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 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
- Pull reverser lever back to put into forward
- Let brake out slowly
- Feather clutch if needed
- Push clutch and pull brake
- 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.
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.
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!
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!!!!!
It’s 2:34 a.m. on Wednesday morning, and I can’t sleep. My wife is a high school Spanish teacher and she will be getting up in a few hours, and I am sure I will be asked why I got out of bed in the middle of the night. The answer will be simple: DRAG RACING.
I usually get some of my best thinking done at night while trying to sleep. I wake up thinking and I even have a notepad in my nightstand that I occasionally write down my thoughts on. I have woken up in the middle of the night, had great ideas, gone back to bed just to wake up in the morning trying to remember those great ideas. I would probably be in a different financial predicament if I just wrote the ideas down and I did not forget them. Tonight is different; I jumped out of bed to write this blog. Here are my thoughts as I sit at my laptop in the dark, with a dim quartz light shinning on my desk. Remember, they will be random thoughts… it’s only 2:40 A.M.!
Wow, these are very nice granite counters, when will I ever be able to pay for them? I’m one of those people who were not given a price limit when I purchased this house. My wife and I had great credit and a pulse — what else did you need? Income to match, that would have been nice, but who needed income? I saw my first home appreciate and homes were a solid investment, right? I could sell this house 10 years later and retire… not a chance! I got a loan that was way too big and purchased a house that was a lot of money and now I have no idea how long until my net worth will be positive. On a positive note, I do have a roof over my head and it is near the shop and my wife’s school and the school district is first class for my kids.
I was watching Chasing Classic Cars last night with Wayne Carini. I sat there wondering how he received a reality television show. I have the same passion for cars and I don’t have a show! It dawned on me that he worked hard and made his own luck along the way. Just as fans ask me how did I receive an opportunity to drive a Top Fuel dragster. It is the same exact way. Wayne Carini worked very hard, lost a lot of sleep, met the correct people along the way, had some luck, and presto! There he is in High Definition.
You would think that I was thinking about driving a Top Fuel Monster at 2:00 a.m., or how I could do a better job on the racetrack, but that is rarely what I think about. Sure, I thought about the article I read in National DRAGSTER recently on Shawn Langdon and how I thought he is great at cutting good reaction times and that he is my benchmark, but that is just a fraction of my job. Over the summer, my crew chief Mike Kern set up a practice Tree that is wired to the “loud” pedal in the car. That has helped tremendously. I also have worn out a few throttle cables, too. I have changed my approach on my driving. I don’t care if it is qualifying or eliminations, I am going to try my hardest on cutting a good light and staging the car shallow all the time. I know that sounds trivial, but after driving an Alcohol Dragster for 12 years and a Top Fuel Dragster part time for 7 years, I think I was getting too relaxed in qualifying which made it difficult in eliminations to be consistently good. Every time I stage the car, it is a battle with the Christmas Tree. That was only a quick thought while tossing and turning.
I also thought about where hot rodding began and how I can’t wait to get to Pomona. I have never been to California. I can’t wait to eat at an In-n-Out Burger, see the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, and stand in the pit area where drag racing legends have stood. It has always been a dream to race there, and now I am losing sleep over it. I am so excited.
At 59, it is great to see my dad energized. I really do believe everyone needs something to live for, and thankfully my dad is fueled with nitro. I told him the other day, thankfully he never gives up. I’m a little, and I mean a little, more rational than he is. I have been to the point of asking myself, why we are taking so many financial risks. He always assures me that this is exactly what he wants to do, so we do it. He is in New Mexico in the middle of his first journey out west with the semi. The only reason he attained his CDL five years ago is he purchased a semi and who else would protect his investment more than himself. The answer is nobody!
Jumping off the Stratosphere, NO WAY! I love charities and donating is cool, but I am deathly afraid of heights. If I am enclosed, that is one thing, but there is no way I will jump off a structurally-sound building. I would pee myself.
Speaking of drag racers, we are CRAZY! We are a special breed; it doesn’t matter at what level or the job that a team member has earned. In our team’s case, we spend 300 hours and $12,255 (can you tell it is year end tax time?) for under four seconds of pleasure. Yes, you heard me right. That is mind blowing! Remember we are a part-time team, too. Speaking of our team, we are the most professional unprofessional team on the planet. The team assembles every Tuesday after work and all day on Sunday. All year long, with a few days off in between. How lucky is Zizzo Racing to have the dedication and commitment from all of them? VERY LUCKY, I would say.
We are also very efficient. We are always running faster and exceeding even our own expectations, also running better than our budget should allow us to. We can offer our marketing partners a good bang for their buck because we are very frugal with their money. It is their money, not ours, and without a return on their investment, we don’t get a contract for the following year. I like to spend their money wisely. I feel that I am on their payroll; I am just waiting for my first paycheck. I know with all the work that I have put in, some day I will be able to pay for this granite counter that this laptop is sitting on. Trust me, not even one-tenth of one percent is paid for yet.
Thank God and the citizens of this country, we are fortunate to live in America. We can even risk it all drag racing. Every citizen is given opportunities and is not worried about getting shot on the way to vote. By the way, get out there and vote on Tuesday, November 2.
Social networking is unbelievable. Who would have ever thought talking to so many people at one time would ever be this easy. It is great to make friends with fans at the track and be able to keep them up to speed away from the track too. It is funny when I post to twitter on NHRA’s site on my off weekend. I get to see all the results and pictures from the race weekend that is going on at the time and then I see a picture of me cutting my grass, doing yard work or hanging with my kids. I love it! My life has a balance to it. Working at the shop, driving a Top Fuel dragster and spending time with my family, it doesn’t get any better than that! At least I don’t think so!
I can’t believe there is still a mosquito alive. And it is attracted to the only light in my house, my computer screen. It’s annoying swatting at it, but that is a good way to work on my reaction time. I also don’t want to break my screen or wake up my wife with a loud clap. I do not know which would be worse?
Well, we talked about how efficient we are as a team and that boils all the way down to how we eat on Tuesdays and Sundays. No, we don’t have lunch and dinner at Red Lobster, even McDonald’s is too expensive! We eat home-cooked meals. I make pasta for the team on Tuesday nights along with Mike Kern’s soon-to-be famous garlic bread and usually some salad or green beans on the side if the team is lucky. Then after feeding 10 hungry team members, I put all the leftover pasta in a casserole dish throw some more sauce on the top with some mozzarella (that is the most expensive part, I’m usually “cheap” on the cheese) freeze it and pull it out the following Tuesday for dinner. It has become a joke at the shop, but the food is delicious and we do what we need to do to survive. What would we rather spend or money on, wrist pins or food? I can feed 10 people two meals for approximately $20. I love Sam’s Club!!!
I also thought about it. Everyone on our team is a multitasked. There are many examples, but I will give you just two. Ryan Ramos is our bottom end guy, our rack builder extraordinaire, and is also our travel agent. He spends days just finding us the most inexpensive hotels and airfare. Mike Kern, our crew chief, is also the man with all the answers. All of our team members know they can rely on Mike, anywhere from how to make garlic bread to how to tune an 8,000 horsepower beast.
Good Night… for at least an hour, before my daughter wakes up!
Keep up to speed with Zizzo Racing at ZizzoRacing.com, Facebook.com/TJZizzo, Zizzo Racing’s official page on Facebook, Twitter.com/TJZizzo, Twitter.com/ZizzoRacing, YouTube/TJZizzo and PEAKAuto.com. You get the picture!