As the Western Swing came to a close, most NHRA drivers headed home for some much needed ‘rest and relaxation’ before the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minnesota, the next stop of the 23 race NHRA Full Throttle Drag Series tour. Not so for Tequila Patrόn Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria! On Monday morning, DeJoria boarded a plane for Boise, Idaho so that she could fulfill a lifelong dream of doing a ride-along in an F-15 fighter jet, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that only a very select few ever get a chance to do.
Ever since she was a little girl, DeJoria has had a fascination with fighter jets, telling people that she was going to be a fighter pilot when she grew up. Because her father, John Paul DeJoria co-founder of Paul Mitchell Haircare systems and founder of Tequila Patrόn, spent time in the Navy, she’s always had an interest in the military. DeJoria eventually found herself bitten by the drag racing bug and has spent the past seven years piloting drag racing machines, but the dream of riding in a jet never seemed to fade- DeJoria even got inked with an F-15 tattoo on her right forearm earlier this year.
DeJoria met the Thunder Bolts, the 389th Fighter Squadron of Mountain Home Air Force Base, in 2010 at the October Vegas race after her Top Alcohol Funny Car rig with the ‘Stealth Motorsports’ name emblazoned on the side caught the squadron’s attention. DeJoria and the group became fast friends and she shared her wish of wanting to ride in a fighter jet with them, thus sparking the nearly two year long process of setting up a ride-along at their base.
Only a very, very small group of civilians and military personnel ever get permission and government clearance to take part in a ride-along. In fact, DeJoria was only the second civilian to do a ride-along at the Mountain Home Air Force Base this year. According to Scott Woolley of Alexis DeJoria Racing, “The lengthy approval process starts in the trenches and includes getting the ‘okay’ from the entire wing. The request is passed along to public affairs, where the paperwork process begins. Base command must sign-off on the proposal before the request is passed to the ‘higher ups,’ with the eventual ‘green light’ coming from the Air Combat Commander, a 4-star who sits under the Joint Chief of Staff of the Air Force.” The process is long and complicated, but according to DeJoria 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.”
After being fitted for her flight gear and going through LL06 gear familiarization the evening prior, DeJoria reported to the base at 0700 on Tuesday morning to begin several hours of rigorous training. The day began with hanging harness training. From there it was off to the base hospital where she underwent a flight physical to determine whether or not her body would be able to handle the wild ride. Before she sat down with her pilot for her flight briefing, the Squadron Commander’s Executive Officer who goes by the moniker ‘Suspect,’ she had to complete egress training (i.e. how to eject from the cockpit).
Finally, it was time to step to the jet! The aircraft they were to fly had served as a front line fighter plane in Afghanistan only one year prior. DeJoria and Suspect climbed up into the F-15 Strike Eagle, whose flight call sign was ‘Shogun 11.’ After spending the past several months getting strapped into her 8,000 horsepower Nitro Funny Car, DeJoria could hardly believe that her dream was coming true and that this time she was getting strapped into a supercharged jet! Once they were safely secured and ‘Shogun 11’ got the ‘go ahead,’ they were ready for takeoff and the Strike Eagle went from the surface to 20,000-feet in approximately five seconds, reaching speeds in excess of 600-mph. After the quick climb, they pulled into a vertical and then rolled inverted.
DeJoria’s flight included loops, split S’, low altitude flying, and barrel rolls, and she was shown the basic handling of the airplane, maneuverability, as well as fighter maneuver break turns. While the Funny Car pilot is used to feeling powerful g-force, she did admit that when they pulled 8.4g’s for a few seconds that the sensation was quite intense.
They broke the sound barrier early into the flight, and the Funny Car driver now has the bragging rights of saying she went faster than the speed of sound (Mach 1)- DeJoria was supersonic! According to Suspect, max speeds reached during the flight were Mach 2+, which is greater than twice the speed of sound.
DeJoria says that one of the best parts of her flight was when Suspect let her control the plane- not only was she along for the ride, but she actually got to fly and control the jet herself! When the plane, which burned 23,000 pounds of jet fuel during the hour-long trip, returned safely to the ground, DeJoria hopped out, pumped with adrenaline and with the biggest smile on her face. “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 during our hour long ride. I was amazed and so grateful- this was an absolute dream come true!
After her de-briefing, the entire Thunder Bolts squadron joined DeJoria in the OG where they presented her with a flag that was flown on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in Afghanistan on a combat mission. It was a very special and touching moment, and she had to fight from getting choked up. After she expressed her gratitude to the squadron for making her lifelong dream come true, DeJoria surprised them by stocking their bar full of Patrόn Spirits products. Cheers were heard all around, and it was decided that a tequila toast would be the perfect way to end a perfect day. “I’m so proud to be affiliated with the Thunder Bolts- 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.”
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