In a scene right out of the early 1990s — back when John Force burning a car to the ground was as likely as the sun rising in the East — Funny Car star Alexis DeJoria rode out perhaps the most intense fire of the 21st century Sunday at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at the Texas Motorplex.
DeJoria, in her ROKIT Phones-backed Toyota, was racing Gary Densham in the opening round of eliminations at the Ennis, Texas track and had just turned on the win-light with a 4.08-second lap at a slowing 273.22 mph when her machine drifted over to the wall and simultaneously combusted, quickly escalating from an otherwise clean run into a towering inferno. Crew Chief Del Worsham later determined that two failed connecting rods set off the blaze. DeJoria bounced the car off the wall as she tried valiantly to bring it to a stop and escape the dense smoke and flames. With the assistance of the NHRA Safety Safari, DeJoria was pulled from the car as the fire continued to rage — escaping without serious harm from a fire that Funny Car drivers of the modern era are hardly prepared for.
DeJoria received oxygen from the Safety Safari staff and then returned to the pit area with her team to prepare a backup car.
“There was not much of a warning except for some sparks,” DeJoria said. “I couldn’t see anything. I popped my head up and put my foot on the brake handle to try and get it stopped. Then I saw a Safety Safari guy and I did a Dirty Dancing move and just threw my arms out and jumped. Sorry about the mess. It was a little crazy,” DeJoria told FOX Sports when she was interviewed after being extricated from the fire. “The whole cockpit filled with smoke. That thing burned to the ground.”
“Unfortunately, we ruined another car,” she later said of the day “We’re just having some gremlins but we’ll work them out and no matter what happens, it’s always a better day when you’re at the drag races.”
The blaze was another bump in the road for the fan-favorite DeJoria — her long-awaited return to driving this season lasted just two races before being stopped in its tracks by the Coronavirus lockdowns. She has qualified a best of sixth and has compiled a 4-7 round record, advancing to one semifinal appearance through nine races. Just two weeks prior to her Dallas fire, DeJoria found herself on the highlight reel when the supercharger on her Funny Car exploded at the finish line at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals, shredding an expensive Toyota Camry body and sending her bouncing off the World Wide Technology Raceway guardrail. In both instances DeJoria had claimed the round win and turned to a backup car, only to bow out in the next round.
DeJoria heads to next weekend’s rescheduled Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals in Houston eighth in the Funny Car points standings. Between races, team co-owner Worsham, himself no stranger to large Funny Car fires, will work with cohort Nicky Boninfante to dissect the incident and determine if it is a recurring internal problem or isolated incidents.