Features

Posted by: T.J. Zizzo
A great team in action at Route 66 Raceway.
Joe Cluts and Rick Messmore enjoying the day.
I love washing all our teams uniforms by hand. That is TLC!
Tony Smith is the man. 20 years with Zizzo Racing. There is no way we could have done all this without him.
I really enjoy educating children on drag racing.

There was a time in my life when I poured myself a tall glass of orange juice to start every day. Those were the days when putting on a helmet and stomping on the gas was a major part of my job description. Now I need a cup of coffee in the morning to get me going. With age and experience, I now have a new group of responsibilities and challenges, but driving is still one of them. What’s next? Full Throttle all day long!

I often joke with our team. I tell them that driving our PEAK Motor Oil/Herculiner Top Fuel dragster is the least of my worries all weekend long. I say that jokingly because truthfully, it is still the most important thing I do all weekend long. I proved that this year in Houston! I turned on the red light (badly) and felt terrible for a long time.

Driving is still a challenge. After driving a dragster for 20-plus years you would think driving would get easier. That is true in a sense that experience is gained, but as the team gets better the driver needs to be that much better and more. Just look at Top Fuel; the competition is ferocious. In my eight year career in Top Fuel, I have never seen it so competitive on race day.

Keeping the car on all fours and turning on win lights is what I do. When my crew chief, Mike Kern, spins the starter over and my dad pulls the coil wires, that car is all mine. At that point the car is assembled to perfection and the tune up is decided. The only one that can screw it up is me; it’s just me and that machine.

Going back to my earlier sentence, driving is still the most important thing I will do all weekend. Sure, getting potential marketing partners to the track and entertaining new partnerships is a high priority but at the end of the day, my job is to drive that car.

After my mistake in Houston, we had a team meeting. The team came to the conclusion that I need to give myself more than the motion of putting on my fire suit and helmet to prepare for a pass. They asked that I take 15 minutes to think and prepare for the run before I climb into the car. I was hesitant at first, but ultimately they were correct! I always have been one of those people that think of other people first and on occasion that has exhausted me mentally and physically. Now I give myself a little more time to enjoy the moment.

Our team is very unique. We work twice as hard because our entire team has a job to go to on Monday morning. When we are at the track, fans do not believe me when I tell them that our team members have other jobs, too. I usually go on to explain our work environment at the shop as well. I also talk about how we choose to do that now so we can continue to invest in equipment and inventory. If we had to spend our resources on a mortgage, we could not compete at the level in which we are currently. I can’t bring a utility bill or a mortgage payment to our current marketing partners and explain to them why we did not perform to the level in which they are accustomed to. Instead as a team we invest in technology and purchase better parts.

Trust me, working in a confined area is not what I want to do for the rest of my career, but it is what we are doing now to survive. Do not think for even a minute that I can’t wait to give our team members (including myself and my dad) the option and ask them if they want to work on a Top Fuel car full time, but right now it is not in the cards. We are able to pay all their expenses and they are included in a bonus program which is better than we were able to do just a few years ago. We are on the correct path. As a team, we are in better shape than we have been but my goal is to be able to offer each and every person on our team a full time gig. They deserve it.

We have learned so much as a team in the past eight years since we joined the Top Fuel class In the NHRA Full Throttle Series that it would take hundreds of pages to describe all the sacrifices that each team member has made for our team. Every time we assemble at the shop, I always thank them for their commitment and dedication. I know if it were not for their hard work and dedication, Zizzo Racing would not be at the level we are at today.

I see where this sport has gone and a few people can’t do it all. It takes an army of great people. I am very proud of our entire team! They care about me and I care about them. I am surrounded by a great group of people who breathe nitro.

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.

God bless!
 

All in an “off” day’s work!Tuesday, July 05, 2011
Posted by: T.J. Zizzo
Full Throttle is my beverage of choice while on a nonstop, 24 road trip at 2 in the morning.
After a hard days work some of our team members indulged in a margarita.
"Freak" and I were hanging out at the starting line party at RT 66. He loves the sport of drag racing!
Here are my kids on the roller coaster at the festival. Of coarse the little speed demons were on the first car.
Ronald McDonald and I hanging out at a Ronald McDonald House Charities event. I'm Lovin' It!
That desk is where all the "magic" happens!

It’s late at night and my family is sleeping up a storm. I had a great Saturday. My 4-year-old son climbed up the steps early this morning and wanted to go to the “big” McDonald's. That is code for the Oasis McDonald's on I-94. I was happy to start my day, so I got him dressed and we ran out of the house.

The weather in the Chicago area this year has been less than desirable, but this morning was beautiful. We have had only 10 nice days this year and that may be a high estimate. We hopped in the car, jumped on the toll way and headed to the “big” Mickey D’s.

We enjoyed our breakfast overlooking the toll way. I explained to him that we are very lucky to live in a country where we can hit the road, end up thousands of miles away and not be hassled crossing borders. After we talked politics and enjoyed seeing some “race trailers” drive under us we were out of there.

I ran home to deliver breakfast in bed to my wife and daughter, and then I ran to our body shop. I had a part to unmask and drop off at a local mechanical shop that refers customers to our shop. It was now 8:30 a.m., and I had to get to a meeting. It was a marketing meeting, which lasted until just after noon. Zizzo Racing is about to make a move in a positive direction!

I had to run back to the shop to pick up my dad and Cathie because they were boarding a plane to Sicily to pick up my ailing grandma. They will only be away for a total of four days, but at this point before Joliet it might as well be two weeks. My grandma has become ill, and she is not able to care for herself at this time, so my dad and his brother are going to take her to a doctor in the States to help provide some comfort for her. Socialized medicine is great until you need to use it! Doctors do not seem to go above and beyond over there. They give you a few drops of a “special” liquid that you put in your tea and tell you there is “nothing more we can do, you are getting old.” Enough with the politics.

Anyway, I ran my dad and Cathie to the airport and ran back to the shop where TS (clutch specialist Tony Smith) was working on clutch parts and preparing them for Joliet. I spoke to him for a few minutes then I was off to my house. I told my wife I would be home by 1:45 to take my family to a pool party. Of course, I was a little late. My wife always asks me why I am always a few minutes late. I explain to her that I try to do in one day what most people do in two days.

I ran upstairs, ripped off my “meeting clothes” and tossed on my bathing suit and a T-shirt, jumped into her car and we were off. I could tell she was disappointed we were going to be a little late to the party, but as I say she still likes me, but I do not think she loves me anymore. Speaking of love we just celebrated our 10-year anniversary. I told her on our honeymoon that if she could put up with me for 10 years I would do something special for her, so I took her to On the Border (a national restaurant chain). Yep, I am a romantic!

We got to the pool party and I enjoyed a few hours with my family and friends. We went down the water slides and floated down the lazy river. My kids loved it! After cake and more swimming we decided to go to my mom’s house. There was a festival in her town and I love summer festivals. They are great places to people watch and where else can you go and spend one dollar a minute on games and rides. Well, I guess it is more economical than $12,000 in 3.8 seconds for my ride. After spending 60 dollars in 60 minutes, we walked to a local park where my kids made note that the park was more fun than the festival. Go figure!

We went back to my mom’s house, relaxed for a little while, then drove home. Both of our kids proceeded to pass out on our way home. I did not have much to eat since the “big” McDonald's at seven in the morning… although I did have a few bites of my kids' food at the pool party. My wife and I put the kids to bed and I cleaned the litter boxes and some hair balls (puke) from our cats. We have four cats at our house, and they are a lot of work. Maybe in a later blog I can explain how four cats came to fruition. All I need to say is always ask for your wife’s permission on anything that is “permanent.”

My wife and I finally sat down for dinner. After that I had a choice — go to bed or start typing. I decided to start typing. Right now I have the best of both worlds. I have qualifying from Norwalk playing on my DVR and I am typing this blog. So… If this does not read well, or seems to be all over the map that is because I stopped to watch my favorite program on TV. I apologize!

So here I am on a Saturday night/Early Sunday morning typing this, and I will be getting up early for a celebrity guest appearance at a Ronald McDonald House charities event in the morning. After that I will go to the shop and meet with the team. We are working hard to make sure we have a great outing at Route 66 Raceway, our home track!

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.

God bless!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Too many thoughts and ideasFriday, June 03, 2011
Posted by: T.J. Zizzo

I have so many thoughts going through my mind that sometimes I am overwhelmed with what I should write about. I know everyone’s time is limited and if you are going to spend time reading this blog it better be worth it. I believe everyone reading this knows my results from our last race in Houston. I drank too much Full Throttle before first round and I went red. Truthfully, I just messed up, as I stepped on the gas I asked myself, “WHY DID YOU DO THAT?” My heart sank to an all-time low and I thought I would need a PEAK Jump-Starter to restart my heart after that mistake. I felt terrible for the team and all of our marketing partners, but like any mistake, I will put it behind me and do a better job next time.

It’s that time of year and I am deep into yard work. I find it very therapeutic and it gives me a chance to reflect on life in the big city. Many things were going through my mind while shoveling many yards of mulch, when it came to me. I finally narrowed it down and I knew what I was going to write about.

My dad just turned 60 a few weeks ago and that was huge! He was not very excited about turning 60 even though I told him that today’s 60 is like yesterday’s 40. To him, it was all about the number.

His dad only lived a few years after that milestone. I have thought about that and most importantly, I am sure he has, too. There is big difference between my dad and his. I was young when my grandpa passed away, but I remember him as someone who was quiet and did not have the same passion for life as my dad does.

It all made sense to me when I was looking for a card and preparing for his 60th birthday party. There was nothing in the “happy 60th” aisle for my dad. The cards spoke about retiring, relaxing and getting old; that is far from my dad. He is full of energy and still dives into projects every day full steam ahead.


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Maddie (my daughter) is standing were I stood as a kid for 10 hours a day. It was great, a lot or debris would be thrown at me why the jet cars ran.
 
It’s been a while since he last drove his Alcohol Dragster, so over Memorial Day weekend we went to Union Grove, Wis., home of the world-famous Great Lakes Dragaway and he impressed the heck out of me. He had great throttle control in the burnout and made nice straight passes down the quarter-mile. He also dove under his Alcohol Dragster to check bearings and that is just plain cool.

On the last warm up, we discovered the tachometer did not work and Tony Smith (very long-time team member) said to him, “Jay Payne doesn’t need a tach, why do you?” I said the only difference is my dad only makes four passes a year and Jay makes hundreds a year. I guess it’s like riding a bike and my dad proved he didn’t need a stinkin’ tach either.

It was great to bring the alcohol car out of retirement and see my dad smile from ear to ear when we went to pick him up at the top end. He still has the fire of a 30-year-old and I often tell him that he will outlive everyone his age. He continues to get up every morning and have a list of things to do a mile long; he does more in one day than most people do in two. That will keep him going strong for many more years to come. Drag racing keeps people young and living long lives — just take a look at the Chris “The Greek” Karamesines.

Going to Union Grove was a great time, but it gave me more appreciation for what our team has accomplished. There is nothing like running a Top Fuel dragster in front of 100,000 fans. The power is awesome and the concussion on your body is spectacular.

All the effort our team pours into our PEAK Motor Oil Top Fueler is starting to pay dividends. It is only a matter of time until we win a Wally. The win will not come because we lucked through all four rounds, but because we are good and deserve it!

I have been hard at work with PEAK, Herculiner and other current and potential marketing partners more in the past year than I have in the past 30 years. My goal is to give everyone on our team an opportunity to show the drag racing world what we are capable of. Racing once every two months is not conducive to success and we need to race more often.

Thank you for spending your time reading this blog. I am going to use my HTP welder, fill my car with PEAK products, apply some Herculiner bedliner to our dually, put up some Indak LED lights in the shop, then go to the golf course to use my new “ZIZ” Titleist balls that golf professional Kit DeAndre sent me.

One more thought, as I type this I am watching the Indy 500. It is a great American race, but where did all the American drivers go?

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!

God bless!

Posted by: T.J. Zizzo
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!

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