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Some of my students stayed after class for a photo!
Of course, I have a few PEAK products I use in my demonstrations.
A small group of Boy Scouts and their siblings stopped by the shop for a field trip.

Speaking of crew chiefs, here's Mike Kern with my son Nick at a model train restaurant near Mike's house. Nick has his eyes on the train bringing us our food.
That is a good looking team and they are always smiling.

I was tossing and turning at 2 a.m., thinking about what I needed to accomplish before our next event in Houston. Thankfully, I was tossing and turning, because after a day of chocolate bunnies and a large Easter dinner, I needed a little exercise.  I had lost five pounds since Pomona, but I was positive I gained that weight back after just one day of indulgence.

Something else positive was happening: I was thinking about this blog. I had been working on it for a few weeks, but I was not happy with the direction it was going. I decided to start over and write about two subjects that I am passionate about: teaching and our PEAK Motor Oil/Herculiner Top Fuel team.

I received an Engineering degree from Illinois State University, but if I did it all over again, I would have pursued a teaching degree.  My wife is a high school Spanish teacher and I have always been envious that she is able to shape young minds every day.  Thankfully, I fill my need for teaching in an after school prep program at a local high school.

Teaching is something I love and every time I stand in front of a class, I get “up on the tire.”  About an hour before the class, my heart beats a little harder and I try to prepare myself for the unexpected.  That sounds a lot like the time leading up to climbing into our PEAK Motor Oil/Herculiner Top Fuel dragster.

As you would guess, I teach an automotive-related class. I educate my students on a wide variety of subjects, from how to purchase a vehicle to maintaining it for the longevity of its existence.  Most of my classes are diverse, filled with both males and females and ages ranging from 15 to 70 years of age.  Some of my students only know how to fill their vehicle with gas, while others want to pull the engine in their BMWs before the class is over. Usually, I have a few students that are single and they just want to know more about the second biggest investment in their life. They want to feel confident when they turn the key or when they get their vehicle serviced; they want to know they are not being misled.

I also get an opportunity during the class to talk about the wide range of PEAK products.  Not only do I use them in our body shop and on our race team, promote them on the race track and to the great fans of drag racing, I also explain to my students about their products and how to use them.

Educating America on their vehicles is one of my goals and I will expand this program in the future.

Transitioning to my next subject will be a piece of cake.  Every time I step on the gas of our PEAK Motor Oil/Herculiner Top Fuel dragster, it is certainly a sensation that is off the charts!  I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to do it and I will never forget it.

I am excited to get back to racing.  It has been 54 days since Pomona, but who’s counting? Our team is comprised of 13 people who never stop working and I am so proud of them.  We had a lot to do between races and everyone kept their nose to the grind stone.  They are very dedicated and are always looking to improve our performance on the track. 

I am always working on improving our businesses (body shop and professional racing team) and our program for our current and future marketing partners.  Sometimes, I even get a chance to sit in the car and practice my reaction times.  I am sure you remember from one of my blogs, if not two of them, Mike Kern (our crew chief) wired the practice tree so I can use it in the car.  I think that was a hint!  Nothing beats seat time on the track, but it at least allows me to go through all the motions and practice.

I am optimistic that Houston will be a good race for our team.  We certainly dedicate a lot of time and hard work preparing one of the fastest accelerating wheel driven vehicles in the world!  Wow, how awesome is that?

As always, try to keep up with me on:  Facebook (TJ Zizzo, Zizzo Racing), Twitter (@TJZizzo, @ZizzoRacing), YouTube.com/TJZizzo, PeakAuto.com and ZizzoRacing.com…because I can’t even keep up with myself!

Pimpin’ ain’t easy!Tuesday, April 05, 2011

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

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

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!

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