to the Final Four of the 50th Annual Gatornationals
GAINESVILLE, Fla.—With March Madness kicking off in NCAA hoops, TJ Zizzo took the Rust-Oleum Rocket to the Final Four of the 50th Annual Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals from the ninth qualifying position Sunday at Gainesville Raceway. Zizzo, a second-generation racer, defeated Scott Palmer and class top qualifier Brittany Force before falling to Richie Crampton.
The Australian entered the weekend as the event’s defending winner and earned the Top Fuel Wally for the second-straight year with his victory over Clay Millican.
The Gators were filled with new heights and momentum-building, beginning when Zizzo earned his first-ever provisional No. 1 after Friday’s two rounds of qualifying. While he eventually fell to ninth after Q4, he made up for it Sunday, winning a pedal fest against veteran wheelman Palmer and earning a holeshot win over 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion Force with a .018 second advantage on the tree.
The race against Crampton was close for most of the track until Zizzo’s rail lost a cylinder near 700 feet.
“I would call this the best weekend in Zizzo Racing history,” TJ said after helping the team get the car back in the hauler. “That’s what I would call it. We had a great chance to win and lost that semi-final round by seriously a five-dollar part! A five-dollar push rod adjuster broken and that’s all it took. It put out No. 5 cylinder and after that, it was over.
“We had a great day. The team turned this car around so fast after second round, it was spectacular. Turned the car around, did a great job with it.”
It was a memorable season opener and a race that builds momentum for the team’s next outing, scheduled for Zizzo’s home track of Route 66 Raceway during the NHRA Nationals there May 30-June 2.
“Just a great weekend in general and we’re looking forward to Chicago!” he said. “We’re going to prepare, we’re going to do really good, and we’re going to capitalize on our opportunities at Chicago. And we looked good! When you run good and you look good, it doesn’t get much better than that!”
The scheduled start time of 11 a.m. was moved back more than 30 minutes due to rain with a lengthy delay after Zizzo’s run in the first round. The schedule change wrought havoc throughout the pits, especially with Zizzo Racing’s squad of volunteers, all of whom have “real” jobs to report to during the week.
“I’m jumping in the semi with my dad and all the guys got flights out tomorrow, so they’re staying a day later,” TJ said. “Gotta say, there’s a lot of dedicated guys on this team. These are all volunteer, part-time guys and they all chose to stick around for today, which shows how awesome this team is.
“They didn’t give up or say ‘I need to make a flight to get back to work tomorrow.’ I’m sure they’ll hear it from their bosses Tuesday morning, but that’s the dedication we have here at Zizzo Racing.”
By The Numbers:
Q1: 3.827 seconds at 320.74 mph
Q2: 3.762 seconds at 323.35 mph
Q3: 10.389 seconds at 84.01 mph
Q4: 3.753 seconds at 328.62 mph
E1: 4.467 seconds at 287.84 mph (def. Scott Palmer)
E2: 3.764 seconds at 325.92 mph (def. Brittany Force)
E3: 3.844 seconds at 297.42 mph (lost to Richie Crampton)
Fans of TJ Zizzo and Zizzo Racing can find updates and photos of the Rust-Oleum Top Fuel team by checking out ZizzoRacing.com, Twitter at @ZizzoRacing, Instagram at @TJZizzo, and Facebook.com/TJZizzo. -ZR-
Zizzo Racing has been involved in drag racing at the top levels for more than 30 years. Based in Lincolnshire, Ill. and owned by Tony Zizzo, the team started racing in 1980 in the Top Alcohol Dragster class, moving to nitro with TJ in 2004 after earning his class license. In 2007, TJ Zizzo finished second in the final IHRA standings and now competes on a part-time basis in the NHRA Mello Yello Series.