Anne Proffit, Special to Motorsport.com
In the midst of her first season in NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Funny Car competition, rookie Alexis DeJoria is having a true learning experience.
Fresh from the Lucas Oil Sportsman Top Alcohol Funny Car ranks, where she earned her first victory in 2011 at Seattle, DeJoria finds herself in a hard battle to build a team in conjunction with Kalitta Motorsports, stay in the Top 10 and qualify for the Countdown to the Championship that begins after the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend.
Having a week off between races - and following a grueling three-stop Western Swing - DeJoria took advantage of an opportunity not everyone can handle. She boarded a plane for Boise, Idaho so she could get a ride-along in an F-15 fighter jet. With a father who spent time in the Navy, DeJoria has always had an interest in the military. The dream of riding in a jet - even as she caught the drag racing bug and spent the past seven years working her way toward the Funny Car ranks - never went away. DeJoria even has an F-15 tattoo on her right forearm.
There's a little history here: DeJoria met the Thunder Bolts, the 389th Fighter Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base during the Las Vegas round of racing in the fall of 2010. She had "Stealth Motorsports" on the side of her rig and that caught the squadron's attention; they became friendly. It took almost two years to set up the process for the ride-along at their base, but this week it came true.
DeJoria is only the second civilian to earn a ride-along with this squadron, having to get an okay from the entire wing at Mountain Home AF Base. Her request then moved to public affairs and eventually the base commander had to sign off on the proposal before going higher in the Air Force food chain. Final approval comes from the Air Combat Commander, a 4-star general who sits under the Joints Chief of Staff for the Air Force.
They really let me feel the full effect of what these jets are capable of, including a vertical takeoff, formation maneuvers, pulling 8.4g's...
It was worth the wait: "Going to Mountain Home Air Force Base was two years in the making and it was an unbelievable honor to ride in an F-15 Strike Eagle - very few get a chance to and I feel so grateful that I was able to have this incredible opportunity."
Before being allowed into the second seat of the fighter jet, DeJoria had to undergo several hours of rigorous training, including a pre-flight physical. After learning how to operate a hanging harness and how to eject if necessary, DeJoria was introduced to the jet, which had served as a front line fighter in Afghanistan a year prior.
Her pilot "Suspect" took the plane "Shogun 11" from tarmac to 20,000 feet in about five seconds at about 600 mph, double DeJoria's customary 1,000-foot speed. Once airborne, they quickly went into a vertical and then rolled inverted. DeJoria enjoyed several loops, low altitude passes and barrel rolls. She was shown the basic handling of the plane, its maneuverability as well as fighter maneuver break turns. She admitted that when the plane pulled to 8.4g's for a few seconds it was extremely intense.
Breaking the sound barrier early in the flight, she was told afterwards the maximum speeds reached during her flight were greater than twice the speed of sound. The pilot let her control the plane for a bit as they burned more than 23,000 pounds of av-gas during the hour-long trip.
Once back on land, DeJoria emerged, pumped with adrenaline and smiling broadly. "They really let me feel the full effect of what these jets are capable of, including a vertical takeoff, formation maneuvers, pulling 8.4 g's and they also allowed me to fly it for about 25 minutes. I was amazed and so grateful - this was an absolute dream come true."
The entire Thunder Bolts squadron joined DeJoria after the flight and presented her with a flag that had flown on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 during a combat mission. "I'm so proud to be affiliated with the Thunder Bolts," an emotional DeJoria declared. "I have so much appreciation for their job and service to their country. The incredible high level of training and professionalism they demonstrate is just unreal."
Now that she's had all this fun - and given the Thunder Bolts a nice selection of Patron spirits for their bar - DeJoria needs to get back to her day job and attempt to move up in the Funny Car standings. With only two races remaining to qualify for the Countdown, she's in 13th place, 153 points behind current 10th place qualifier and 15-time champion John Force. Reigning champ Matt Hagan and veteran Tim Wilkerson lie ahead of the rookie on the points table.
DeJoria's next opportunity to put her skills - those she already had and some she may have picked up from the Thunder Bolts - comes next week during the 31st Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, Minn.