Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – CHANDLER, AZ – A two-year hiatus didn’t seem to bother Alexis DeJoria as she opened the 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season in style in Pomona.
The Funny Car standout advanced to the semifinals in her first race since 2017, setting a strong tone for the season and giving the popular driver plenty of momentum heading into this weekend’s 36th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
DeJoria’s first career Funny Car victory came at the facility in 2014, adding to the good vibes she’s currently feeling in her 11,000-horsepower ROKit/ABK Beer Toyota. DeJoria gave all the credit to a team led by standout crew chiefs Del Worsham and Nicky Boninfante for the early excitement, also giving her an impressive level of comfort that was evident in Pomona.
“That first race exceeded our expectations,” said DeJoria, who has five career Funny Car wins. “Putting a new team together so quickly was no easy task, but Del and Nicky were on it. My crew chiefs and I have a long history together. We basically picked up where we left off, except now there are no extra distractions. We’re just racing and that’s when we do our best work.”
Billy Torrence (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of a race that will be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including finals coverage on Sunday, Feb. 23. The duel in the desert marks the second of 24 races in 2020 and DeJoria is simply thrilled to get back to doing what she loves.
She called the time away a planned hiatus, but in the back of her mind she always planned to return to racing. Getting back inside a 330-mph Funny Car after two years away is no easy task, but DeJoria looked impressive the entire time in Pomona. She qualified 11th with a solid run of 3.95-seconds at 321.19 mph and then knocked off the likes of defending world champ Robert Hight in eliminations before falling to eventual race winner Jack Beckman in the semifinals. It was a strong start to the year and gives the team plenty to work with heading into Phoenix.
“Honestly, I want us to be consistent and build off of that,” DeJoria said. “We may not be the quickest out there at first, but give us time and we’ll be running up top I’m sure of it.”
That confidence comes from her comfort level with Worsham, a former world champ in both Top Fuel and Funny Car, and Boninfante. It also makes DeJoria a contender to win races right off the bat, even against the heavy hitters in the standout Funny Car class. She would like nothing more than to replicate her first career win in the class this weekend, though DeJoria will have to match up with the likes of Hight, Beckman, John Force, Ron Capps, defending event winner Hagan, 2018 world champ J.R. Todd, Tim Wilkerson, Tommy Johnson Jr., Cruz Pedregon and Bob Tasca III. But that level of competition is part of the reason DeJoria returned to the sport.
“That win was a long time ago, but a win I’ll never forget,” DeJoria said. “The car was fast in the heat. The team hustled and gave me a good set-up on race day. I’d been racing that track since the sportsman days in Super Gas, and I’ve got great memories there. I can’t wait to go back.”
Doug Kalitta started quick in the ultra-competitive Top Fuel ranks, winning in Pomona to start the year on top. He’ll look to keep that momentum going in Phoenix against the likes of back-to-back world champ Steve Torrence, 2017 world champ Brittany Force, three-time world champ Antron Brown, Shawn Langdon, Austin Prock, Leah Pruett, Clay Millican and Terry McMillen.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020, the Pro Stock class will head to Phoenix with plenty of fanfare. The class continues to provide plenty of thrills, led by defending event winner Coughlin, who won the opener in Pomona. He’ll match up with the likes of defending champ Erica Enders, Greg Anderson, Jason Line, Alex Laughlin, Bo Butner, Deric Kramer and Chris McGaha.
The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where future stars of the sport hone their skills. After nitro qualifying, fans can watch a trio of spectacular jet cars, including a pair from the Lucas Oil Muy Caliente team, as well as Scott Arriaga’s “Wicked Sensation” jet car. Known for exciting pre-run flame shows and after burner pops, jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines.
NHRA fans can take part in the NHRA 101 Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Pro Stock School and Nitro School to learn how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park will also host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. Another can’t-miss experience is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their victories.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 1:45 and 4:45 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 21 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Feb. 22 at 1:30 and 4 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 23.