Drag racing can be an incredibly humbling sport, and Top Fuel driver TJ Zizzo experienced that firsthand this weekend at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park. Zizzo finished qualifying in the No. 17 spot, just barely missing the opportunity to compete on Sunday. It is the first time since the U.S. Nationals in 2013 that he did not make the top 16.
“I am fine, but I am a little emotional,” said Zizzo, who raced to the semifinals at the Route 66 Nationals earlier this season. “This was a tough weekend. You get humbled in this sport pretty quickly. We knew there were a lot of great cars coming to Norwalk and it would be a challenge to qualify. I am disappointed, but I am also out here with my entire family, and we are doing this together which is the best.”
Norwalk was Zizzo’s second race of the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season. In May, he competed in the Gerber Collision & Glass Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by PEAK Performance in his hometown of Chicago. There in an upset he defeated the No. 1 qualifier Mike Salinas, and then advanced to the semi-final round of racing. In one of the best performances of his career, he set a new personal best elapsed time of 3.712 seconds.
“This weekend was the first race in a long time for us to compete in the heat,” said Zizzo. “We learned a lot and I think if we could have had one or two more runs, we would have made some big strides.”
Prior to this season, Zizzo had not competed in an NHRA event since 2021. During that off-period, he made the decision to reinvest in his team with the addition of a new racecar, thanks to the generous support of NHRA Hall of Fame driver and team owner, Don Schumacher.
“We’re still learning how to work with this new car,” said Zizzo. “We will work through it and get better. This is the best car I’ve ever ran with, we just need to get more runs underneath our belts to figure everything out.”
The driver of the Rust-Oleum Rocket Top Fuel dragster made improvements with every round of qualifying. In round one he smoked the tires and lost traction early, and in round two he hazed the tires and had to click off. His third run started strong, until around half-track when the car began mixing up cylinders, resulting in a 3.963 second pass at 255.00 mph.
“Friday was very wet, which makes everything more difficult,” said Zizzo. “It’s frustrating to smoke the tires when my guys worked hard all day. But we kept going at it on Saturday and did make some improvements. That’s how I know we are on the up and up.”
Despite the frustrations and disappointments, Zizzo remains thankful for the support of his crew, his family and his sponsors, who he sees as true partners of his Rust-Oleum Top Fuel team.
“We have sponsors to represent but they know what we are all about,” said Zizzo. “One race isn’t going to change that. The biggest positive is I am surrounded by great people and that is hands down the best part of this team. Even when we didn’t perform how we wanted to, no one was pointing fingers or upset at anyone. We are all working together and staying positive.”
Zizzo will be back in action at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals on Aug. 30-Sep. 4. He’s excited to take what he learned in Chicago and Norwalk to the popular race in Indianapolis.
“Our competitors know what our team is about, and everyone has been super supportive since we came back this season,” said Zizzo. “Norwalk was just our second race, and I can’t wait to get to Indy. It will be a fun weekend.”
Zizzo is planning to race at three additional NHRA events in 2023, including the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis and the NHRA Midwest Nationals in St. Louis.