MADISON, Ill. — official release — NHRA photo — When Alexis DeJoria arrives at Gateway Motorsports Park for the 3rd annual AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals Sept. 26-28, she will do so with the hopes of winning her fourth Funny Car race in what has already been a tremendous 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.
But appearing in her first Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, DeJoria also has her focus set on winning a world championship title in her 10,000-horsepower Patron XO Café Toyota Camry. That dual focus is one of the major challenges of the Countdown, but DeJoria, who currently is tied for fifth in the Countdown standings, has embraced the additional spotlight the championship race brings.
“Now it’s not just about winning that particular race, it’s about winning the championship,” DeJoria said. “It’s a higher level of intensity when you factor that in, and there is certainly more pressure on everyone. We seem to do our best under pressure, and I always love a challenge.”
Antron Brown (Top Fuel), John Force (Funny Car), Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock), and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised nationally on ESPN2. The AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals also marks the halfway point of the six-race Countdown to the Championship and is the third of four straight race weekends.
The one round and one race at a time mantra still holds true for DeJoria, but she is also looking at the big prize, which is the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. DeJoria has an aggressive mind-set, and that includes picking up every point she can in qualifying and, obviously, in eliminations. Knowing what is on the line, DeJoria is well aware that she can’t leave anything on the table.
“Generally, you do take each race as its own and try not to get ahead of yourself, but being that there are only a few races left, it is important to think of the big picture,” DeJoria said. “This is crunch time, and you want to perform at your very best right now. You want to get points any way you possibly can — qualifying points, Sunday points — they all matter. It’s now or never.”
DeJoria has certainly taken command of the moment during her breakout 2014 season, posting victories in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and, of course, the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, where she knocked off John Force in a thrilling final round. The three victories mark the first Funny Car wins of her Professional career, another indication of the continuous strides she has made as a driver.
But DeJoria has been just as impressed with her team’s consistency throughout the season, a nod to the outstanding work that the entire Kalitta Motorsports team has done in 2014. All four team cars have qualified for the Countdown, including Del Worsham in Funny Car and Doug Kalitta and J.R. Todd in Top Fuel. That backbone of a strong team is important during the NHRA playoffs, but DeJoria also isn’t taking anything for granted, despite the strong performance in Indy.
“It’s very reassuring knowing that I have a strong team and strong car that’s made it down the track more often than not,” DeJoria said. “But it’s drag racing, and there are a lot of variables. You just do the very best you can; there are never any guarantees in this sport.”
That holds true in a major way in Funny Car, where the list of Countdown participants is an impressive one. A year ago, 16-time and reigning world champ Force used St. Louis as a springboard to his 2013 world championship and has three wins at the facility. Ron Capps also has three St. Louis wins, and other top challengers include Robert Hight, Dallas winner Courtney Force, Charlotte winner Matt Hagan, Tommy Johnson Jr., Tim Wilkerson, Cruz Pedregon, and Worsham.
Racing in St. Louis could also bring out the best in DeJoria, who is a big fan of Gateway Motorsports Park and the atmosphere surrounding the event.
“The city is really cool, and I really enjoy being out at that track,” DeJoria said. “The fans are always great.”