The 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Series season is getting an early start for T.J. Zizzo.
The veteran Top Fuel pilot, who has been making his season debuts deep in the season in recent years, will roll out his dragster for the 50th running of the Gatornationals March 14-17 at Gainesville, Fla.
“There are multiple reasons why we are coming out at Gainesville,” Zizzo said. “No. 1 is Rust-Oleum wanted us to go out early this year. We have usually waited until spring time, summer time and they are debuting a new product, that’s not even out in stores yet, so they wanted us to go out early just to show it off a little bit. This race also is supposed to be a big race. The last time we raced there was 2014. The last time we raced there our crew chief (Mike Kern, who works for the government) was meeting with the President of the United States, which was Barack Obama at the time. This will be a little different because at least I don’t have to go there worried that I’m going to screw something up, which is a good thing.
I joked with Dom Lagana recently and told him the last time we were here at the Gatornationals you were starting our car. Now, we will probably pair up against each other in the first round of qualifying.”
Zizzo is quite upbeat about what his team is bringing to the table for the Gatornationals. A year ago, Zizzo competed in two races – the JEGS Route 66 NHRA Nationals at Joliet, Ill., (May 31-June 3) and the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals (Aug. 29-Sept. 3) at Indianapolis.
“We are better than ever,” Zizzo said. “Our big push over the winter time was that we gained supercharger improvements so that’s a positive and most importantly, though, we lost over 100 pounds (off the dragster). Our car was notoriously over 100 pounds heavy going over the scales. We worked feverishly trying to remove that weight and it cost a lot of money to lose that weight. Literally anything from removing brackets to putting a brand-new light weight rear-end in there to putting a body on that’s a lot shorter to taking all paint off the car and having titanium out the wazoo. That was a big deal to us. We weighed it (March 3) and the goal over the offseason was for us to lose between 90 and 120 pounds off the car and we lost 101 pounds off the car. I think that’s going to shock the car. It should move easier, which will allow us better 60-foot times and so on and so forth, but the car is probably going to handle different as well.”
Zizzo said the first laps in his new-look dragster will be in Q1 Friday at the Gatornationals.
However, his team is equipped for the challenge.
“When we left Indy last year, we could have gone to three more races with what we had,” Zizzo said. “We’ve done what is right. We are gathering more money, but we also at the same time not going to more events. We’re buying this equipment. Are we buying this equipment to go to more events in the future? Absolutely. The thing we are lacking right now, truly and quite honestly are brand-new blocks and we’re going to go down that road soon here. We’re lacking brand-new blocks and a brand-new car. Our blocks we have are fine and our car has performed flawlessly, so why change it. I thought about building a new car over the winter and lose this weight, but every time I talk to someone like Rahn Tobler, or Bobby Lagana or Dom Lagana or Murf McKinney or whoever, they are like ‘Why mess with your car? Your car runs so well.’ So, we just decided to lighten up our 1999 Murf McKinney car.”
Zizzo is unclear how many races he will compete at in 2019, but he does have some more financial backing which will help him make his decision on a schedule.
“We have a brand-new marketing partner,” Zizzo said. “It’s a guy who I met in Las Vegas. I was there at the NHRA national event in October and I helped set up the Rust-Oleum booth and my dad and I went to the regional event the following weekend. My dad and I were looking at the Top Dragsters because he has an older Top Alcohol Dragster and he’s thinking about converting it to a Top Dragster. We were walking through the staging lanes and this guy (Bob Button) bumps into us and asked, ‘What are you guys doing here?’ I told him we were checking out Top Dragsters. He said, ‘You guys are kind of lost, you don’t belong here.”
I told him I was T.J. Zizzo and my dad introduced himself and he ended up being a super cool dude. He emailed the next day when I got home and said, ‘I would really like to help you guys out. I have seen what you have done and read your articles on CompetitionPlus. I have seen you guys perform and I want to help you out and be part of the Zizzo Nation. I thought that’s cool. He owns a successful trucking company, but he realizes he’s not going to make more money sponsoring our race car, but he wants to be involved and see what is about. It’s neat that a guy like that sees us in the staging lanes and has what we have done and wants to help. I wonder how many more people that are out there would want to do this for us.”
Zizzo is excited about the options his slate will have this season.
“We are starting to build up this big arsenal and it is what we have dreamed of doing really,” Zizzo said. “When we were competing at 12 or 14 events we didn’t have half the equipment we have today. So, now we can gear back up to that. I told our guys in October that I was willing to go to more events and my crew members looked at me and said, ‘I have not heard you say that in seven years.’ We are gearing up to go to more. I can’t promise that will happen this year. We will do three races this year, and if I could find more guys like Bob Button, I would absolutely go to more events.”
Zizzo said his team will compete again in Joliet, Ill., (May 30-June 2) and definitely the U.S. Nationals (Aug. 28-Sept. 2) in Indy.
“There also quite a few races in the Midwest like St. Louis, Norwalk (Ohio) and then we love going to Las Vegas in October,” Zizzo said. “There are quite a few we are looking at and we will see where it all ends up. But right now, we are definitely doing three and looking to do more as this year progresses and we have the equipment to do it, which is unreal. Our body shop has come a long in the past three or four years and that’s the reason I could think about going racing again. The right people are in place in our body shop (Zizzo Auto Body) to allow it to run better than when I’m there.
We have had the same core team members (for our NHRA team), for more than a decade. That’s the primary reason we can sit idle for six months and out qualify full-time teams. Mike Kern receives guidance from Rahn Tobler (the crew chief on the Dom Schumacher Racing Funny Car driven by Ron Capps). Mike tunes the car and is very smart. The only piece of the puzzle that Mike lacks is experience in making many runs. That’s where Rahn helps. He points us in the correct direction. Another thing, Tony Smith has been a team member for more than 25 years and his attention to detail is second to none.”
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019