No one can say, “Hey, I have the most goals in my house hockey league. I think I’ll play for the Detroit Red Wings this weekend.” No one can just show up and dress out for the Dallas Cowboys any given NFL game day.
And no one can decide that his favorite Major League Baseball team is in town for an upcoming series and join the roster for a few games. It’s lunacy even to imagine that could happen.
However, that kind of mentality not only is acceptable in National Hot Rod Ass’n drag racing, but it serves a valuable purpose.
These part-time racers play more of a role than fans might realize. They sometimes fill out the 16-car fields, throw a monkey wrench into the championship points chase, surprise with a round victory or two, and are among the more popular racers.
One of the most affable and well-liked drivers is Top Fuel’s T.J. Zizzo, who happened to advance to his first final round at Indianapolis last year.
“When you have other jobs and other obligations throughout the work year, racing interrupts that. We could have gone out months ago, but we have a lot of things happening in our businesses. So we thought, ‘Let’s get some of that organized and continue to work on our race car, make improvements, and go out when we are ready.’ We have a great group of guys who show up and work on our race car, no matter what I’m doing.”
It sounds a bit like when couples say they’ll start a family or buy a house “when the time is right.” No time is perfect for a drag racer — and yet, any time is perfect.
“I guess that’s the beauty of our situation,” Zizzo said. “Our marketing partners aren’t pushy. We have an obligation to them and all we have to do is fulfill it, with their blessing. It’s kind of a perfect situation. Yeah, I say, ‘when we’re ready,’ but we’re racers — we’re always ready and eager to race. So I don’t think it’s quite like a pregnancy or buying a house — it’s a lot more fun than all that stuff.
“I still love what we do. For years, people have asked, ‘Why don’t you try to go full time? Because I’ve got way many other things going on,” Zizzo continued. “This is important to me. It’s part of my lifestyle — drag racing is a lifestyle. I’m taking a lot of time from my wife and kids to be able to compete at a very high level when we do go. But I love it because I don’t have to worry about it every day. I don’t have to worry if we’re No. 1 in points or if our sponsor’s happy with us or ‘Do I have enough money coming in?’ or ‘Holy s—! I just blew a body off the car and I’ve got to go find one for the next weekend.’ I can just park it for a little while and go back to it later. It is a love affair. That’s why fans like us — because we treat it as recreation, as fun. That’s what it is.
“There’s a delight to that. There’s truly an enjoyment.”
Zizzo invented his own term for the phenomenon.
“I call us super part-timers. Super part time is really what we are. We led the charge in competitive part-time teams. Now I’m seeing it more and more, where there’s a handful of guys who go out on a part-time basis but you count them in when they’re on the entry list. And I take great pride in probably our team being able to get full-time team members fired from their position — because ‘How can these Zizzos come in here on a part-time basis, and guess what? They outqualify us. That’s not right. I’m paying you guys full-time salaries to make our team the best it can be, and these super part-time guys come in here and outshine us.’ We take pride in stuff like that.”
Zizzo emphasizes that he has the opportunity to choose what he does.
“I love it. And there was a time when I didn’t have a choice. We, as a collective team, all make choices about what we want to do and where we want to go. That’s a wonderful situation. I still have to make sure all our marketing partners are happy with us and what we’re doing. Then we can go out and kick some ass,” Zizzo said. “I think since 2015, we’ve gone to events and qualified in the top half of the field or right there and expected to win first round, race in and race out. I’m not saying it’s going to happen (next time), but the chances are pretty good.”
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