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Billionaire heiress risks her life on the racetrack

Alexis DeJoria
Source: CNBC
Alexis DeJoria

Alexis DeJoria has always liked the fast life.

As a young girl, the daughter of billionaire entrepreneur John Paul DeJoria said, she was "the wild child of the family."

"I was always taking my bicycle off the docks into the water, skateboarding, breaking bones, you know, ... just getting into all sorts of trouble and making a ruckus wherever I was," she told CNBC's "Secret Lives of the Super Rich."

Today, DeJoria still likes to make a ruckus. But the tall, raven-haired 38-year-old mother of one and stepmother of three prefers to make it on the racetrack — hurtling more than 300 mph in a funny car.

The three-time National Hot Rod Association winner recently clocked her fastest speed, 325.14 mph, and became the first female funny-car racer to finish a race in less than four seconds.

DeJoria spends much of the year on the road with her team of mechanics, managers and her husband, the famed motorcycle guru and reality TV star Jesse James.

DeJoria said she fell in love with drag racing when she was 16, and later turned her passion into a business. Running her race team costs around $4 million a year, and a sponsorship from Patron Tequila (co-founded by her father) only partially offsets the costs.

"It's my profession," she said. "This is not a hobby. I do what I do because I have a love of the sport."

And it comes with more than its share of danger. In 2009, DeJoria lost the brakes in her car and crashed through the sand pits and safety nets. She walked away uninjured but shaken.

"I just kept flying, cutting through the air like a knife," she recalled. "You can't prepare for those type of things."

What she can prepare for, she said, are the daily demands of racing. While the sport can be highly physical — "like being hit in the back with a freight train" — DeJoria said the most important preparation is mental.

Alexis DeJoria
Source: CNBC
Alexis DeJoria

"You have to be mentally strong and clearheaded to handle whatever comes at you," she said. "'Cause really you're never safe in that car, from start to finish. I mean, it's nitromethane. So it's like a ticking time bomb."

With a father worth an estimated $3.1 billion, according to Forbes, DeJoria admits some might expect her to lead a more leisurely life as a philanthropist or socialite. But she said her father taught her the importance of hard work and self-made success.

"He instilled very strong, work ethics in all his children, and it shows," she said. "He's very giving. But at the same time he made us work really hard for the things that we wanted and — and I love that."

Granted, one of her main sponsors is the tequila maker founded by her father (John Paul also co-founded hair care products company John Paul Mitchell Systems). She said her dad proposed the sponsorship "only after he saw how dedicated I was to the sport." DeJoria also has big sponsorships from companies including Toyota, Mac Tools and Red Line Oil.

While she admits she likes to go out on occasion and wear fashionable clothes, she prefers the sweaty, greasy confines of her work garb.

"I have a wardrobe that would knock most people on their feet," she said. "But you would never know it because most of the time I'm in a 10-layer racing suit."

DeJoria also likes street cars — the faster the better. Among her cars is a Lamborghini Murcielago, in matte black. She's also received her share of speeding tickets.

"When you go over 300 miles an hour on a consistent basis, nothing will ever be fast again," she said.

When she's not risking her life on the racetrack, DeJoria says she likes to do "normal things," including taking her kids on vacation, riding her dirt bike or Harley and roller skating with the family. But when it's time to go to work, DeJoria has to be ready for the worst.

"I think quite honestly life has meaning when you're staring death in the face," she said. "And the way my father raised me was to be a go-getter and to experience life."

"Secret Lives of the Super Rich" premieres Wednesday March 30 at 10 p.m. ET.