PART-TIME IS THE BEST TIME FOR ZIZZO AND HIS TEAM
As the adage goes, "There's always one person who doesn't get the memo." Clearly, T.J. Zizzo didn't get the memo mandating a part-time nitro operation isn't supposed to be competitive.
The Rust-Oleum-sponsored Zizzo coined the "super part-timer" phrase for the racers like him who compete part-time and know how to go rounds, and at his hometown event, the NHRA Route 66 Nationals reached the semi-finals.
"It's quite amazing that we could take almost 20 months off and still come out swinging with all new equipment," Zizzoi said. "[That's a] testament to our team members. It's a testament to everyone that has surrounded this race car for a decade and a half. Some of them have been with us for almost 30 years or more. And it's a testament of how hard we work away from the racetrack. I love when we're at an event, and fans come up and say, 'Oh my God, you guys come out here and do so well, I want to work for you."
"I say, 'Well, show up at the shop on Tuesday night. We'll start there."
As Zizzo sees it, many want the limelight, and few want what it takes to be there. He takes it with a grain of salt when an aspiring crewmember says they will be there on Tuesday evening, far from the spotlights of the national event scene.
"It's so funny you ask how many actually show up because at Chicago, we had certainly two young gentlemen who really were thrilled about our performance and knew of us, and one has called the shop," said Zizzo, who was on vacation shortly after the Chicago event. "The other one texted me and stated that he was going to be by on Tuesday, and guess what? He didn't show up."
Zizzo said what happens on Tuesday is what he credits for the Sunday success. Bob Tasca Sr. might have quipped, "Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday," but Zizzo's "Work on Tuesday, Win on Sunday" is making waves in the racing community.
"Isn't that amazing?" Zizzo said. "We come out there and make it look so glamorous, but it's all the work and dedication behind the scenes that make us look good over the weekend. And that's hard to come by. I think that's the reason we're somewhat successful. We don't put our race car away and pull it out at the next event. We pull it out on a Monday morning and start hustling on it until our next event."
Whenever that next event might be is always the $3.5 Million question, the current rate to field a front-running full-time Top Fuel program. But in this case, Zizzo said wholeheartedly it will be the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio.
"Been at poolside ordering parts," Zizzo admitted. "By racing a limited schedule, we get a chance to regroup, get all our parts in order, and get enough equipment to go out there and do it well. Of course, I noticed right away at our first race back in almost two years that everything has become more expensive. From our hotel rooms to our crankshafts, everything is now... I wonder how these teams are doing it and going out there week in and week out with a limited amount of parts and resources that are out there right now."
Norwalk made better financial sense for the Illinois-based team; even though their semi-final finish in Chicago qualified them to participate in the #2Fast2Tasty Shootout during the rain-impacted NHRA New England Nationals, it was a berth Zizzo politely declined to take the NHRA up on.
"Of course, we had to think about it a little, but we said, 'No, we're going to stick to our guns," AZizzo said. "Racing on a part-time basis keeps us fueled. All of us have our regular jobs. So we still thoroughly as a team, enjoy what we do, and that's exciting to us. We don't come to the shop to be worn out by our 9:00 to 5:00 job, meaning we're at the shop working on new experiences for us.
"We're not at Home Depot working. We're not at Zizzo Autobody working. We're on Zizzo Racing time, enjoying what we're doing. The camaraderie of our team, if I could even say that word, is fantastic."
With all that good ju-ju going on, who needs to race full-time?
"So awfully lucky not to race full-time," Zizzo said surprisingly. "Don't want it, don't need it. We enjoy our team and who's on our team, and we enjoy going out and doing a good job on a minimal basis."
The key to being on a successful straight line, Zizzo adds, is having a successful championship tuner in the background. Since 2005, Zizzo said he'd enjoyed a good working relationship with Rahn Tobler.
"Even though he worked on full-time teams, he always looked out for us," Zizzo said. "If there was something new coming out that he preferred we run in our car, he would let us know. If there was something new that came out that people were running on their car that he didn't like, he would let us know. And over time, he saved us a lot of money in aggravation. So he's always been a part of our team from afar. And in 2021, when he retired from the NAPA team, he helped us out at a couple of events.
The combination of Tobler's expertise and a steadily growing notebook of data has enabled Zizzo and his team to become championship contenders without the headache of pursuing one. He's been there and done that and got the t-shirt. The t-shirt he loves having. The championship? Well, as he sees it, someone else can have that.
"The only time I had a chance in Top Fuel to chase a championship was in 2007 when we raised IHRA," Zizzo explained. "I remember it being grueling. I remember it being very stressful. In fact, I don't remember a lot of good from it. I look back at doing this on a part-time basis, and I cherish it.
"So, going after a championship does not sound enjoyable to a 47-year-old man. Maybe if I was in my 20s, I would love to do it. I do think [chasing a championship] it's overrated. The sport is a great sport. I love it. Everyone that is participating in it must love it because they're not doing it for the almighty dollar. And going after the championship, what does it really get you at the end of the day? I believe it pays maybe $500,000. It doesn't even pay for the hotel rooms for the year. So it doesn't sound exciting to me whatsoever."