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Passion and love of a sport fuels Sparks racing business
by Dan McGee
Jan 21, 2013 | 4211 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Dan McGee — Bud Fizone stands in his shop between two Junior Comp dragsters and on the floor is a Junior Dragster that racers from 8- to 9-year-olds can begin their racing careers with. He, his wife and partner Bob Wash operate and own Visions Race Cars.
Tribune/Dan McGee — Bud Fizone stands in his shop between two Junior Comp dragsters and on the floor is a Junior Dragster that racers from 8- to 9-year-olds can begin their racing careers with. He, his wife and partner Bob Wash operate and own Visions Race Cars.
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Tribune photo by Dan McGee — Visions Race Cars builds all types of race cars but it specializes in Junior Dragsters. Here, owner Bud Fizone holds a "Junior Wally," the trophy young racers all want to win at divisional races.
Tribune photo by Dan McGee — Visions Race Cars builds all types of race cars but it specializes in Junior Dragsters. Here, owner Bud Fizone holds a "Junior Wally," the trophy young racers all want to win at divisional races.
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Photo courtesy Visions Race Cars — A driver is about to run the quarter mile in Fontana, Calif. in a Junior Comp car produced by this Sparks firm. It's the most powerful car young racers drive after they leave the lower junior dragster ranks.
Photo courtesy Visions Race Cars — A driver is about to run the quarter mile in Fontana, Calif. in a Junior Comp car produced by this Sparks firm. It's the most powerful car young racers drive after they leave the lower junior dragster ranks.
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SPARKS — A small fabrication shop located at the intersection of Greg Street and Rock Boulevard is where Bud and Joan Fizone, along with partner Bob Wash, give back to a sport they love. And their shop, Visions Race Cars, is helping the next generation of drag racers start their careers.

Fizone's involvement in the sport began when he was a youngster.

"I got involved in racing probably around 1958. It's always been drag racing but it was my father's dream that I went to Indy Car racing since that's where he came from," he said. "He was a crew chief on one of them but I wanted to go with Nitro and dragsters."

He got started in drag racing as a 14-year-old crewmember and over the years has raced everything from passenger cars to Top Fuel dragsters as well as watched the sport evolve into what it is today.

"My first actual race was in 1961 I believe at Irwindale Raceway, which was then known as River Grade Raceway," he said. "I was working in a fab shop, like this, as a helper so I had an idea of what my first race would be like. But it was so stimulating and so exciting to be up there and do it the bug was there."

His first big ride was in a 1965 Mustang owned by Bob Blynn, who had sponsorship from a Ford dealer. Later Fizone and Blynn went on to build and race a funny car.

Asked about driving a Funny Car, he said, "Actually it's very exciting, it takes a little more muscling. You use finesse to drive a dragster, you use muscle to drive a funny car."

Fizone explained the whole body plane of a funny car provided more force then does the wing and front canards of a dragster.

Over the years Fizone has driven both front and rear engine dragsters. The difference, he explained, is that in a front engine car the driver can see where its going but in a rear engine car the feel is different and if the motor has a problem it can't be seen.

"The kids of today are driving rear engine dragsters and the majority that go on in motor sports are looking at nostalgia or top fuel," he said.

Over his racing career Fizone said he's fastest speed was 225 mph. While he still drives, and sometimes tests the cars his shop builds for other people but he doesn't drive fuel cars anymore.

"Don't want to do it any more, it's not my desire to go out and live on the road," he said. "If you're on a fuel team today you race from Thursday through Sunday and then on Monday morning you're testing. Then Tuesday you fold up your tent and you go to the next track."

His career path changed after a young girl, who was almost a niece, said she wanted to go racing.

"We were running at that time an A Fuel dragster and she said, 'I want to go junior racing,'" he said. "I said if she could get her parents permission we'd make it happen."

Fizone didn't like the car he got so he bought out a company in Indianapolis, moved it to Sparks and that's how Visions Race Cars got started.

While Visions fabricates or modifies many cars, its specialty is building junior dragsters, a class that just celebrated its 21st anniversary. These little racecars are the training grounds for the next generation of racers.

Asked to explain the class he said, "A Junior Dragster is a scaled down version of the big car. It comes with a replica of a Briggs and Stratton lawnmower engine"

The youngest class is for 8- to 9-year-olds and when they turn 10 these drivers move up to the next class. Every step up the ladder the motors increase in power and the speeds they are restricted to increase.

All of the junior classes run a 1/8th mile track, 660 feet, and they are restricted to a certain top speed. As an example an 8-year-old can run no faster than a 12.9-second run while a 10-year-old can do 8.90 seconds while a 13-year-old driver can go 7.90 seconds.

The starters run on gasoline while the other two run on alcohol fuel.

Once a driver is 14 years old, they can participate in what is known as Junior Comp, which uses a bigger car and the cockpit is like one that races in the 7-second range. These cars use a GXR 1000 Suzuki motor but until they're 16 they still run the 1/8th mile at 6.9 seconds or 110 mph for their quickest times.

"After they turn 16 years old and get their operators license for a motor vehicle then they can apply for their competition license and race on the full quarter mile track and some have run a 9.05 second pass with a top speed of 152 mph," he said.

He related the story of a 16-year-old girl that showed up to get her driver's license on a Friday. Her examiner was really set back when she told him the license was needed so the girl could race at 150 miles an hour.

But getting that NHRA license is harder than passing her driver's test for a passenger car.

The first requirement is making six perfect runs down the track, under the watchful eye of a driver that holds a license in a higher category. One slip up and the process must be repeated.

They also must pass a blindfold test where the new driver has to prove they can find all the controls without having to look for them.

In fact Fizone's granddaughter once got her driver's license on a Friday, passed the tests for her competition license on Saturday and won her her first race on Sunday.

He did admits putting the company in Sparks came with some obstacles.

"My biggest challenge at getting going was that we located a little bit out of the mainstream of racing as Los Angeles is the mainstream of junior drag racing. But that was soon overcome and we started shipping cars to Southern California, to the Midwest, to Australia, to New Zealand and overseas. And as it progressed we've shipped cars all around the world now," he said.

The results are pretty impressive for a small shop.

The business does have a seasonal cycle starting with a lot of repair work early in the year then, at the season's end, replacing cars as drivers move up to the next level.

One thing that separates Visions from its competitors is that the shop also builds the adult version of cars. And their junior dragsters also look somewhat like a top fuel car but without the wings.

"It has a Top Fuel look to it, a windscreen the front suspension, the rear end as we manufacture what's called a four-link dragster," he said. "We're fashioned more like the big cars because that's our heritage."

At the division's anniversary there was a celebration at the Nationals held at Pomona, Calif. At that time the kids asked the pros to come and autograph their cars, many did and some got into the small cars as well.

Several pros got their start in junior dragsters.

Fizone added that many times people working their way up drag racing's ladder system really aren't there for the money but opportunity. However it takes dedication and a lot of hard work to make it a paying profession as in all forms of motor sports.

"If you take the average person that follows the circuit they travel between 40 and 50 thousand miles a year," he said. "So you have to have some sponsorship, some help. If you're a kid the family gives up an awful lot to do it."

One example he mentioned is 14-year-old Megan Shaffer from Yerington. She and her father are a single parent/single parent team. Right now there aren't too many youngsters in this area competing in junior dragsters as most have aged out so Fizone is looking for new prospects.

She is just one of the 5,000 youngsters competing in this program.

He explained that junior drag racing is a family in itself and when Top Gun Raceway in Fallon hosts its divisional race at Octane Fest will be a minimum of 55 of these cars, some as far as away as Denver and Phoenix. All the kids know each other and their families all help each other and socialize as a group.

"One of the things that's amazing is the grades these kids carry academically so they can race," he said. "They also learn public speaking as people come up and ask them questions."

When it's time for the divisional awards banquet the younger racers are included with the adults.

One aspect of the sport Fizone mentioned is that both the kids and their families learn both how to win and lose gracefully. Nothing is a given in motor sports and a good series of runs can go sour very quickly so these young people learn quickly how to handle each situation.

And at the races, if dad is competing in a big car the moms jump in and do all the tasks like setting up the car, doing the math needed for a good run, strapping their child into the dragster and telling them how they should do a burn out as well as the run.

In addition the kids, boys and girls, have tasks they also do with the car such as fueling, checking things. It's a busy time at a drag race meet.

When asked what he was thankful for Fizone said, "I thank the National Hot Rod Association for doing what they do for kids. I thank the tire developers like Mickey Thompson for making a safe tire. And Crow for making safety equipment for the kids. They make equipment dedicated to kids.

Racing is a dangerous sport so we want to take advantage of every bit of safety we can. When we develop a car, a system that protects the kids, and not just kids but all people. You're not just protecting yourself but you're protecting your competitor and spectators.

Over the years Fizone has watched many of those youngsters that raced his junior dragsters, grow into adults and are now driving cars that go from 250 to 300 miles an hour. Knowing that he was part of this is a great source of satisfaction.

Asked what was his least favorite part of the sport, he responded, "It's the drive home."

"My most favorite is watching a youngster develop," he said. "I would again use Megan Shaffer as a perfect example. In her second year she crashed and totaled her car but walked away unscathed. Then they had to save their money for a new car and now she finished fifth in her division, not too bad for a little girl that's only been doing this for three to four years."

He added at 21 they are aged out of the program and more of them are turning professional. And there are more girls than boys racing in this group.

"The girls are a threat to the boys and they let them know it," he said.

For Bud Fizone, his wife and partner the business has been fueled both by their passion and love for the sport. And he's very grateful to be where he is now.

"It's just fantastic, you just can't imagine. Not everybody has that opportunity to do it, I've got to live both sides of the fence and now I'm living it with the kids. And I find this to be the most achieving and most and gratifying," he said.

Those wishing more information should check their website at: www.visionsracecars.com
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