Drivers vs. racersThursday, December 09, 2010
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, and ..because I can’t keep up with myself!

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