You know that feeling when your favorite NHRA racer is having an incredible weekend and then loses in the first round on Sunday? Sucks, right? Let me tell you, it sucks even more in E1 on Monday of US Nationals weekend. I know because it happened to me.
In addition to writing for DI, doing a podcast for the Performance Racing Network (Bruton Smith’s racing radio network), and some other stuff, I do the PR for TJ Zizzo & the Rust-Oleum Rocket team. I’ve been doing it since 2010 and it’s been a great run. I even wrote a little story about TJ. You should read it.
We lost to Blake Alexander in the first round of the Big Go this year. We hazed the tires, he hazed the tires, but he did it later and for a shorter period of time, so he got the win. We knew it was going to be a hard race, but what we didn’t know was how much that loss would hurt.
We used to race for a different sponsor—one that writes bigger checks for its new driver—and we weren’t as successful. Nothing against that sponsor. It is what it is. But we had to run a lot of races on a small budget, which meant we weren’t given much of a chance to race on Sunday, if we made the show at all. Losing then was still hard, but we got used to it. It didn’t make us any happier, but we knew going into E1, we had to count on something going wrong in the other lane.
Being on a more successful team means different things. It means qualifying should go better, and it has. It means more rounds need to be won on Sunday and won straight up, instead of hoping the opponent shakes the tires. The team has done that. It also means when you come to the track, no one is looking past you anymore. You’re getting their best effort.
That means losing sucks more than it used to.
I didn’t just think we were going to win first round that Monday, I thought we had a legitimate shot to win the whole damned thing. Seriously. When Mike Kern’s tuneups are paired with TJ’s years of experience, our amazing crew’s ability to thrash with the best of them, and NHRA’s new track prep, I showed up at Indy believing we had every chance to finally hoist that Wally at the end of the day.
By the way, I’ve never touched a Wally. Not when I worked at what used to be Gateway International Raceway, not as a member of the media, not ever. Because the first Wally I want to touch is one I have helped earn. I thought we had a shot at that at Indy. We qualified eighth. We were second-quick during the hottest qualifying run of the weekend (Q3) and fourth-fast the round prior to that. We were ready. And we lost anyway.
So did a bunch of others. Reigning Top Fuel champ Brittany Force went out in the first round. So did eight-time titleholder Tony Schumacher. That made zero difference to us. It hurt. It was that sick feeling in your gut you just can’t get rid of. And no matter how many times you’ve lost before, no matter how many incredible hall-of-fame-worthy drivers and teams have also gone out early, like they all have the majority of the time, it doesn’t matter. It hurts to lose, especially on that stage, in front of that crowd, when you’ve talked so. Much. SHIT.
OK, so we’re getting to the meat of it. I tend to run my mouth around my peers. And other racers. And to pretty much anyone who will listen. Otherwise, what’s the point of racing? You’re there to hurt feelings and make someone hate their day. Drag racing isn’t the place for participation medals, kids. Believe that with a quickness.
What drag racing is the place for, is your family. Whether blood or racing fuel, the same thing flows through your veins. You lose, you dust yourself off, you pout for a minute, then you go back to work. Losing at Indy sucks, but I had the chance to lose at Indy. That’s not something a lot of folks have and I’m forever grateful.
Losing sucks, but it makes the eventual win that much sweeter.