JOLIET, Ill.—Just before the skies above Route 66 Raceway opened up, releasing lightning and torrential rains, the NHRA Mello Yello Series Top Fuel class wrapped up its final qualifying round of the weekend. TJ Zizzo, area native and driver of the Rust-Oleum Rocket, raced his way to 9th on the ladder for the NHRA Route 66 Nationals.
Saturday kicked off with Zizzo’s annual Nitro Cakes, with the second-gen racing veteran feeding fans, racers, and media for free from the Rust-Oleum pit, followed by an autograph session at the Mello Yello fan experience. The first round of the day was positive, a 3.835-second lap at 320.74 mph. The second one was not, a 6.065-second pass at 102.95. While it wasn’t a great way to get down the track, it wasn’t a surprise.
“We had two good rounds and two break-in-tire rounds,” Zizzo said. “Simple as that. We had two good runs doing what we know how to do here and two rounds where we were breaking in new tires, which has to be done sometime.”
Zizzo Racing only competes at a few events a season, but has made their bones being one of the more competitive cars on the property whenever they show up. Last year here, Zizzo made it to the semi-final round. During their season-opening performance at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., once again, they made it to the semis.
It wasn’t always this way. The team used to race more events, but won fewer rounds on the average. Now, experience, quality parts, and track time have combined to create a Top Fuel team taken seriously whenever they roll through the beams. Zizzo explained the difference between running 10-13 races a year and winning a round or two and racing three or four times a year and winning rounds at nearly every race.
“It’s pressure,” he said. “Quite simply, it’s pressure. When you don’t have a competitive race car, you’re here to have fun. When you have a competitive race car, you’re here to turn on win lights. And that’s where we’re at as a team.”
Eliminations kick off Sunday at 11 a.m. CDT. Zizzo faces Don Schumacher Racing driver, Leah Pritchet, who qualified 8th.
By The Numbers:
Q1: 6.023 seconds at 107.60 mph
Q2: 3.782 seconds at 323.12 mph
Q3: 3.835 seconds at 320.74 mph
Q4: 6.065 seconds at 102.95 mph
One Wally Down…: TJ already earned one Wally this weekend thanks to former NHRA Funny Car champ Jack Beckman. Thursday night, TJ and the Rust-Oleum team joined Beckman for a night of charity bowling with the proceeds going to the Infinite Hero Foundation. Zizzo earned the special Wally with a one-point lead!
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.