After a celebrated rookie year that ended with mixed results, funny-car racer Alexis DeJoria is approaching her second season with a lower profile and higher expectations of her first win.
"Last year was my first year and there were tons of publicity and interviews all the time," DeJoria said Saturday. "Coming out for our first race [this year], we wanted to keep things somewhat calm."
The first race is this weekend's NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, and DeJoria qualified for the final eliminations Sunday that determine the event's winner.
DeJoria, 35, created a buzz last year by becoming one of the few women to race the 300-mph funny cars in the National Hot Rod Assn.
She's also the daughter of billionaire John Paul DeJoria, chief executive of the Paul Mitchell hair-care products company and tequila maker Patron Spirits, the latter being a major sponsor of Alexis DeJoria's Toyota.
As her father looked on Saturday at Auto Club Raceway, DeJoria finished three days of qualifying as the 10th-fastest funny car in the field, with the top 16 cars advancing to Sunday.
After several years in drag racing's minor leagues, Alexis DeJoria reached the funny-car division last year, joining another celebrated female rookie, Courtney Force, daughter of 15-time funny-car champion John Force of Yorba Linda.
Courtney Force went on to win her first race during 2012, but DeJoria often struggled. DeJoria reached the final round of eliminations in only one race, in Bristol, Tenn., and lost to Ron Capps.
"The first year was all about getting my bearings, getting down the racetrack, learning as much as possible," DeJoria said.
"Last year we saw some good results," she said. "This year we need to get that first win out of the way, and I think we will do it."
DeJoria's crew chief last year was Del Worsham, who took a year off from racing himself after he won the 2011 title in the sport's other major division, top fuel.
Now Worsham is back driving a funny car as DeJoria's teammate at their Kalitta Motorsports team, and DeJoria's new crew chief is veteran Tommy DeLago.
Despite the changes, "there's definitely a sense of relief and calmness coming into the second season," DeJoria said. "It's one foot in front of the other, one round at a time."
Courtney Force led funny-car qualifying Saturday with a time of 4.036 seconds at 318.24 mph on the 1,000-foot drag strip.
"It's really exciting especially because it's my home track," Courtney Force said. "But I've still got to focus. There are guys right behind me."
Indeed, reigning funny-car champion Jack Beckman of Norco was second with a qualifying run of 4.045 seconds at 317.05 mph.
In top fuel, Tony Schumacher — a seven-time champion and six-time Pomona winner — posted the fastest qualifying time of 3.753 seconds at 328.14 mph.