CLERMONT, Ind. – After an extended period of off-track time and then, only two rounds of qualifying, TJ Zizzo and the crew of the Rust-Oleum Rocket gave the team its best-ever qualifying position in NHRA Mello Yello Series competition Saturday. Zizzo’s Q2 pass of 3.862 seconds at 310.41 mph gave the Chicagoland native a No 5. starting position for the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals here at Lucas Oil Raceway. Zizzo faces returning veteran and fan favorite Cory McClenathan, qualifying 12th, in the first round of eliminations Sunday.
“I believe this is our best qualifying position of all time, I think I can say that with some confidence that I’m correct,” he said through his custom-designed Rust-Oleum face mask. “Since we rolled in here, we’ve been working out some things, but truthfully, all the work we did through the COVID break is truly paying dividends.”
Zizzo was full of praise for his longtime crew chief, second-generation racer Mike Kern.
“Mike Kern worked feverishly to make these changes to upgrade the systems on our car to what is most current and for us to be able to roll out of the trailer, make those adjustments at the shop, and not have to come (to the track) and screw with it at all,” Zizzo said. “Hats off to him! I mean, hats off to Mike Kern. He worked really hard in the offseason to get this car right and it’s right!”
A number of successes in recent years have boosted the team’s confidence to an all-time high, despite not being regulars on the week-to-week grind of the Mello Yello Series season. Adapting the philosophy of going to fewer races and having the budget to run those races properly while using the decades of combined team experience to push the Rust-Oleum crew to their first NHRA Winner’s Circle is paying more and more dividends for the close-knit band.
Zizzo is aware of what his team brings to the table and he knows when he’s at the track, he’s not dismissed as an easy first-round win due to his non full-time status.
“Truthfully? There’s no doubt in our mind that we should have been No. 1 qualifier here,” he said. “That is the truth, so tomorrow should be fantastic. Really! It will be wonderful We got a great a car, we did well, it’s really nice to be out here.”
The NHRA Mello Yello Series event here this weekend is one of the first high-profile major league sporting events in the country to open itself to spectators. Zizzo said he has seen mass compliance to NHRA’s safety guidelines ensuring the spread of the COVID-19 virus to kept as minimal as possible.
“The fans have been very, very good, we’ve all kept our distance, masks have been worn, people are washing their hands more than ever,” Zizzo said. “I even notice that in our pit area, because our wash basin jug is full all the time.
“I think NHRA has done a good job,” he continued. “There were just enough fans to make this fun and enough fans here to make it work. It seems like all the guidelines have been met, which is really fantastic.”
For many at the track throughout the week and this weekend, there’s been a lightness. Friends and family who have been separated are now reunited at one of the best places on Earth.
“The thing about a drag strip is that it just takes all your worries away,” Zizzo said philosophically. “You take all your worries from home or from work, you come into a drag strip and fans are smiling, they’re having a good time, they’re enjoying themselves, they’re smelling nitro, and you get to shut out the rest of the world.
“One awesome reason why drag racing is friggin’ spectacular!”
Zizzo Racing By The Numbers:
Q1: 3.980 seconds at 278.52 mph
Q2: 3.862 seconds at 310.41 mph
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway eliminations are scheduled to kick off Sunday at 9 a.m.
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.
About Zizzo Racing:
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.
For nearly a century, Rust-Oleum has been the global leader in manufacturing innovative coatings that empower do-it-yourselfers and professionals alike across categories including small project paints, cleaners, primers, automotive, industrial, high performance coatings and wood care. Its wide breadth of brands and products include such trusted names as Rust-Oleum, Stops Rust®, Painter’s Touch®, Krud Kutter®, Universal®, EpoxyShield®, Varathane®, Zinsser®, MultiSpec®, Testors®, Modern Masters®, and Watco®. Visit www.Rustoleum.com for more information.