After nearly two years away, TJ Zizzo returned to his home track at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., Sunday, earning a semi-final berth. For the third time at the facility, Zizzo and the Rust-Oleum Rocket qualified 16th and beat No. 1, this time Mike Salinas, to advance.
With one useable qual round (3.795 at 325.92 mph, Q2), Zizzo barely made the field, but once he did, he displayed why he’s one of the most-feared part-timers in Top Fuel. During his E1 victory, he set a personal record ET of 3.712 seconds. From there, it was on.
“Running that 3.71 in the first round was our biggest positive this weekend,” said Zizzo via a press release. “No doubt. That was our career-best and stood up as the quickest run in Top Fuel on race day in a clutch moment. That single run turned our entire program around.”
Zizzo, a native of Lincolnshire, Ill., topped Leah Pruett in the second round. Turning on the win light in E2 let him know he was in the field and in a position to earn his first Top Fuel Wally. At home, to boot.
“I was not surprised by that win at all,” Zizzo said of Rd. 2. “I have all the faith in the world with all of our guys. They are the same people who have worked on this racecar for a decade and a half. We have the knowledge, and now we have some good parts. We put some really good stuff in the car today and the guys made a great choice of tune-up.
“Thanks very much to Gerber Collision & Glass for putting this event on. PEAK as well. They were sponsors of ours for 12 years, they got us to this point, with the rest of our sponsors.”
Unfortunately, Zizzo’s day ended in the semis, facing eventual class runner-up Josh Hart. After two solid passes, the Rust-Oleum rocket hazed the tires on the hit. Hart would go on to lose to Clay Millican, winning his first race in five years, ironically at Joliet.
While unable to get two more win lights, the ever-upbeat Zizzo saw the positive in a great day for his team.
“There is nothing like having success at your hometown track, surrounded by friends and family,” said Zizzo. “I am so grateful that this race is back on the calendar, and I can’t wait to see what we are able to do here, for many years to come. I do feel like I let some people down but we are going to keep fighting.”
In addition to going rounds Zizzo qualified for NHRA’s new Mission #2Fast2Tasty Top Fuel Challenge. The race-within-a-race runs through the season and thanks to his fourth-place finish, he’s entered in that field at the June 2-4 event in Epping, N.H.
The only issue is whether the Rust-Oluem team is attending the race. They had planned on four Nationals events this year and Epping wasn’t on the list. Zizzo said the team is discussing their options.
The second-gen racer was asked, given Joliet sat shuttered for three years and is rumored to be sold soon, how big was it to have a day like Sunday. The response he texted back can’t be printed; however, the gist was he was incredibly stoked and proud of how he and his team rose to the challenge in front of his biggest fans.