Meet Mike Zizzo, vice president of media relations at Texas Motor Speedway, which is again hosting the luminous extravaganza, Gift of Lights. Zizzo is in his ninth year with TMS, which is known for spectacular events but Zizzo calls the Gift of Lights one of the highlights of the year. A portion of the proceeds from the elaborate light display benefit Speedway Children’s Charities, which is the charity arm of Texas Motor Speedway.
During his tenure at Texas Motor Speedway, Zizzo created Broadcast Media Center, Pit Stop Park, Tony Stewart “Smoke Show,” 10 Years Strong commemorative book and the Wall of Champions. He has also made it his mission to continue the giving spirit with programs like Speeding To Help community outreach program, and “Speeding To Read” education initiative, among other projects.
Zizzo's contributions and programs have earned him recognization. He is the first two-time recipient of the Public Relations Representative of the Year for NASCAR National Series Tracks, with the most recent honor being awarded for the 2013 season. We wanted to know more about Zizzo and the Gift of Lights at Texas Motor Speedway and he was kind enough to answer a few questions:
Dawn Tongish: Gift of LIghts is always a favorite holiday tradition at Texas Motor Speedway. Can you describe it for someone who hasn't been to the event?
Mike Zizzo: All of us enjoy Christmas light displays ranging from our neighborhoods to commercial outlets during the holiday season, but this display takes it to the next level. The Gift of Lights features more than 600 custom LED displays of holiday scenes and characters from elves to snowmen and everything in between. It also has a visually stunning tunnel of lights and an appearance by Santa Claus himself every evening. What makes it unique is that you get to enjoy it from the comfort of your vehicle and take it all in with family and friends as you drive past the various displays on the concourse beneath the frontstretch grandstands and around the outside of the track. If you have friends and family in town during the holidays, it is a unique event to take them to while in the Metroplex and a great deal at $20 per carload.
DT: It is a charity event. Where do the proceeds go?
MZ: A portion of the proceeds will benefit Speedway Children’s Charities, which is the charity arm of Texas Motor Speedway since it opened in 1997. The Gift of Lights also partners with Toys for Tots, Ronald McDonald House and Boy Scouts of America with portions of the proceeds also benefiting these organizations.
DT: What is your best advice on how to come prepared to enjoy the Gift of Lights?
MZ: Take the largest vehicle you have so you can enjoy the display with friends and family and it is always fun to bring movie-type snacks to munch on while you enjoy the entertainment. If you have a Christmas CD you can pop in as well will enhance the drive too. You may also want to have an iPad or camera handy to record some of the best displays. And, most of all, don’t forget to stop and visit with Santa!
DT: Texas Motor Speedway is known for supporting surrounding communities and organizations. Can you talk about the good works being done including supporting Speedway Children's Charities?
MZ: Speedway Children’s Charities-Texas Chapter has played a significant role in the lives of children in the four North Texas counties it serves – Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant. To illustrate the impact, one could fill the grandstands of Texas Motor Speedway 16 times with the number of children that have benefited from the charity’s support. The funds raised to help benefit Speedway Children’s Charities -Texas Chapter are generated through special events held throughout the year at Texas Motor Speedway. The most recent (Dec. 2) was the annual Speedway Children’s Charities Tree Lighting & Grant Ceremony at the speedway, where the organization distributed more than $300,000 in grant money. The Tarrant Area Food Bank received a $150,000 Founder’s Grant, which will be utilized to improve the amount of children they can reach with the mobile pantry program. You can visit www.scctexas.org to learn more about the Texas Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities and its events.
DT: What is your holiday wish for North Texas?
MZ: That everyone receives race tickets from Santa in their stockings! To be honest, it would be the age-old wish of peace and good will to all. You can never have enough of either not only in North Texas but around the world.
DT: What is on the agenda for race fans at TMS in the new year? Anything new in 2015?
MZ: For those who missed it this year, there were a few additions that may interest them in making sure to visit Texas Motor Speedway in 2015. We added the world’s largest high-definition LED video board – nicknamed Big Hoss TV – to enhance the fan experience and it has received rave reviews. The folks from the immensely popular A&E reality show “Duck Dynasty” are now part of the fabric of our April race weekend as their company Duck Commander is the title sponsor of our NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on the evening of Saturday, April 11. Willie, Si, Jase, Sadie and the entire Robertson family was on hand this year and plan to be back in full force in 2015 with various fan-related events around the April 9-11 Duck Commander 500 NASCAR doubleheader weekend. Our other two major weekends are the Firestone 500 race weekend on June 5-6 featuring the Verizon IndyCar Series’ only stop in Texas and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and then we culminate with the AAA Texas 500 NASCAR tripleheader on Nov. 6-8. The AAA Texas 500 is part of the Eliminator 8 segment of the new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format that debuted this year and it provided plenty of drama and post-race excitement, in particular the melee with Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon. We also debuted a new event in 2014 – the Red Bull Air Race World Championship – and the series returns in 2015 on Sept. 26-27 as one of only two stops in the United States.
For more information on "Gift of Lights," please visit www.tmsgiftoflights.com or contact Christmas by Zenith at (800) 276-6344.