The past two seasons of drag racing have been slightly different. For 18-year-old Funny Car veteran Paul Lee, luck rose and fell as he raced all 11 events in 2020 and then 15 of 20 last year in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series. After a good decision that resulted in a strong finish, as well as a new addition to the team for 2022, Lee is optimistic that the near future will bring consistency and better performance.
Although a misshapen 2020 was marked by uncertainty and change, Lee proved resilient and resourceful, taking advantage of shortened NHRA events in which qualifying was reduced from four to two sessions.
“For an independent team like us, the two-day races made it more affordable and competitive; we were able to race all the races and we did pretty well,” explains Lee, who made it to the semifinals that summer at Indianapolis Raceway Park. his first low qualifier of his career in St. Louis and finished in the Top 10 for the first time. “We were able to compete with every team out there, and that made it fun. When we go to a race, we’re not there just to hit the track, we want to be competitive.”
While Lee and his McLeod Racing team didn’t see that momentum continue into the new year, they began to show promising signs of revival towards the end of the season. At the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Lee qualified as the best No. 4 of the season and clocked the fastest pass of the opening round.
The turnaround in late 2021 had a lot to do with Lee’s home office, the McLeod Racing/FTI Performance Dodge Charger. The worn-out piece had smiled in moments, but the car had done nearly 150 trips on it as the final events of the year approached, and it was tired. In Las Vegas, the team made the decision to release their backup car, and that immediately brought consistency to the picture. During the winter it was discovered that the chassis of the old car was bent, which validated the decision to make the exchange.
“We would have good races here and there, do a few laps and run well, then we would have a lot of problems and not be able to get on the track,” said Lee. “When we pulled out our backup car, it performed as we wanted it to perform, and we were quite pleased. We’re excited to start the new year with it.”
Lee explained that the car, which was basically brand new, was originally put together by esteemed crew chief Rahn Tobler for (now) two-time Funny Car champion Ron Capps. In the 2022 season of NHRA’s Camping World Drag Racing Series, Lee’s team will be joined by Dustin Heim, who was Tobler’s assistant crew chief. Heim, who has been in the nitro ranks since he was 19, joined Don Schumacher Racing in 2009.
“Dustin is a great addition to our team,” said Lee, saying that Heim will be Jim Oberhofer’s assistant crew chief. “It’s great because we’re running Rahn’s setup, so it’s basically a Tobler car. Dustin has worked with that tune-up, so I think he can help us bring consistency back to our car. That’s probably what I do.” most am excited about.”
Team owner Lee is entering his fourth year with Don Schumacher Racing and his Funny Car will be housed and maintained at the DSR shop in Indianapolis. As the second satellite team under DSR – Bob Tasca III was the first – Lee was not taken lightly by his competitors.
He sees fruit growing on the new branches within the Pro ranks, including brand new teams owned by former DSR mainstays Capps and Antron Brown respectively, as well as Leah Pruett and Matt Hagan racing under the newly formed Tony Stewart Racing/TSR Nitro – awning .
“Mafia Boss [Schumacher] has been really good for us. The business model works, and I think that’s why other guys want to do this,” Lee noted. “I think it’s good for the sport; it brings spices. It could be a lot more fun with more single-car teams like us.”
For now, Lee is focused on the upcoming Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com and getting off to a good start. After showing peak performance as the season approaches, his Dodge Charger is ready to pick up where they left off. However, with a few new crew members on board, the team will first use NHRA Spring Training in Phoenix to ensure mutual synchronicity.
After finding the power during the testing session, Lee is eager to head to Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, a facility the New Jersey-born Southern California native has come to call.
“I’m not just a racer, I’m also a fan of the sport and the history of tracks like Englishtown – my original home track – and Pomona,” said Lee, who drives number 116 in his Funny Car in tribute to Division 1, where his drag racing career began. “To be able to race on tracks where I’ve seen my heroes grow up is always pretty special.”