From a flapping hood on his beater car Thursday to flipping flapjacks for the fans Saturday, with a lightning scare that emptied the grandstands followed by a deluge that further delayed racing, Route 66 Nationals week has been an adventure for Lincolnshire, Ill., independent Top Fuel driver T.J. Zizzo.
He was preparing for work Thursday and thinking about the weekend ahead as he drove down the road, when his vision suddenly was blocked by something black and mysterious – “across my windshield, out of nowhere,” he recalled.
“At first I was like, ‘What the hell happened?’ I was thinking a panel from the semi in front of us came at me. I’m like, ‘No – that’s my hood,’” Zizzo said.
“I was in the left lane, so I was able to pull over to the left shoulder. No big deal. Slammed the hood back down and kept on trucking. The car’s out here in the parking lot,” the man who described himself as “someone who should have double-checked his hood” said. “The last time I opened the hood was in the dead of winter in Chicago. So it was cold – maybe 10 degrees outside, maybe zero. When I slammed it, it didn’t latch completely.”
That mishap behind him, Zizzo managed to qualify No. 9 and is set to race No. 8 Leah Pritchett when eliminations start.
“We had two good rounds and two break-in-tire rounds,” Zizzo said. “Simple as that. We had two good runs doing what we know how to do here and two rounds where we were breaking in new tires, which has to be done sometime.”
Zizzo Racing competes at only a few events each season but has run strong when it shows up. Zizzo advanced to the semifinal round at Route 66 last year. And he was provisional No. 1 qualifier and reached the semifinals this March at the Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla.
In the past, the team raced at more events but won fewer rounds. Now, with experience, quality parts, and track time, Zizzo is improving and is being taken more seriously in his Rust-Oleum Dragster. He said the difference between running 10-13 races a year and winning a round or two and racing three or four times a year and winning rounds at nearly every race is simple.
“It’s pressure,” he said. “Quite simply, it’s pressure. When you don’t have a competitive race car, you’re here to have fun. When you have a competitive race car, you’re here to turn on win lights. And that’s where we’re at as a team.”
Saturday morning he staged his annual Nitro Cakes, feeding fans for free at his pit. He followed with an autograph session at the Mello Yello fan experience.
On Sunday, Zizzo reached the quarterfinals, losing to No. 1 qualifier Mike Salinas.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019