February 17, 2017 (PLACENTIA, CA): NHRA Nitro Funny Car driver, Paul Lee, is retiring from the sportof drag racing. Lee suffered a heart attack over the winter and will not be returning to the seat of his McLeod Racing/ Kalitta Motorsports Nitro Funny Car.
On December 13, 2016, two days after returning from a successful PRI show in Indy, Lee experienced a massive “widow maker” heart attack, with 100% blockage of the left anterior descending (LAD) artery. Three stints were inserted in his main artery, but Paul suffered significant heart damage as a result.
“I’m very lucky to be alive,” says Paul Lee, owner of McLeod Racing. “The paramedics are close to my house and were there in minutes. They got me to the hospital in time for the doctors to save my life. The doctor told me that this is the worst kind of heart attack someone can have and only about 1 in 10 survives. So I’m extremely grateful to the local paramedics and the doctors for doing a great job of saving me.”
Lee has been a lifelong fan and participant of NHRA drag racing. He began his love as a little kid at his home track of Atco Dragway in New Jersey. He used to “borrow” his mom’s car at 17 years old and head out to the drag strip. Since then he has claimed victories in both Top Alcohol and Top Fuel Funny Cars.
“I’ve dedicated my life to the sport of NHRA Drag Racing,” explains Lee. “It’s been my love and passion since I was a child growing up in New Jersey. It pains me to know that I’ll probably never get to drive again, but in reality, I’m happy to still be here. My heart is too weak and will take years to recover. Besides, as long as I’m on blood thinners (to help a damaged heart work better), it’s not safe for me to drive a 300mph race car.”
Lee’s racing operation, which is managed by Kalitta Motorsports, will be entered in some races this year to fulfill previous sponsor commitments. A driver will be announced when the time comes available. As for co-crew chiefs, Glen Huszar and Nick Casertano, they will continue their efforts to help the Funny Car teams of J.R. Todd and Alexis DeJoria.
"Kalitta Motorsports was devastated to learn about Paul's heart attack, but thankful that he is still with us," said Jim Oberhofer, Vice President of Operations, Kalitta Motorsports. "We know how much desire Paul had to compete at the highest level in the sport so we are saddened he will be unable to continue. However, he is and always will be a part of the Kalitta family."
Lee will continue to support the Kalitta Motorsports organization for the years to come. He will also continue to own and operate McLeod Racing.
“Nevertheless, I’ve made many friends in this sport, both in my Alcohol Funny Car days in Division 1, up to my friends in the professional ranks, and especially all the folks at Team Kalitta. I’d like to personally thank Connie Kalitta and Jim Oberhofer and the whole Kalitta organization for welcoming me into their family. I will be forever grateful.”
Kalitta earns third straight Pomona final
Race Recap: Kalitta returned to Pomona with momentum after a solid closing to Nitro Spring Testing in Phoenix. The Mac Tools team proved they would be one to watch early on in qualifying.
Kalitta, crew chief Jim Oberhofer and the Mac Tools team had never run a 3.6 second pass in an official event, and took care of that in the first qualifying pass setting the early mark to beat. Kalitta eventually slipped to no.2 overall, but reset his career-best elapsed time twice, earned eight of nine possible bonus points and ran three straight 3.6 second runs.
The Mac Tools team continued their run on raceday. First up was Steve Faria, and the Mac Tools team was not taking anyone lightly. Kalitta blazed the track in 3.696 seconds, which was low elapsed time of round one giving him lane choice in the second stanza versus Terry McMillen.
McMillen and Kalitta left together, but Kalitta steadily pulled away as the Mac Tools team again laid down best elapsed time of the round with a 3.687 second run moving him to the semi-finals against last season's champ, Antron Brown.
With the world watching live on FOX, Kalitta gave them a run to watch. He moved first on the line and pulled away from Brown moving the Mac Tools Toyota driver to his third straight Pomona final.
The Pomona final was the seventh career Pomona final and 88th overall. It allowed the Mac Tools driver to hold a top three spot in the point standings for the 25th race in a row, which leads the Top Fuel class.
Kalitta's run ended to Leah Pritchett in the final. After he took a starting line advantage, the Mac Tools ride encountered troubles and Pritchett was able to pick up the win.
Qualified: No. 2 (3.696 sec., 329.91 mph) **CAREER-BEST ET**
E1: Kalitta defeated Faria - 3.696 sec., 329.91 mph to 4.246 sec., 230.92 mph
E2: Kalitta defeated McMillen - 3.687 sec., 330.55 mph to 4.335 sec., 170.86 mph
E3: Kalitta defeated Brown - 3.698 sec., 331.85 mph to 3.731 sec., 324.90 mph
Final: Kalitta defeated by Pritchett - 7.630 sec., 103.85 mph to 3.711 sec., 324.98 mph
Quotable: “Tough finish to an outstanding weekend for the Mac Tools team. I am so proud of Jim O and the whole Mac Tools Toyota group. We had stellar pass after stellar pass. I am already ready for Phoenix and hopefully a little of redemption."
Point Standings: Second (-17); trails Leah Pritchett by 17 points for first; leads Antron Brown by 26 for third
Coughlin Jr. claims first career round win
Race Recap: The long awaited professional debut of Troy Coughlin Jr. in a Top Fuel machine drew much excitement to the SealMaster pit. However, even with much thrill surrounding the first race of Coughlin's career, the 26-year-old driver was focused.
The Connie Kalitta and Rob Flynn-tuned machine was consistent throughout qualifying as Coughlin held the early lead with a 3.730 second pass before earning a top half starting spot in his debut as the SealMaster Toyota ride achieved the sixth starting spot.
His first-ever Top Fuel opponent was former boat racer Shawn Reed. The pair was the final Top Fuel duo to see the track but Coughlin was prepared. He got around Reed early on and powered by him by 1,000 foot line earning his first career round win.
His first event ended in the second round as defending Top Fuel champion Antron Brown was able to take the round win. However, Coughlin was upbeat about his first event and looked forward to returning to the seat in two weeks in Phoenix.
Qualified: No. 6 (3.730 sec., 322.81 mph)
E1: Coughlin Jr. defeated Reed - 3.728 sec., 328.46 mph to 3.854 sec., 316.60 mph **CAREER-BEST MPH**
E2: Coughlin Jr. defeated by Brown - 3.727 sec., 327.35 mph to 3.733 sec., 325.69 mph **CAREER-BEST ET**
Quotable: “Not a bad day. We came into the race with a bunch of thoughts on how these things work, so now we have less thoughts going into this next race. Need to keep getting used to the process on the starting line and hone in on it. Connie Kalitta, Rob Flynn and the SealMaster Toyota guys have this thing working so consistently. They are giving me a car to compete in, a winner's circle bandit, so I need to get ahold of my end of it and enjoy it."
Point Standings: Sixth (-71); trails Brittany Force by three points for fifth, leads Steve Torrence by one point for seventh
Todd hits milestone 150th career round win in Funny Car debut
Race Recap: Last time Todd was at the Auto Club Raceway of Pomona, he was setting records as a Top Fuel driver. He took the SealMaster ride from the no.1 qualifier to his sixth final round appearance of the 2016 season.
This time, he was a Funny Car driver. 11 years after his Top Fuel debut, Todd was taking over a new challenge as the driver of DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car.
Todd was up to the challenge. His first lap down the track nearly earned bonus points and he slotted in fourth. Mechanical issues dogged the DHL team on Saturday and he was bumped to 11th, but Todd was solidly qualified in his first Funny Car event.
His first Funny Car opponent would prove to be the veteran Tim Wilkerson. Todd moved first and led all the way down the track earning his first career Funny Car round win and 150th of his career. The day would end in the second round despite another solid lap, however, it was a great debut for the new driver of the DHL Toyota.
Qualified: No. 11 (3.936 sec., 329.42 mph)
E1: Todd defeated Wilkerson - 3.902 sec., 330.72 mph to 6.970 sec., 112.50 mph **CAREER BEST FUNNY CAR ET & MPH**
E2: Todd defeated by C. Force - 3.930 sec., 329.02 mph to 3.892 sec., 326.08 mph
Quotable: "Basically today was our first runs of the year because of the issues we had. We will go into Phoenix with race car we can work with. Pretty good debut in this DHL Toyota."
Point Standings: Tied for Sixth (-67); tied with Tommy Johnson Jr. and Del Worsham
(Doug Kalitta, Troy Coughlin Jr., J.R. Todd)
All photos are courtesy of Gary Nastase Photography
DeJoria suffers tough first round defeat
Race Recap: DeJoria started the season with a new co-crew chief in Nicky Boninfante and renewed excitement for a new season. That excitement extended through qualifying as DeJoria earned two bonus points and started in the seventh position.
Her first foe was last season's championship runner-up, Tommy Johnson Jr. The Tequila Patrón Toyota was gaining on Johnson Jr. when it suffered a mechanical problem ending DeJoria's day in the first round.
Qualified: No. 7 (3.879 sec., 330.39 mph)
E1: DeJoria defeated by Johnson Jr. - 4.148 sec., 229.24 mph to 3.938 sec., 323.89 mph
Point Standings: 10th (-84); trails Robert Hight by one point for ninth, leads Tim Wilkerson by one point for 11th
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Photo is courtesy of Gary Nastase Photography.
Top Fuel (Unofficial)
1. Leah Pritchett (122)
2. Doug Kalitta (105)
3. Antron Brown (79)
4. Tony Schumacher (70)
5. Brittany Force (57)
6. Troy Coughlin Jr. (54)
7. Steve Torrence (53)
8. Terry McMillen (48)
9. Shawn Reed (32)
9. Scott Palmer (32)
Funny Car (Unofficial)
1. Matt Hagan (119)
2. Courtney Force (99)
3. John Force (80)
4. Ron Capps (77)
5. Jack Beckman (53)
6. J.R. Todd (52)
6. Del Worsham (52)
6. Tommy Johnson Jr. (52)
9. Robert Hight (36)
10. Alexis DeJoria (35)