Last year we competed, but we were not happy with our performance. We were missing a few parts that would allow us to get back into “the mix” again. Over the winter we purchased cylinder heads from Don Schumacher Racing and spent a lot of time getting them prepped before our first race at the O’Reilly Route 66 Nationals at Joliet in June. Joliet was a test session for us and on our very first run we saw our combination had promise. It seemed like we turned a corner the second we bolted those heads on the car and I stood on the gas.
Going into the U.S. Nationals and running a career best pass was spectacular. From my perspective I feel we finally have the parts, pieces and team to compete at a high level. I have the feeling I did back in 2010 when I woke up on race day and felt like we had a chance to go rounds. That is exactly how I felt Monday at Indianapolis.
It was so nice to finally dip into the 3.70s at Indy and it couldn’t have come at a better time. That run put us solidly in the toughest field of the year. Our entire team was pumped; they were so excited at the starting line I wish I could have been standing next to them. Unfortunately, I never get a chance to embrace in the celebration when we have a successful run, but I do get to see pictures and videos after the run. On our starting line video that we take every run I can’t see the celebration but I certainly hear it and those are sounds I can’t erase from my mind. Don’t get me wrong I get to feel the power of the car and drive the fastest hot rod in the world and that is hard to replace, but seeing the team at the starting line and all their efforts paying off is something I certainly miss.
I have a video of Tony Smith our long time team member on my phone. He is a guy that does not show a ton of emotion, but to see him watch the car accelerate down the track, look at the scoreboard and pump his fist high into the air and cheer out loud is awesome to see. When I am having “one of those days” I stop and play it on my phone and everything gets better.
I have no idea what will happen when we win our first NHRA National event. Our entire team has poured so much of their life into our program that I bet it will be very emotional. Many of our team members have worked together for about a decade. We have worked very hard through thick and thin and that is why we have respect from all of our competitors. Indy was a perfect example, I was walking by a group of drivers after driver introductions on Monday morning and they stopped me and stated “man you make the rest of us look bad, you come out to the toughest race of the year and you run really strong. We compete at every event and you come out and run better than us.” Another team member stated “you remind all of us why we do this!” He was jacked that we were so pumped at the starting line after we ran our first 3.79.
Unfortunately our great weekend at the US Nationals ended early on Monday with a BANG! We broke a cam shaft and blew the top half of the engine off the car. Our explosion was a big one. I have been asked many times what went through my mind at that point... all I can think was do we still have a chance to win. When it blew up and there was fire in the cock pit, all I could do was look over and see if Vandergriff was having troubles or smoking the tires. After I saw that he was streaking to the finish line it was my job to get stopped and pull to the side of the track as soon as possible. When I came to a stop after the finish line I saw a lot of hot parts smoking as they passed me. I could identify most of the parts and thought to myself….. that was expensive.
We learned as a team that we are not ready for a huge explosion. After the explosion we could not have returned for the next round even if we would have won. We are going to work on having the inventory over the winter so we will be ready the next time that happens. Trust me, it will happen again, it is the nature of these new heads and how much power they make. These cars are making a ton of power and they are straining, I can feel the clutch pulling on the engine and the engine telling the clutch nope you are not sucking the power out of me, I have more power! It is like a game of tug of war. The engine is breathing more than ever before, breathing more fuel, air and fire! It is downright mean!
I feel like I am going to the moon each and every run now that we have our new cylinder heads. Our car used to accelerate at about 500 feet to the finish line, but now it kicks me in the butt at about 250 feet and continues to accelerate to the finish line. I feel every revolution of the crank shaft. The engine and clutch assemblies are working hard.
Indy was awesome because I saw confidence in our crew chief, Mike Kern that I have never seen before. That stems from the car going together exactly the same every time. Our team members are awesome and they care about every nut and bolt they touch. When the car is assembled perfectly he can make a change and see the results. Mike and our entire team work well together. When other teams were struggling on the track we went right down the groove and had one of the quickest runs of the session.
We will carry that momentum into Vegas and roll the dice. God has a plan and we will see what he has in store for us.
Stay in touch with me via Facebook and give us a ‘Like’ at Facebook.com/TJZizzo, Twitter @ZizzoRacing, and our website ZizzoRacing.com. Come join our team!
Old World Industries (Peak and all its brands) have allowed my dad, me, and our entire team to do something very special the past ten years. Without their support, we could not have lived our drag racing dream. As a kid working on my dad’s Alcohol Dragster, I never would have imagined competing in the NHRA Mello Yello Series Top Fuel class. It was not even on the radar.
Our very first marketing partner, Champion Packaging, hooked us up with OWI and the rest is history.
Zizzo Racing built the Peak program one race at a time. I will never forget the first time my dad placed a small associate Peak decal on our top fuel dragster at the Gatornationals in 2004 and I met Brian Bohlander from Peak. I was so proud to represent a very powerful and well-known brand. We grew the program to a major associate sponsor for two races the next year. Then we grew to a four-race package, then a seven-race deal, finally getting the opportunity to run 10 races in 2012 and half the NHRA events last year. Our goal was to run the entire NHRA schedule, but could never pick up the remaining funding to make that happen.
We continued representing Peak as we grew the program through 2013. I always represented them with pride and dignity. I was always boasting about how much I enjoyed working for them. I am a true working-mans’ driver that could relate to Peak’s consumers. I physically work on our car and at our body shop every day. As a small, independent, family-run team, we are so proud of what we have built.
It was a pleasure working with a great organization and company. From the receptionist to the owners, we always got along well and did what was right for our businesses.
I feel very strongly that OWI and Zizzo Racing have built a program that has benefited everyone and I want you to know how much I enjoyed the opportunity.
I also want to thank everyone at OWI for a strong and loyal partnership with Zizzo Racing for more than a decade. Together, we put smiles on the faces of hundreds of thousands of fans and sold Peak customers on our independence and our passion.
Our entire team was granted many opportunities because of Peak.
Our entire team continues to assemble during the week. We are busy certifying, purchasing equipment, and prepping our parts to race at a very high level. We got a taste of success last year in Seattle when we made it to the semifinal round and we are looking forward to perform at that level and better in the future. We were so close last year to running with the best teams in the sport and we still have our sights on competing at a higher level.
We have been racing since 1980 and we will continue to race for the next 35 years. Fortunately, our associate sponsors will allow us to continue racing in 2014 and of course we are always looking for sponsorship. We are ready to race. The semi, dragster, and team are ready to rock at a moment’s notice. We will even rent the car to a new driver as well. We can provide a safe, strong-running car with a team that is already in place.
Even if we slow down our race schedule this year, it will give us an opportunity to race my dad’s Alcohol Dragster more than we have the past few years. Also he has a Pro Street car he has always wanted to race at a drag strip. My daughter is old enough for a Jr. Dragster, so we will give that a try. My dad just bought back his first-ever dragster. Out of the clear blue sky, a guy called him and said he had his first car. I know my dad well enough to know he is going to refurbish that rear-engine dragster car to be perfect and running and ready to run in a nostalgia class. It is a very rare streamliner and will be very cool to see rip down the track; maybe even on nitro.
I am very pleased to have had Old World’s brands on our car the past ten years and I appreciate every one of their employees for standing behind every 320-mph pass. I know John Force and the rest of John Force Racing will continue to represent the Peak brand at a very high level.
I remember when I was 10 years old, pushing my Honda ATC (three-wheeler) up the driveway at my parents’ house. My dad has always had a body shop in our back yard, so he was always “home.” I pushed it up to the front door of the shop because I flipped it multiple times down the side of a hill and it would no longer go into first gear. Of course he shook his head in disbelief asking what I was thinking and so on -- I am sure he was in the middle of “real life,” meaning dealing with me, customers, running a business, bills, etc. I am sure you can understand the scenario. The older I get, the more I understand what “real life” is!
Well, the reason I titled this blog “33 Years Later and Nothing has Changed,” is because I am still bringing my dad motorized vehicles that no longer run. Now they are just longer, faster, and way more complex. My dad and our PEAK Motor Oil team give me a perfectly good racecar and I usually return it “wasted.” Before I continue along, I want to make it perfectly clear my dad is not the type that gives me any slack. Even as a kid, if I was not using my brain and I did something stupid, it was on me to fix whatever I had broken. But if it just wore out, he was always willing to lend a helping hand and teach me how to fix it. He never handed me anything on a silver platter, I can guarantee that!
Now it is a little different. My dad and I have a great team that rallies around a beast of a burden that is usually smokin’, poppin’ and bangin’ coming back into the pit area after a 320-mph run. I still see on occasion my dad shaking his head in disbelief, but I have never abused something more than it should have been and he respects that. I have never brought his car back feeling like I over drove the heck out of it and it was my fault that the team and I had more work to do because I was stupid. In my 22-year driving career, I have seen plenty of drivers who did not realize their right foot was not a ratchet and the throttle pedal can come back as fast as it went forward. If I operated in that way, my dad would have not put up with me for more than 33 years since I have been bangin’ gears on all sorts of motorized vehicles. Since the first time I climbed on a Yamaha YZ50 and crashed into the tree in the front yard, to our last race at the US Nationals when the connecting rods were laying in the oil pan, he has continued to smile most of the time for the last 33 years.
Recently it dawned on me, my dad gave up driving full time when he was 40 years old in order for me to make a name for myself behind the wheel and I will be 40 years old in two years. Does that mean I will be giving up driving in order for my kids to start their driving careers? Those are the sacrifices my dad made for me and I am sure eventually….not anytime soon….I will be making for my kids.
As I type this, my dad is driving down the road in the semi on the way to Dallas. After we perform at our PEAK in Dallas, we will finish up the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Series season in Vegas. As always, feel free to stop by our pit area and say hello. If you do not have the opportunity to get out to the track keep up with me on: Facebook (TJ Zizzo), Twitter (@TJZizzo), YouTube.com/TJZizzo, Zizzo Racing/Ebay.com, PeakAuto.com and Instagram.com/ZizzoPEAK.
I also want to give a shout out to all the corporations that allow our team to push our dragster to the limit: PEAK Motor Oil, Herculiner Bed Liner, Final Charge Heavy Duty Antifreeze made by PEAK of course, PEAK Electronics, Blue DEF, Indak Lighting, HTP Welding, FLATOUT Gaskets, AES Engines, Tuxco Corporation, Kit DeAndre, PGA @ Liberty Lake Golf Course, Illinois State University, Mechanix Wear, Clevite Bearings, Weld Wheels, GRP Connecting Rods and Strange Engineering.
Recently I had to stop and thank my dad’s neighbor. For months, I've been thinking about how cool my parents' neighbors were growing up. I know you're thinking I'm writing about the neighborhood kids, but I'm talking about their parents.
I had many friends in the neighborhood; in fact, one of those friends worked on our Alcohol Dragster and also our NHRA Mello Yello Series PEAK Motor Oil Top Fueler today. We grew up together and are still great friends. Although he now has other interests like hiking the Appalachian Trail with his girlfriend, he still helps us without hesitation when we need him.
Anyway back to my story.
It was not the kids in the neighborhood I needed to thank, it was their parents! I grew up on a cul-de-sac with six houses and each house had an acre of land. Unfortunately, the three households on our side of the street had to put up with a lot! The houses on the other side of the street just had to put up with an occasional blast up and down the street to get all the mud off my motorcycles’ tires.
When we moved in, I was 13 and all I wanted to do every day was ride my four-wheeler and motorcycles. We had vacant property behind all three of the houses including my parents' property, about six acres in all. I got up one morning with a chainsaw and a dream. I wanted to build a motocross track...and I did not stop for five years! Every day I was out there with neighborhood kids cutting trees and digging jumps and berms. We called it the “chainsaw massacre.” Keep in mind it was not my property; in fact, we really did not know who owned it, but that did not slow me down.
Every day we cut a new section of the track and it turned out pretty awesome. My parents were happy I dedicated all my time to something “constructive” and I was not out getting in trouble at a party, but what must the neighbors thought? I think my parents paid them off!
Back to my story. I was driving up my dad’s street and I gave one of the neighbors a wave like I always do. You know the wave. “Hey, how are you doin’?” with a smile. Who talks to people anymore? I do!
A few days later I saw her and she was pulling out of her driveway and again I drove by and waved. I thought to myself, I need to thank her! This time I stopped at the top of the street and I saw she was right behind me, so I put my car in neutral put the emergency brake on and got out of my car with a smile on my face. She must have thought I was nuts at this point, although I think she figured out that 25 years ago when I was riding my motorcycles from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. every day.
I walked up to the window of her car and just said THANK YOU for being such a great neighbor. Between my dad’s stunts up and down the street with his Pro Mod street car, customers from our body shop and 20 team members' vehicles on her street on Tuesdays and Sundays, she has put up with a lot living next to my dad! Especially when he obliterated her mailbox while losing control of his blown Willys. Yep, I replaced that mailbox before she got home from vacation with direction from one of her grown kids. Let me tell you, digging a hole in frozen ground is no easy task.
Once again back to the story. She just looked at me in amazement, like why are you thanking me? I, of course, explained myself and we had a great conversation about years gone by--her kids' adventures and now her grandkids' adventures. She stated her oldest son was always into cars and snowmobiles growing up so she understood my passion.
After our conversation I hopped back into my car and thought about the past and all the good memories I had, all because my parents had great neighbors. They could have shut my “chainsaw massacre” down the day I started.
One more quick story. The other family on my dad’s side of the street is the team member I mentioned earlier who still helps on our PEAK Motor Oil Top Fueler. While my parents were building their house, they became friendly right away with them. One of the first days I met their kids I burned their Honda Trail 70 to the ground. Honestly, I think their mom was happy although the kids were certainly heart broken. The fire department came and everything. That is a story for another day as well. Man, I have a lot of stories!
On the racing side of my creative life, our team is very fortunate to be racing at the next four NHRA Mello Yello Series events. It will be the first time we have the opportunity race at four races in a row and travel to the Northwest. We are jacked!
My wife and I decided not to take an RV out west because the cost of diesel is “nuts,” so my wife and kids decided to meet me out in Seattle. Here is what is going to happen at the race in Seattle: we will qualify well, my wife and kids will fly in on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon they will be standing in the winner’s circle with our entire team. I can’t wait!
I am the guy that is always entertaining fans at out pit area. Feel free to stop by and say hello. If you do not have the opportunity to get out to the track keep up with me on: Facebook (TJ Zizzo), Twitter (@TJZizzo), YouTube.com/TJZizzo, Zizzo Racing/Ebay.com, PeakAuto.com and Instagram.com/ZizzoPEAK.