NHRA driver Alexis DeJoria not your typical billionaire’s daughter

If there is such a thing as a “typical” billionaire heiress, Alexis DeJoria certainly isn’t it.

Wild child, speed demon, daredevil – those are tags that DeJoria wears proudly, just like the 20-plus tattoos that adorn her arms and back.

That other title – the heiress one – she doesn’t like as much.

“I’m doing everything I can to change that,” DeJoria said.

She’d like to replace it with “winning drag racer,” and is quickly doing so. DeJoria, 36, is a three-time winner in the NHRA’s Funny Car division, and heads into this weekend’s NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMax Dragway as the No. 4 seed in the “Countdown to the Championship.”

Her father is John Paul DeJoria, who Forbes magazine has ranked No. 568 on its 2014 list of the world’s billionaires, with a net worth estimated at $3.1 billion.

Yet both share one trait – they know what it’s like to work their way up from the bottom.

“He wasn’t just going to cut me a check – that’s not how we work in my family,” Alexis DeJoria said. “It’s something that has to be hard-earned. That’s the way he is with all of his kids.”

DeJoria got her first exposure to drag racing at age 16, and still has the car – a now fully-restored 1967 Chevy Chevelle SS – that she street raced through her late teens and early 20s.

“That’s the kind of kid I was growing up,” DeJoria said. “I was always taking risks and doing things that were kind of crazy compared to the rest of the kids.

“Even when I was working for the family company, learning all the different departments, there was still something in me that had to go find my passion in life, which I thought was racing. I just had to figure that out for myself.”

With her father’s blessing, DeJoria made the move to the NHRA sportsman class in 2005, first running in the Super Gas and Super Comp divisions before stepping into a Top Alcohol Funny Car – a step down from the nitro-burning Funny Cars she races now – for five years.

After a year spent testing a Funny Car in 2010 and racing four events in 2011, she moved full time into the division in 2012.

“That was Alexis’ idea,” John Paul DeJoria said in an email. “She wanted to make sure she knew what she was doing, work her way up and win in categories as she worked her way up so that she would be more than qualified to go to the next category. I thought that was brilliant.”

DeJoria hasn’t disappointed on the track, especially this season. She’s beaten 2009 champ Robert Hight twice in the final round – at Phoenix and Las Vegas – then knocked off 16-time Funny Car champ John Force at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis two weeks ago.

That made DeJoria the first female driver to win three Funny Car races in a season. It was also the first time that John Paul DeJoria got to see his daughter take the winner’s trophy, and do so in one of the NHRA’s most prestigious events.

“I was so elated – that was one of the most elated moments of my life,” he said. “I just jumped up in the air. That moment lasted for days.”

Said Alexis DeJoria: “I kept saying, ‘I hope one of the races he comes to we can win at.’ I felt so bad for him when he missed the first two. But it was incredible that he got to experience that win. He was really excited to be there.

“It meant that everything had come full circle, from the moment I came to him and said ‘I really want to try this, I think I can be good at this.’ Walking down the track with my dad with the Wally in our hands was just surreal.”