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.