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Never Count TJ Zizzo Out in Chicago

For over 20 years, Top Fuel racer TJ Zizzo has been rolling into Rt. 66 Raceway chasing a dream. The Chicago native racing with his family team owned by his father Tony Zizzo, also a drag racing veteran, has proven time and time they are serious competitors. This weekend at the Gerber Collision & Glass Rt. 66 Nationals, May 17-19, Zizzo and his Rust-Oleum sponsored Top Fuel dragster will be looking to continue a streak of success with a consistent goal in mind. The team has won rounds and captured upset victories on race day, but standing in the winner’s circle hoisting the famed Wally trophy on Sunday afternoon is the ultimate prize.
“We are a family-owned team with crew members that have been with us for over 30 years,” said Zizzo, from his Chicago-based shop. “We come out to the races with winning as our number one goal. We have worked throughout the offseason making our race car better. Last year we built a new race car and made a big jump but this year we are in an even better position to really make quick runs and win some rounds. This Rust-Oleum Top Fuel dragster has been so close, and I think we can get there. I have so much confidence and cannot wait to get to the track.”

This year Zizzo Racing and the entire NHRA racing community will have a special person on their minds as they enter race weekend in Chicago. Over the off-season, Chicagoan and NHRA Hall of Fame driver and team owner Don Schumacher lost his battle with cancer. Throughout the weekend there will be several opportunities to celebrate Schumacher’s life and accomplishments on and off the track. For Zizzo the loss is especially hard because Schumacher was a great friend, mentor and supporter of his race team and family.
“Don Schumacher is one of the major reasons Zizzo Racing is still getting to do what we love at the highest level,” said Zizzo. “He was a great friend and mentor. His impact on racing and the Chicago business community was massive. I think about him every day and every time I go into the shop, I am thankful for every opportunity, every conversation, and the words of encouragement he gave me and our team. He was one of the iconic figures in our sport and this weekend will be a celebration of his generosity and impact.”
Last year Zizzo and the Rust-Oleum Top Fuel team which also added support this season from Dundee Heating and AC, Indak, Blager Concrete,Master Truck and Trailer and recently announced an extension with Button Transportation raced to the semifinals from the No. 16 qualifying position. This was the third time Zizzo won rounds as the No. 16 qualifier at the Chicago national event. He raced to the semifinals, his best effort at his home track in over two decades. The veteran team has proven that when the chips are down, they will not give up.

“Winning from the No. 16 spot is hard but also there is no pressure,” said Zizzo. “I do not put pressure on myself no matter where we are qualified. For our team we just need to get runs to get the best information and we use every round of qualifying to get better on race day we always surprise people. I do not care where we are qualified as long as we are in the show. There are a lot of good race cars that will be racing in Chicago, and we will be ready for whoever we have to race.”
Zizzo’s best qualifying effort came in 2018 when he raced to the No. 5 spot only to be upset in the first round by Scott Palmer. In 2017, Zizzo qualified No. 8 and took out Pat Dakin and Brittany Force in the first two rounds only to be ousted by eventual winner Steve Torrence in the semifinals. That finish would stand as Zizzo’s best effort prior to his semifinal finish last year, but not the most memorable race.
As the No. 16 qualifier in 2012, Zizzo upset No. 1 qualifier and fellow Chicagoan Tony Schumacher in the first round before losing to Hillary Will in the quarterfinals. The first round race was an epic effort for Zizzo who was first off the starting line against the sure-fire Hall of Famer Schumacher, .092 to .120, and he never trailed in the drag race. Prior to that race Zizzo was 0-5 versus the world champion. As Schumacher crossed the finish line, his engine let go in a huge fireball.
“We have had so many memorable moments in Chicago we want to make some new memories this year,” said Zizzo. “Last year we almost made it to the final. We ran great in the first two rounds and then smoked the tires against Josh Hart in the semis. You look at the competition now and it will be a fun weekend. I think you could see the quickest Top Fuel field in history if the weather cooperates so we will need to be prepared.”
Zizzo has raced at Rt. 66 Raceway more than any other facility on the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series tour. He will be surrounded by family and friends throughout the weekend. The added support is something that Zizzo enjoys and relishes.
“We love racing in Chicago,” said Zizzo. “It is our hometown track. Our sponsor Rust-Oleum is right up the road, so we get great support from them. I have family and friends from all over Chicago come to the races. The guys from the body shop come out. It will be an amazing weekend, and we want to put on a good show. I am so glad we are back here racing.”
In addition to the on-track activities, Zizzo will bring back his traditional Saturday morning pancake breakfast for the fans and his fellow competitors. The fan-favorite event is a way for Zizzo and his team to say thank you for the support and have some fun engaging with his fan base. The pancake breakfast will once again be held at the Rust-Oleum pit area on Saturday morning starting at approximately 8:30 a.m. and after the breakfast Zizzo will be the featured guest for Nitro School and interactive Q&A stage show with NHRA announce Alan Reinhart in the professional pit area.
“One of the many things that set NHRA drag racing apart from all other sports is the fan access,” said Zizzo. “On Saturday I will be serving pancakes to fans and then during Nitro School Alan and I will give fans insight into how the cars work. For long-time fans it is a chance to say hello again and for new fans we hope to give them tips to enjoy the race day a little better. I know I will be signing tons of hero cards all weekend and that is what makes NHRA unique.”
Qualifying for the Gerber Collision and Glass Route 66 NHRA Nationals will begin on Friday, May 17 with two sessions of the four professional categories. On Saturday, fans will be treated to two more qualifying sessions. The quickest 16 race cars, dragsters and motorcycles will race for the famed Wally trophy beginning at 11 a.m. on Sunday. The race will be broadcast nationally on FS1 Sunday evening.

This story was originally published on May 16, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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