Mother Nature didn’t want to cooperate Saturday at the ninth annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals presented by Pennzoil.
When the rain finally stopped the Pro classes did get in one qualifying session and Paul Lee couldn’t have been happier.
Lee, who pilots his Global Electronic Technology Charger, clocked a 3.913-second elapsed time at 326.95 to capture his first career No. 1 qualifying spot in the nitro Funny Car ranks.
“Yeah, the track was conditioned to a 65-degree track,” Lee said. “There’s not a lot of times we get to go down a 65-degree track. But (crew chief) Jim (Oberhofer) and the boys put a good tune-up in it, and it stuck. A lot of guys didn’t stick but ours stuck so hey, we’ll take it.”
This is Lee’s 94th career nitro Funny Car event in the NHRA Mello Yello Series. He entered the St. Louis event 10th in the points standings through seven races in a season abbreviated because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lee’s best performance this year came at Indy 3 at Lucas Oil Raceway, Aug. 9, when he advanced to the semifinals before losing to J.R. Todd.
“Waiting around all day, rain on and then it stops, and on and off track would dry,” Lee said. “Sitting up there, literally we’ve been trying to run for seven to eight hours, right? So yeah, it kind of makes it a lazy day to come back but I’ll tell you what though, I was hoping we’d get a run in. It’s not too cold, it’s right on the edge and when the weather was standing in the high 50s, I’m saying, ‘it would be nice to get a run in here. I think it’s going to be good conditions.’ But it was tough.
“The track was tough. You had a lot of traction. The air was great. But Jim O’s tune-up, Jim, and the boys, they put a good tune-up in it, and it stuck, and I couldn’t be happier. It was a lot of fun.”
Lee will face off with Jim Campbell in round one.
Lee, a highly successful businessman with his companies McLeod Racing and FTI Performance, has tried to take extra precautions while competing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lee suffered a widow-maker heart attack in 2016 and come all the way back through rehabilitation with a healthy lifestyle both on and off the track.
In addition to the mandatory temperature checks that all people entering the racetrack must undergo, Lee also checks his crew again in the pit area. He also provided free COVID-19 tests for the employees of his businesses.
And, Lee was thrilled to talk about his memorable No. 1 qualifying lap.
“When I made it past 300 feet then I knew I was going to make it to the end because that’s where the shake zone is,” Lee said. “So, I knew as soon as I made it to 300 feet then I was like, ‘okay now it’s really gone’ and it just started hauling butt the whole way. It pulled the whole way. It went 326 (mph) so it had all eight on it the whole ride.”
Lee will try and make this weekend one he will never forget as he goes for his first career NHRA national event win Sunday.
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