NHRA in Joliet: TJ Zizzo crew tries to make do
TJ Zizzo is getting tired of asking people for favors.
The Lincolnshire native pretty much has to rely on the charity and kindness of others, since Zizzo — and his entire crew — compete part-time in the NHRA’s Mello Yello series.
“I feel like I am taking away from their family time and work time when we go on the road or when we’re at the shop,” said Zizzo, who joined top fuel dragster drivers Tony Schumacher and Morgan Lucas on Wednesday at an NHRA event at Bar Toma on Chicago’s Gold Coast.
“But we don’t have the budget these (full-time) guys do, so we have to ask favors from other small business owners. ‘Hey, can you weld this for me, can you fix this?’ That wears on you.”
Zizzo will take that dedicated group of volunteers with him to Joliet from Thursday through Sunday when he drives his top fuel dragster in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.
Before Zizzo makes the long haul to Joliet from the northern suburbs, he probably will put in a few hours at his real job: Zizzo Enterprises Inc., his family’s auto body shop in Lincolnshire.
“Nobody knows we exist unless you know it’s there, which is pretty cool,” Zizzo said.
Zizzo, as well as members of his 20-person crew, has a day job and it’s one that Zizzo has had since he graduated with an industrial engineering degree from Illinois State.
On Zizzo’s graduation day from Illinois State, a family member encouraged him to get an engineering job and not work in his father’s shop.
Zizzo refused, and instead went to work at the auto body place and slowly built a 10-year career in top fuel dragsters. Zizzo has been racing since he was 5 years old.
“I continued to pursue it after college and it all fell into place,” Zizzo said. “It is a challenge to have a full-time job, too. All our team members have full-time jobs. And for us to compete, we dedicate only 12 hours a week to this.”
Zizzo isn’t the only local driver at the O’Reilly Nationals. Fellow north suburban resident Schumacher, of Long Grove, also is competing in the top fuel dragster category.
Schumacher, who along with his father, Don, has helped Zizzo many times, has 71 career wins and is the NHRA’s all-time leader in top fuel victories.
Certainly, Schumacher’s career is one that Zizzo hopes to emulate one day.
“The biggest obstacle is the lack of runs,” Zizzo said. “The issue we have is we’ve only made 20 runs to date for the year. Schumacher made those just in preseason testing in January. It’s just the lack of experience because of time.”