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.
I can’t believe it is that time of year already! It is time to compete at our hometown race at the nicest facility in the country. Not only do the fans come unglued when we run well, but Route 66 Raceway is packed with our team members’ friends and family.
Our team is one of a kind. Someday when I have some spare time, I am going to write a book on how each team member started at Zizzo Racing and mark each adventure we have had…. we have had a lot of adventures over the years! We have been blessed with a great and unique group of team members.
We now have 20 members and it seems to grow every day. It is anchored by my dad and team owner, Captain Tony Zizzo (as our first crew Chief John “Smitty” Harris gave him that nickname). My dad is a risk taker. I do not know anyone more dedicated and passionate about drag racing. He recently retired (he gets a social security check every month), but still gets up and gets after it every day. He even drives the semi to all the races and loves every second of it. Sure he does!
Second in command is crew chief Mike Kern. He has proven himself time and time again with long hours at the shop and dedication that runs in his veins. He is driven to perfection! Our clutch specialist and 22-year veteran of Zizzo Racing TS (formally known as Tony Smith) is like a brother and coach to me. Like my dad and I, TS and I know exactly what we are thinking just with simple eye contact. Most business owners can’t find employees that are dedicated for 22 years let alone work on a race car team for that long.
Car chief Rick Messmore is the voice of reason on our team and always has his knuckles to the grind stone. He does whatever it takes with a big smile and I always say he is the nicest guy I know. My dad’s fiancé Cathie Gallo is our biggest fan and wants nothing but the best for our team every weekend. She also puts up with my dad in the semi traveling all the highways and byways and sometimes dirt roads in this great country.
Joe Cluts (he does not need a nickname with that last name) and longtime engine builder is usually clapping and has the most obnoxious burps of all time and truly the only guy I know that can give my dad a hard time and not be knocked on his ass. By the way he is a heck of a mechanic, too! Chris “Silver Fox” Schneider is a “wrenchin' mofo” that can get it done. He doesn’t say a ton, but his actions speak louder than his words. He is one bad to the bone mechanic.
Ryan Ramos long time bottom end man is a stud. He is the best looking dude on our team (according to my wife) and chicks dig him. I will catch chick’s eye ballin’ him when they walk by. Also anyone that gets fuel, hot oil, and metal dropped on them constantly without truly complaining is OK in my book. Mike “Kanks” Adams is a great guy and has been with us for years. I knew he had a heart of gold when he introduced his friend Chris Schneider to our team before he offered his services although he really wanted the job first. He is the leader of the “Fab Five” and having him in our pit is entertaining.
Matt Blager is a friend of mine from Illinois State University and is learning every day. He is always looking for a way to take on a job to help out in anyway shape or form. He is smart and wants to improve anything he touches. Kevin Adler is retired and only in his mid-forties. I know I will not be able to do that. He does not have the most mechanical experience on our team, but he does have the most time. He has snuggled up with all our cylinder heads the past year and has done a good job. Most importantly his wife is my kid’s principal; I need to make sure I do not piss him off.
Brandon Mudd, our PR dude, is a stud. Elon Werner of John Force Racing introduced him to us many years ago and he has been a great addition to our team. He has the passion for the sport and is always the first PR person at the track because he wants to be!
Ken Sowinski is our newest on the road team member and works harder than any one I have ever seen. He is in his sixties and is usually the first one working and the last one to turn it off at the end of the night. I sometimes ask him to take a break and catch his breath. If you ask anyone on our team I never ask anyone to take a break. He has been a great addition to our team. I can’t believe we have found great people that care as much as my dad and I. I always say it starts at the top and my dad is the most detail orientated person I know and everyone respects it.
We have some old team members like Ricky Dale and Doug Wikell who fill in if we need an extra hand at the events. Both of them wish they were on the road with us full time, but they have other fish to fry right now. We also picked up a few new guys in the past couple of years that work at the shop and occasionally get to go on the road with us. Brian Colby is a college student who holds down a full time job and still continues to find time to drive two hours to our shop every chance he gets. I could write an entire book on the team members travel to and from the shop, most of our guys live more than an hour from our shop and they continue to show up at the shop, snow or shine.
Ryan Serkowski just graduated from high school and is training to become a fireman. Darryl Olandese has helped us with just about everything at the shop including my dad’s alcohol dragster. Luke Anderson is the newest addition and we are still breaking him in. He has mechanical knowledge and I can guarantee he will be placed on the roster in the future.
Without dedicated team members (friends) Zizzo Racing would not exist, period! I appreciate all their missed opportunities. They sacrifice a lot to see this crazy Italian zip down the track at the speed of light. I dedicate a toast to all their hard work, passion and sense of pride! God bless them and their families.
If you remember from my past blogs, I keep all my things to do on separate Post-Its. I am positive the needle on 3M’s stock has ticked upward with the amount of money I spent on Post-Its. Besides the waste of hard-earned money, it was getting cumbersome working around all those Post-Its on my desk. I eventually ran out of space.
Then I decided to type out a list of things to do and put it in a folder on my computers desk top labeled “#^%$ To Do.” Here is the problem: when I am sanding and painting cars, I do not have an opportunity to check my computer, so I went back to what worked: my Post-Its. Eventually, that got out of hand again.
I now have a better system … at least I think I do! I have a pad of paper that I write a list of things to do on every night for the next day. I did this with a twist; I put an estimated time next to each task. I am a goal-orientated person. I love building lists and marking them complete. The only problem is, I rarely accomplish what I want to get done. That is where the time table next to the task gets interesting.
The first night I was building my list for the next day, it was 25 items long (that is normal). I started with putting an estimated time next to each item, knowing that my estimated time is usually way too short. That is what happens when you are a perfectionist, everything takes longer because it has been checked, double-checked and triple-checked. Yes! I have problems!
Anyway back to my story …
As I put my times next to the items, I realized I had a conservative 48 hours of work to get done in an 18-hour work day. I am sure I am not the only one to try to get too much accomplished in a single day. Drag racing fans and racers are always on the edge of deadlines. We are a different breed. How can we spend so much time messaging and caressing something for “it” (the run) to only last a few seconds? No comment! When I noticed the time it would take to get the next day’s list of things to do finished, I had a reality check. No wonder I did not hug my kids very often and I was never able to kiss my wife--I was never home. I had to put the brakes on my life a little bit. As you can imagine, that only lasted a short time.
I am sure you have figured out by now that I am the type of person who is always on edge. All it takes is one small issue and I spin out of control for the day. I really need to learn how to relax and enjoy the moment. The issue I have is I am always looking forward to that next challenge. It really is a sickness.
With all that being said, it has been a productive offseason and I did spend more time with my family compared to offseasons gone by. It was enjoyable; we did not go anywhere spectacular or do anything really “cool.” We spent time at home in front of the fireplace and enjoyed each other’s company. I know when my wife reads this she will not remember those days because since New Year’s Day I have not had a day off. Also, my things to do lists are not working as well as I expected. I keep on moving my things to do to the following day and now I am a week behind. Hence my belated blog!
Here is my conclusion: I will get all those items on my to-do list finished after Pomona. I am in full Pomona mode; I am jacked up and ready to stand on the gas of our 10,000-horsepower PEAK Motor Oil Top Fuel dragster.
The semi pulled out of the shop on Saturday and it is currently in Oklahoma. Right now, I am sitting at Chicago O’Hare airport because my plane just got cancelled. I had a flight to Nashville scheduled for an O’Reilly Auto Parts manager’s conference. Now I am on standby for the next flight at 5 p.m. I hope to catch that flight so I do not disappoint 5,000 O’Reilly Auto Parts store managers. At least the delay gave me time to catch up on my blog. This is the life of a “big-time” drag racer. I love every minute of it and I would not change a thing!
See you at Pomona. I will be the guy with a smile and drinking a Mello Yello!