Race Reports

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You wouldn’t be able to blame Paul Lee if he’s just happy to be here. Not because he’s back doing what he loves after suffering a massive heart attack, though, sure, that too. The McLeod Funny Car made its debut at the Arby’s NHRA Southern Nationals (race seven on the calendar) and advanced to the second round. 

Just like that, Lee got a round win under his belt. He returned to action at the Route 66 NHRA Nationals and qualified for the toughest field to date; and one of the most difficult fields in recent memory. He’ll start in the No. 15 position after a Saturday night run was thrown out due to a centerline infraction. That doesn’t change what’s becoming indisputable: The McLeod Funny Car is a really nice piece

Lee got back into a Funny Car in Phoenix for the first time following his heart attack. He drove J.R. Todd’s Funny Car while the future world champion was still getting his feet wet in the short wheelbase category. Those handful of passes with Kalitta Motorsports were meant to confirm what doctors told him he could do: drive again. 

“I was anxious because I didn’t know how my heart was going to react,” said Lee. “I had done a lot of rehab and the doctors said I was going to be fine and they had a heart monitor hooked up to me and all of that but just the… anxiety of knowing what I went through and my heart has damage. It’s never going to be 100 percent again. There’s nothing you can really do to prepare for that, you just have to go drive it.

“The first lap after my heart attack, driving J.R.’s car, there was anxiety there for sure and my heart rate was up; we know it was because we had it hooked up to a heart monitor. But after that first one everything just started to feel natural again.”

One thing that helped him feel comfortable: Kalitta Motorsports. Lee has been around for a long time. Long enough to have friends in a lot of places in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing community, but that team made him comfortable. Jim Oberhofer, a mainstay at Kalitta for many years, now tunes Lee’s Funny Car. Many of the crew members on the car worked with Oberhofer and are now working with Lee at the newly formed Straightline Strategy Group. Everything fits together in a way that works for Lee. 

“He’s a lifelong friend of mine and a lot of the crew members were friends of mine so that really helped me,” said Lee. “A lot of those guys were confident in me just like I had confidence in them. That really meant a lot to me.”

While Oberhofer calls the shots, there’s a special team dynamic that plays a role in the McLeod Funny Car’s early season success. The Funny Car is parked in Don Schumacher Racing’s garage and the team formed a technical alliance with the Rahn Tobler-tuned NAPA Auto Parts Funny Car right out of the gate. That partnership, which is a two-way street, got the team off and running. 

“Every part you see here is something we bought from Don Schumacher,” said Lee. “The only thing we didn’t buy from them is something that they didn’t have available.”

“The way we’re doing it is that whatever Tobler says, that’s what we’re doing. He’s a proven champion. He’s a many time world champion. I wouldn’t question a single thing he has to say. He hasn’t just helped us out as a team, but me as a driver. He’s told me several things that I’m sure he’s told Capps before, too. That’s really been invaluable.”

That’s a great position to be in, and there’s still a lot of season to race. 

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May 29, 2019 (JOLIET, IL) Paul Lee will return to the seat of his privately owned Nitro Funny Car this weekend at the Route 66 Nationals in Joliet. Lee, primarily backed by McLeod Racing, is looking to have another successful, clean weekend. This weekend, JEGS Performance will be McLeod’s Dealer of the Race and Dragzine will be the official publication.

The Chicagoland track has always been a favorite of Paul Lee. During his Top Alcohol Funny Car career, he was the runner up in 2004. Lee also received his Fuel Funny Car license during a Monday test session after the event.

“Route 66 has always been really great to me,” says Lee, owner of McLeod Racing. “I went to the finals in Alcohol Funny Car and now we are looking to do it in the Nitro Funny Car. After Atlanta, I can’t wait to get back in the seat. If Atlanta was any kind of insight of what this team and what this car can do, I have no worries that we will going rounds on Sunday.”

During the race weekend, JEGS Performance will be hosting a Dealer of the Race sale. Our customers will be able to become McLeod equipped at Jegs.com from May 27th to June 3rd.

“Racing is fun, but the B2B is a huge part of the success,” says Lee. “JEGS has been a great partner of McLeod Racing and it’s great to be able to come together and give our customers a great discount. Being successful both on the track and in the office is what sets this McLeod team a part from the others.”

Racing on a professional level, Lee is able to offer a unique approach to traditional marketing. Dragzine will be a part of the McLeod Funny Car this weekend as the official magazine partner.

“We have been doing business with James Lawrence and the entire Power Automedia group for many years on the manufacturer’s side,” expresses Lee. “Power Automedia is a great avenue of marketing for McLeod and we want to return the favor and shed some national television light on the publication, Dragzine.”

Fans will be able to watch the McLeod team and meet Paul Lee at the Straigthline Strategy Group pit next to Clay Millican. Qualifying begins Friday at 6:15 pm and continues at 3:30 pm on Saturday with Sunday eliminations starting at 11 am. Be sure to follow Paul Lee on social media to get some Behind the Scenes action during the Route 66 Nationals.

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This weekend’s NHRA Southern Nationals in Atlanta will mark one of the great comebacks in recent memory, as Paul Lee makes a most unlikely return to racing in the Funny Car division following a two-year hiatus. Lee, who suffered a widow-maker heart attack in 2016, was told by doctors that it would be in his best interests to retire from racing. At the time of his heart attack, Lee had been making preparations for an expanded schedule of events on the NHRA tour, all of which came to a crashing halt. Following his recovery, Lee made significant, long-term lifestyle changes aimed at improving his hearth health — adjustments that were so successful, doctors ultimately granted him their blessing to drive a fuel Funny Car again.

Adding to the magnitude of the moment, Lee’s return will come at the site of his first national event victory, as he won Top Alcohol Funny Car at Atlanta in 2004.

“Atlanta has always been special to me because this is where I won my first national event,” says Lee, owner of McLeod Racing. “To be here is a feat in itself. The last 6 months, I have been training to be able to return to both the physical and mental condition it takes to successfully drive a Nitro Funny Car. I feel great and have never been more ready to return to my mission and purpose of racing.”

Over the winter, Lee announced a new alliance with the Straightline Strategy Group, which owns and operates the Top Fuel team of Clay Millican. In addition, Jim Oberhofer , a longtime friend of Lee’s, also joined the team as crew chief. 

“Working with the SSG has been a great way to expand sponsorship partners,” says Lee. “We are able to appeal to big companies and be able to cater a sponsorship that works with their marketing and business objectives.”

Added Oberhofer: “I’m excited to work on a funny car, but I am more excited to work with Paul. It doesn’t matter what he drove. If he drove a Super Stock car I would be happy. Racing is about friendship and that is what the team is built from.”

In preparation for the Southern Nationals, Lee tested at the zMax Dragway in Charlotte on Monday following the NHRA 4-Wide Nationals; after an initial 330-foot planned shutoff, Lee drove the McLeod Racing-backed Dodge Charger to the finish line on its second lap, running 3.94 at 323 mph.

“After Paul passed the finish line on the second pass, we are all pumped up to see what comes this weekend at Atlanta,” says Oberhofer. “With a driver who looks like he hasn’t stepped away a single day from the seat to the talented crew we have assembled, this race will be fun no matter what happens.”

“I really have to thank Don Schumacher, Rahn Tobler and everyone at DSR for all their assistance in assembling our team,” says Lee. “We wouldn’t be able to be here without all of their help.” 

Lee is also entered to compete at Norwalk, Sonoma, Indianapolis, Reading, St. Louis, Charlotte, Dallas, Las Vegas, and Pomona.

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