Stringing together respectable results year after year isn’t easy. When success doesn’t come, it’s customary for drivers to change personnel, thinking that’s the answer. Sometimes it works; other times it doesn’t.
When Paul Lee, who drives a Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Funny Car in the NHRA’s Camping World Drag Racing Series, started having inconsistent results, he had to make some changes. Lee, who finished the 2021 season in good shape thanks to a new race car, decided to make personnel changes. It’s standard operating procedure to try a new face, a new idea or even new parts when things aren’t working out.
Lee had been working with Jim Oberhofer since rejoining NHRA after suffering a “widow-maker” heart attack that he likely should never have survived. He took off the 2017 season to recover but had to return to competition once he’d been cleared by his physicians, who were pretty well shocked by the rapidity and fulness of his recovery. They obviously don’t know racers. Before his heart attack, Lee’s racing efforts had been part of Kalitta Motorsports, so the hiring of Oberhofer, who’d been with that team for nearly his entire working life, was a natural.
They’d had some success since rejoining the tour in 2019, but the Countdown to the Championship was elusive after taking ninth in 2020 and the owner of McLeod Racing and FTI Performance wanted more. Failing to make the show in the first race of 2022 was the catalyst for Lee’s change of the guard.
Initially he hired Dustin Heim, 38, who had been assistant crew chief to Rahn Tobler in his final years working with Don Schumacher Racing and [now] 2021 Funny Car champion Ron Capps, who earned his first title in 2016 with Tobler and the late Eric “Hop Sing” Lane. When Tobler “retired” before the start of the 2021 season, that left Heim in the nether reaches before Lee picked up the former crew man for Doug Herbert, Cruz Pedregon and Jack Beckman. Heim initially joined Lee’s team as assistant to Oberhofer; after Pomona, that changed.
Now Heim will be joined by co-crew chief Jason Bunker at Lee’s Brownsburg, IN race shops. Like so many in the business, Bunker has been involved in drag racing since his teenage years, working in Pro Modified, Nostalgia Funny Car, Nitro Funny Car and Top Fuel Dragster. Lee believes the combination of Heim and Bunker have the passion and talent necessary to take Paul Lee Racing to the top and give the driver the wins he covets.
Bunker will assist Heim at the controls of the team and with the tune-up for the car. “I’m certainly ready for a fresh start to the 2022 NHRA season,” Lee said prior to this weekend’s final race in Houston, the 35th annual NHRA SpringNationals. “Having Jason join Dustin as co-crew chiefs and replacing some key crew members with those two in charge, will give our team a new look and exciting new future. I’m looking forward to Houston and giving our loyal fans and marketing partners something to cheer for. We plan to go race, and race hard. I can’t wait to see our new team in action,” Lee said.
Because he’s changed just about everything else, including the 2021-built chassis that was constructed by Tobler, along with his crew’s management, Paul Lee felt it was appropriate to also put together a new scheme for his Charger’s body. “We’re not only starting fresh as a team, but starting fresh with an exciting new wrap, scheme and new starting line shirts as well,” the owner/driver stated. “We will include a ‘Phoenix’ on the hood of the car that represents a ‘new beginning rising from the ashes with renewed youth’ for our team. I can’t wait for everyone in Houston to see the new car!”