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Heiress and mom: drag racer defies conventions

Associated Press Published: May 11, 2012
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JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — Alexis DeJoria remembers the first time she was speeding — and she did it with her father's blessing.

She was 16 and behind the wheel of a Vector V12, a limited-edition sports car by Northrup-Grumman, which built the stealth bomber. Her father was in the passenger's seat.

"On this really safe area, he said step on it. And I did," she said. "And that thing went to 200 like that."

That passion for speed has driven DeJoria, 34, to become one of the top female drag racers in the country. A ranked National Hot Rod Association funny car driver, she was the second woman to win a national event in the top alcohol division. She now competes in the faster nitro division.

"Just to be able to go 300 mph in four seconds, it just blew my mind," said the soft-spoken single mom from her home in Topanga Canyon, Calif. "And it had been something I had been working on doing for a long time. Finally, I'm here at that point."

DeJoria is one of a handful of women who have competed in drag racing since Shirley Muldowney, who started as a street racer in the late 1950s and in 1965 became the first woman licensed by the NHRA to drive a gasoline-powered dragster in a professional category.

The daughter of John Paul DeJoria — founder of Paul Mitchell Hair Care Products, John Paul Pet Products and Tequila Patron— it would have been easy for the heir to a billion-dollar empire to follow in her father's footsteps or spend his money partying with Hollywood celebrities. Instead, she relocated from California to Gainesville, Fla., to attend Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School, the preferred school for school for apprentice drag racers.

Wanting to be taken seriously by drag racers, DeJoria — whose tall and slender frame is hidden under her shiny, long black hair — chose to keep her family name out of the sport — at first.

"Because that can definitely throw fog in the mix. People get clouded visions of you and they think that you are something that you're not," she said. "I could be perceived as the Paris Hilton of drag racing, but that's just not my style. I wanted to prove myself as a driver. Not just a female driver, but a driver. And I think I've done that."

Today, her 2012 Toyota Camry has Patron's bright green logo emblazoned on the side.

DeJoria began racing in 2005 at the amateur level in a 1963 Corvette Roadster in the NHRA Super Gas category. That same season she moved up, driving a rear-engine Super Comp dragster. She won the Sportsman Nationals in Fontana, Calif., less than a year after her debut. By 2009, she was racing cars with 3,000 horsepower and had built her own team, Stealth Motorsports.

During the Gatornationals in Gainesville last year, DeJoria drove 267.91 mph with an elapsed time of 5.446 seconds in the Top Alcohol Funny Car. It was a career best for her.

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