Features

Pimpin’ ain’t easy!Tuesday, April 05, 2011
Posted by: T.J. Zizzo

I feel like I have been in a haze since Pomona. Maybe it’s too many paint fumes in the body shop over the years? Truthfully, the body shop and racing businesses are busy and I have a lot on my plate.

I am sitting at my computer on a Saturday night, my wife and kids are sleeping and I have Vegas qualifying on the big screen. Does it get any better than this? I can answer that: YES! I could be there competing for the elusive Wally.

Kenny Youngblood and me in Pomona... look, I am not talking!
The best looking Top Fuel dragster I have ever driven
I am blessed to have my dad strap me in the car every pass!
I always welcome fans into our pits. Without fans, Professional Drag Racing does not exist!

It has been a while since my last blog, so I figured I would take a step back to our first pass at Pomona. It was picture perfect. We ran a 3.87 right out of the box. That was very impressive!

I had one thing on my mind as I staged the car: keep the car in the groove and on top of the crown. At the World Finals in 2010, I could not do that to save my life. I very rarely have a problem navigating the track, don’t get me wrong, I have other problems (don’t we all) but that is not one of them. At the World Finals, I spoke to Tim Wilkerson about the problem I was having. He asked if I looked at the track. I said yes, I looked at the finish line and the sand trap, but according to Wilkerson, I did not look close enough at the racing surface and he was correct. I have been racing a long time and I should have known better. Pomona was built a long time ago and it has its quirks. The right lane has a big crown in the middle of it. That is why if I got the car a little to the left or right it would drag me out of the groove. So I staged and made sure I kept the car on top of the crown.

Our car looked great in Pomona. Unveiling our Kenny Youngblood-designed car was exciting. Truly, the first time I saw the car completely assembled and had a chance to admire it was after our first pass. Remember, the car is worked on in our shop’s crawl space and I was very busy when the car was loaded for Pomona, so I never had a chance to evaluate it. That is the story of my life: I am always looking forward to the next project and I do not slow down enough to enjoy the current one. I need some psychological help!

Not only is Youngblood a great artist, but he is even a better human being. He and I are usually working during events and we do not get a chance to hang out. Maybe after the event for a few refreshments, but that is about it. I have spoken to him on the phone countless times and like I said at our press conference, it is hard to get me to stop talking. I have learned that when he starts talking, stop and listen because I will undoubtedly learn something! In Pomona, I had a chance to hang with him and his “entourage” throughout the weekend. Man is he cool, but like he tells me, it takes one to know one. I continue to meet great people in this sport each and every day.

The only thing that was disappointing in Pomona besides our first round loss was the weather. I had been warned that Pomona could be cool and rainy, but no one said it would be warmer in Chicago that weekend than it was there. I do not think I prepared for the cool damp weather or maybe it was flying on a tube with hundreds of people breathing in that fine quality air or it could have been getting home at 6 a.m. and starting my day with no sleep and going straight to work. Whatever it was, it led me to the doctor. I am one of those guys that only go to the doctor if I have a broken bone sticking out of my leg or if I am getting a physical to drive our 300 mph PEAK Motor Oil/Herculiner dragster, but on Tuesday I felt terrible. And by Thursday I felt worse.

Trust me, I am always “up and adam” in the morning, eager to go to work, but not that day. I felt like I was going to pass out. I still went to work that morning and when I got home my wife told me I should see my doctor. Of course, I told her I would think about it and then I walked away and said to myself, I don’t see doctors! Unfortunately, I did not sleep at all that night and I was sweating up a storm. I thought to myself while I laid in a sweat-soaked bed, maybe I should see my doctor? The funny thing is I work on my doctor’s cars at our body shop so going to see him is easy, but it is a man thing; I don’t need a stinkin’ doctor.

Needless to say, I took my wife’s recommendation and saw him. He prescribed some antibiotics and Tami flu. I was off and “walking slowly.” I worked through the sickness, although I did miss a day at the shop on Sunday because I was in “sick bay” for 24 hours straight. Keep in mind this is a week after I first started feeling sick.

Well, ten days went by and I took all my medication. I still did not feel like I was running on all eight cylinders and I was down on horsepower. I felt useless while I was sick, I wanted to write this blog and get a lot of stuff done, but my body was telling me to slow down. It has been a full month and I think I finally feel 95 percent. The crazy thing is about half our team got sick and I think we finally have everyone feeling 100 percent again.

As I typed this blog, I thought to myself (man I think to myself often) maybe it was our disappointing first round loss that made me sick. All I keep thinking is we are going to put a string of four good runs together one of these Sundays and win one.

Keep up with me on: Facebook (tj zizzo, zizzo racing),YouTube (tj zizzo), Twitter (tj zizzo), peakauto.com and zizzoracing.com.

How to drive a Top Fuel dragsterMonday, February 21, 2011
Posted by: T.J. Zizzo

I am looking forward to beginning our eighth season with Old World Industries (PEAK Motor Oil and Antifreeze, Herculiner Do-It-Yourself bedliners, PEAK electronics, and the rest of their great products). It will be the first time we kick a season off at the Winternationals.

I thought this list would be appropriate. I wrote it many years back. As I say routine is everything! I wrote this for myself, but it came in handy about six years ago when my dad was obtaining his license. Written procedures are always a positive. He studied them and earned his license in a limited number of runs.

I went through these procedures and edited a few things for your viewing pleasure. I can’t give away everything, and I certainly can’t tell you all the great things we get to talk about over the radios.

This is how to drive a Top Fuel dragster. Please don’t study this too well — I am easily replaced!

  • Pull car into staging lanes
  • Walk around front of car
  • Give left side of engine a look
  • Check wing
  • Check wheelie bar
  • Check throttle stop
  • Give right side of engine a look
  • I am confident everything is good
  • Walk to back of tow vehicle
  • Get everything out of bag and lay it out
  • Put on jacket do not zip all the way up
  • Put in mouth guard
  • Put in ear pieces
  • Put on helmet sock
  • Adjust sock eye openings in mirror/window
  • Have Dad tuck in head sock and zip up jacket
  • Put on helmet
  • Have Dad put on neck collar
  • Have Dad put on Hybrid X
  • Put on gloves
  • Walk to left side of car
  • Tap on wing
  • Walk back to roll cage
  • Jump in race car (approx. 10 minutes before run)
  • Dad and Joe strap me in
  • Pull tight shoulder straps
  • Check arm restraint lengths
  • Check radio
  • Make sure I’m comfortable
  • Make sure Dad asks if everything is good
  • Reply…. Mint!
  • Clear mind
  • Focus on run in real time
  • Ask about track conditions
  • Focus on run in real time
  • Pull to water box
  • Check all switches off
  • Check fuel is closed (lever is all the way forward)
  • Push clutch in
  • Grab brake handle
  • Mike Kern (crew chief) spins engine over
  • Take a deep breath and relax
  • Flip all switches on
  • Push clutch in, pull brake, and put hand on fuel lever
  • Mike spins engine over
  • Engine starts on gasoline for a few seconds
  • Check oil pressure and make sure the engine is purring like a kitten
  • Pull the fuel lever back
  • Push the fuel lever forward
  • Trim to where Mike wants me to, usually 60 psi
  • Look at TS (Tony Smith)
  • Look for his sign that it is okay to move forward
  • Check fuel pressure
  • Roll forward a little
  • Align car with him
  • Roll through water
  • TS gives the high sign
  • Let go of brake
  • Take foot of clutch pedal
  • Stab the throttle
  • Burnout
  • Burnout length dependent on Mike. If it was up to me I would burnout to the finish line
  • Push clutch in
  • Grab brake handle
  • Pump once
  • Pull to slow
  • Push reverser lever into reverse
  • Trim fuel to 60 psi
  • Glance at tach and oil pressure
  • Let go of brake
  • Let off clutch slowly
  • Feather clutch in and out
  • Back up straight in center of track
  • Look down track at finish line
  • Slow when I see TS
  • Push in clutch
  • Gently pull hand brake
  • Follow his direction
  • Push clutch in
  • Pull hand brake
  • Stop
  • Pull reverser lever back to put into forward
  • Let brake out slowly
  • Feather clutch if needed
  • Push clutch and pull brake
  • Stop
  • Look down track
  • Look at TS
  • Pull forward at TS request
  • Proceed slowly
  • Feather clutch and brake
  • Straighten car out
  • Stop at TS request
  • Push in clutch and grab brake gently (just enough to hold car back)
  • Glance at tach and oil pressure
  • Look down track, at TS, and at Tree
  • Wait for throttle stop
  • Make sure I’m straight
  • Pull down visor
  • TS signals to pull forward
  • Take hand off brake move forward slowly
  • Feather clutch if necessary
  • Push in clutch
  • Gently pull brake
  • TS gives OK sign
  • Let brake out slowly
  • Feather clutch if necessary
  • Creep into pre stage position
  • Set pre-stage bulb
  • Push in clutch
  • Grab brake gently
  • When both cars are pre-staged,
  • Pull fuel lever back to 100 psi.
  • Take foot off clutch
  • Place left foot on foot rest
  • Hold brake just enough to hold car back
  • Slowly release brake
  • Stage car the same every time
  • Focus on ambers
  • Anticipate FLASH
  • See FLASH
  • Release brake and hammer down on throttle pedal
  • Keep hand on brake handle
  • Keep car straight and in groove
  • Use three senses: Look, listen, and feel
  • At half-track move my hand to steering wheel
  • Place finger on parachute button
  • Concentrate on keeping car straight
  • Concentrate on finish line
  • Pop parachute button at 900 ft.
  • Take foot off throttle at finish line
  • Put hand on brake handle
  • Feel parachute hit
  • Let car slow
  • Engine will idle down
  • It may shut itself off
  • Hit kill switches
  • Make turn off
  • Listen for comments from crew
  • Unlatch seat belts
  • Unplug helmet from radio
  • Climb out of car
  • Get to work on car and start process all over again…….OH YEAH!!!!!!

I hope you got something out of those 143 procedures!

See you at the Winternationals.

Try to keep up with me on: ZizzoRacing.com, Twitter.com/ZizzoRacing, and Facebook.com/ZizzoRacing and Facebook.com/TJZizzo. On Twitter, you can follow me at @TJZizzo and @ZizzoRacing. Videos of Zizzo Racing can be found at YouTube.com/TJZizzo.

It’s a sport filled with passionTuesday, January 25, 2011
Posted by: T.J. Zizzo

Recently I saw the movie The Fighter. While watching it, I related boxing to drag racing. I know, I am always thinking about drag racing; it’s just who I am. I can be walking through a nude beach in Riviera Maya, Mexico, and I am thinking about drag racing. Yep, that happened last December. I am not right! Back to the movie, it was not all about boxing; it was about passion and family.


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Ryan Ramos (Bottom end) has passion. He was bloody and oily in Vegas. That did not stop him from completing his work!
 
Drag racing is usually passed down through the generations. My mom and dad took me on the road with them all the time as a kid. Drag racing is all I knew. I did not know much about stick and ball sports and I certainly did not have time for them. I was usually up to my elbows in solvent and oil. My kids will drag race because they see my passion for the sport. My daughter is only 6 years old and is already at the library at her elementary school asking for books with dragsters and monster trucks in them. Let’s steer her away from those crazy monster trucks, those drivers are nuts!

Getting back to the passion element of this blog, not many people get an opportunity to make money drag racing and the select few that do, did not do it for the money. As the old saying goes, “In drag racing, if you want to have a million dollars start with 10 million.” I know many people that have come and gone in this sport. You see them at the top for a year or two and they get worn out and quit.

There are people who are passionate about the sport and they are in it for the long haul no matter what. You know when you are passionate about something when it’s not about the money, it’s about putting pieces of a puzzle together to get to the racetrack and perform. You are not doing it because every week a paycheck is being cashed. I think even for a full-time team the employees better not break their paycheck down by the hour. If they did they may be getting paid better if they went to McDonalds. I think everyone involved in drag racing is here for the passion and the excitement.

Customers at our body shop always ask me, do you win a lot? I usually pause and take a deep breath; I tell them that there is only one winner and many losers at each race. At any level in drag racing it is tough to compete, let alone win. I still do not think they understand after I explain it to them. Drag racing has always prepared me for rejection. That is a part of the sport that makes the racer stronger. And that is why winning is so special when it happens.

All winter long, and it’s a long winter in Chicago, I spent countless hours finishing up last season’s loose ends and preparing for this season. I spent hours just in administrative duties, things that do not get the racecar to GO, but make the business a little more successful. Just planning a budget for a season can take 100 hours to create even after importing the numbers from last season. As we know, every year is different and prices change daily.

It’s not all about the fight. It’s all the preparation that it takes to get to fight. The team spends approximately 300 hours per run on the car, they spend all winter cooped up in the shop trying to gain .001-second on the track. The team members cross train themselves and discuss how to make this orchestrated mess better. Their passion is deep! They spend hours away from family, friends and pleasure just to get a Top Fuel Dragster from A to B in 3.8 seconds. Now that’s passion!

I think the deeper we get ourselves embedded into Top Fuel the more it becomes a business. I used to say I did this because it was fun; I do not know if that is the case anymore. It’s still enjoyable, but it’s like working in the body shop. I enjoy it, but it is also a business.

To compete in a professional sport, hard work will get you to the mountain (yes it’s a PEAK mountain), but passion and desire will get you to the top.

Try to keep up with me on: Facebook (tj zizzo, zizzo racing), Twitter, peakauto.com, and zizzoracing.com… because I can’t even keep up with myself!

Drivers vs. racersThursday, December 09, 2010
Posted by: T.J. Zizzo
At this age I think my dad put me in the car to stop me from running around!
My mom, dad, me, and Bill Stock
My dad's first taste of an Alcohol Dragster. Al DaPozzo and his Evil Spirit
Putting on my dad's firesuit for my first license pass in his Top Alcohol Dragster. I turned 16 one week earlier.
The beginning! I am still smiling today!

It seems like almost everyone wants to drive a Top Fuel car, but there is a difference between driving one and racing one. Like my dad always says, “Drivers are a dime a dozen, but racers are rare!” As I was told by a team member (I wish I could remember his name right now) of Trussel Motorsports and Ed Hoover in Las Vegas. “TJ, you are not a driver, you are a racer.” I paused for a split second while I was working and looked up and said, “Thanks!” It did not dawn on me until later that day what he was trying to tell me. It was simple: He saw the car come back from the run, enter our pit area and I jumped out of the car with my firesuit pants still on and got right to work on the car. I didn’t disappear into the trailer to check my hair.

Tim Wilkerson has it figured out. In this day and age a driver has responsibilities, but a racer has more to do than just sign autographs, look pretty, entertain marketing partners, and drive the car. I have always based our team on his because Tim has taught us “almost everything” we know about Top Fuel. I always admired his work ethic: He works at his automotive repair shop, manages his Funny Car team, pays the bills, tunes his car, drives the car and still manages to find time for fans and his family. Now that is a racer! Trust me, I am not that good, but I do have my hands in many aspects of our body shop and Top Fuel team.

I always say that I am fortunate to drive a Top Fuel car, but the truth is that driving is the easy part. Sure, sometimes I drive out of the groove or get beat on a holeshot, but what driver hasn’t? I am not the best driver out there, but for a part-time driver I think I do pretty good. Someday I will be as good as Tony Schumacher.  My responsibilities never stop. I do anything the team needs, from shopping for food at Sam’s Club to disassembling the car after the run and I still find eight hours a day to talk with the fans at the ropes. Without fans, NHRA professional drag racing would not exist. I know I beat that like a dead horse, but that is why our sport is so unique. I don’t see many drivers spending quality time with the fans that paid a lot of hard earned money to see them.

Where is all this stemming from? I just purchased a scanner and Mike Kern our crew chief hooked up our computer network at the shop. I scanned a few old pictures and it dawned on me why Zizzo Racing is so successful and why I am a racer. Plain and simple: My dad and experience. Sure, we have been only racing a Top Fuel dragster part time for seven years, but we have been racing dragsters for 31. He has built up to this point and did not get here over night. As I was looking at all the old pictures, it brought a tear to my eye. I don’t know where he found all the time. It seemed that every year the car was painted a different shade of Candy Apple Red and it was cooler than the year before. I look out the window and I see a huge transporter outside and I realize that didn’t happen overnight. That is just a culmination of decades of hard work and perseverance. I do remember my mom joking about how we had to eat shattered connecting rods for dinner many years ago and I think my dad still does. I just go without, so the car will be lighter.

I also look back and see that I was at every race my parents participated at while growing up. I was there at the age of five just observing, but soon after that I was given a wrench so I could help work on the car, eventually learning all aspects on his Top Alcohol dragster. I was always listening and observing at the local machine shop, while I was knee deep in solvent at the wash tank. I think all of that has prepared me to be a racer, not just a person with a helmet and a firesuit. Most of the time I am so busy I don’t even think of driving until I get strapped in. I’m just not that type to polish my helmet in the lounge of the transporter. But once again maybe I am wrong. Maybe I can spend my time better preparing for those two minutes of drive time. If I thought about driving, instead of racing, I would be the best driver on the property. Needless to say, I will continue being me and making sure that I can keep Zizzo Racing moving forward for my kids, like my dad did for me!

Try to keep up with me on: Facebook (tj zizzo, zizzo racing), Twitter, peakauto.com and zizzoracing.com ..because I can’t keep up with myself!

Merry Christmas from PEAK and Zizzo Racing, HO HO HO!!!!!

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