the best on a daily basis, it really pushes you to be better and keeps you at the top of your game. In the Nitro Funny Car ranks, my hero was really John Force, because he'd been through so much, and he's a bad-ass driver, and Dale Worsham. It's funny, John Force and Dale Worsham were actually the guys who signed my NHRA Funny Car license, and then Dale became my crew chief.
Q: What inspired you to select the Tundra for your project build?
A: Growing up in Southern California, I was around a lot of guys who were building their hot rods, and the other side of it was off-road trucks. I picked the Tundra to build a Pre Runner because off-roading has always been dear to my heart. I got to do the Baja 1000 with my dad when I was 16. So when they asked me to do this, the Tundra was my first choice, and I was pretty sure nobody else was going to pick it. I actually plan on racing off-road sometime in the near future. It will be in addition to NHRA. I'd never trade one for the other. I'm totally stoked to be in NHRA drag racing. I'm thinking possibly the LOORS or TORC series, since there are only around eight races a year, so I could fit that into my schedule.
Q: What are some of the professional goals you hope to achieve in the next few years?
A: My goal is to get back into Baja, and do the Baja 1000. Just get started and work my way up. Like how I worked my way through the Sportsman ranks, Nitro is like my Baja 1000. Trophy Trucks would be the ultimate. In NHRA, my goal is to win a championship. Not just be the fastest female, but to be the fastest period and win a championship.
Andy Petersen, Team DeJoria Project Build Leader
Q: This project is probably one of the milder builds Racer typically does. What's it like working from a stock platform?
A: It's been a little bit of a challenge. Usually you can start with a clean slate and do whatever you want to do. Starting with a stock platform, you're kind of limited in terms of track width and wheelbase to a certain extent. There's a lot of tear-down we're not used to. Some ideas you have that you want to do don't always work because of the vehicle specs. It hasn't been too bad. It's kind of different. It's been fun.
Q: Looking at the vehicle, a lot of the work is custom fabrication
A: Yes. Most of the suspension components are one-off for this truck.
Q: Some of the teams have mentioned the time crunch involved in this project. How has that affected the build?
A: It's not a big deal to us. Every vehicle we have in here is a deadline. It's been pretty easy. We've been waiting on a couple of parts, which have slowed us down, but we're used to that. It's pretty easy compared to most of the stuff we do. We've worked some long hours some nights, but that's with every project. Once you expect it, it's not a big deal. Most of the vendors we're working with are in Southern California and Arizona. You've just got to hound them sometimes, and don't give them too much leeway with deadlines. You have to tell them you need it a week before you actually do, so you'll get it on time.
Q: I notice a lot of the parts on the truck are bare metal. Are any of the components going to be painted or coated?
A: They want us to just WD them, and clean them up. We're going to powdercoat some small pieces, but they wanted it to stay raw, so you can see it all. But it looks good, people like to see the weld work.
Q: How has it been working with Alexis and Toyota?
A: It's been a good experience working with them. They bring some interesting ideas to the table, and are always supportive. Anything we want to do, they say "go for it." I hope we can do it again sometime.