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DeJoria had a close call in 2009 while racing at the Old Bridge Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. Her brakes went out and her parachutes ripped off, making it impossible to stop as her funny car exceeded 200 mph. The car went over the sand pit at the end of the track that is supposed to slow an out-of-control car, through two catch nets and then into four rows of sand-filled barrels. Her car landed on its roof.

“I opened my eyes, felt around and was like ‘OK, I’m all right,’” said DeJoria, who has a 9-year-old daughter. “You have to understand that these cars, they are unpredictable. Obviously we’re going insane speeds and we are human and these cars are manmade, so anything can happen. But you have to be prepared for it, and there’s no real training for that.”

Two other drivers were not as lucky on the same track. Scott Kalitta, of Kalitta Motorsports, died in 2008 when his car exploded and crashed into a pole. He and DeJoria were never teammates, although the crash led to DeJoria and the Kalitta family being introduced. In 2010, Neal Parker died after his parachutes didn’t deploy, sending the car crashing into some water-filled barrels.

The danger is never far from DeJoria’s mind, who keeps a part of her car that crashed hanging in her garage as a reminder.

Before a recent warm-up race in Jupiter, Fla., DeJoria packed her own parachutes.

“Can’t blame anybody but me if these suckers don’t work,” she said. “Drag racing will humble you very quickly. But when you do win, it’s an amazing feeling.”

AP writer Raquel Dillon reported from Topanga Canyon, Calif.