The average business owner-slash-gearhead may enjoy the occasional cruise in a high-end exotic sportscar, taking a break from spreadsheets and meetings to live out a personal fantasy of being a racing driver blasting through the gears, but never truly fulfilling that desire because of their occupational obligations.
Meanwhile, the average professional racing driver doesn’t leave the cockpit of the car to focus on business growth and expansion opportunities – these two occupations can be in direct opposition to one another.
These statements don’t hold true for Paul Lee, President of McLeod Racing. Lee is anything but average; when he’s not busy behind his desk at the high-quality clutch and driveline manufacturer, he’s behind the wheel of a 10,000-horsepower NHRA Nitro Funny Car.
Paul Lee tending to the daily business of McLeod Racing.
He wasn’t always the President of McLeod Racing. Born in 1957 just outside of Atco, New Jersey, Lee was bit by the drag racing bug at an early age. At 13, his grandfather took him to Atco Raceway, where he got his first taste of heads-up racing. Watching “Jungle” Jim Liberman in his Funny Car doing a burnout down the entire track, followed by a demonstration of Liberman’s trademark “never lift” philosophy during his run where he went off track, back on track and still edged out his competitor to win the race, Lee’s life changed forever. From that point on, he vowed that he would one day drive a Nitro Funny Car. By the time he was 17 years old, he was spending his Friday nights racing his mom’s Plymouth Duster down the quarter-mile.
Throughout the early ‘80s, he transitioned out of his mom’s car and spent his time racing his Super Pro Camaro at all of the local tracks including Atco, Englishtown, and Maple Grove. By the late ’80s, Lee was racing in various outlaw drag racing venues in his own Alcohol Funny Car.
Lee was quite successful behind the wheel of his Top Alcohol Funny Car.
Realizing that he wanted a racing career – which would need to be accompanied by some sort of financial backing – Lee took a non-typical route for an aspiring drag racer. Rather than entering the automotive industry and building a shop, or some other sort of racing-related business, he went to school and graduated – Summa Cum Laude – from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Lee then went the extra mile to obtain a Master of Business Administration degree and a Juris Doctor law degree from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
With his schooling completed, Lee got into the thickest of work at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange (PHLX). Working for various securities companies including Hudson Securities, he was not only a lawyer but also an investment banker and trader, putting all of his schooling to work for him. Throughout his time at the stock exchange, he would drag race on the weekends where possible, but the actual practice and qualifying structure of drag racing takes place on Thursdays and Fridays. Lee would need to miss these crucial days, as his job at the stock exchange took priority.
Many people have trouble achieving one of these degrees, let alone three.
In 2002, just three years after earning his advanced degrees, Lee found himself with a well-paying job, yet consumed with work and missing out on his true passion of drag racing.
“Racing and my time became more important to me,” says Lee.
He decided to leave the stock exchange and continue to work as a private business consultant. This switch allowed him the ability to make his own schedule, and increase his involvement in the sport of drag racing.
Driving his own Alcohol Funny Car in 2004, Lee won his first NHRA Wally and finished in the top 10 racers nationwide for the season. Then, in 2005, he made the leap to Nitro Funny Car racing – the pinnacle of the sport. At the helm of the 10,000-horsepower machine, he was able to compete in four National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) National events.
Photo Courtesy Paul Lee
The Boninfante family of Boninfante Friction – clutch manufacturers for many Top Fuel and Funny Car teams – offered Lee a chance to get into the down-and-dirty side of the performance parts business as the company’s Chief Financial Officer. This gave Lee the opportunity to utilize his schooling and combine it with the industry where his passions lay.
While working on his own time, he discovered an opportunity to combine everything he had worked for into one business. Part of his experience in the business industry involved helping struggling businesses and turning them around into profitable companies.
While working at Boninfante, Lee noticed McLeod Racing was struggling, and he subsequently made an offer to purchase the company, which was successful.
Models of two of Lee’s Nitro Funny Cars on display in his office.
After he took over as President of McLeod Clutches, Lee was able to implement many of his core values, most importantly ensuring that customers came first, always. It was also important to him to build long-lasting relationships while helping the business side witness more profitability and growth. He’s been successful – in the past seven years, he’s tripled McLeod’s business.
In 2010, Lee became team driver for “Big Jim” Dunn Racing where he qualified for the first time in the Funny Car class. He subsequently earned his first career round win in an NHRA Nitro Funny Car. In 2011, he clocked his fastest speed of his career to date, reaching 309.63 MPH in the quarter-mile.
“I’m living my dream,” says Lee. “I get to go 300 MPH with McLeod on the side of the car.”
Inside the factory at McLeod Racing
Sometimes life has a way of clouding one’s perception about what makes things important. In the auto industry the design, sound, and power of a vehicle initially draws our attention, but in reality, it’s the person behind each project car that creates the end product.
The personalities behind automobiles – or in this case automotive businesses – are the real interesting part of this hobby that keeps us all so entertained. The details of our lives that have made us arrive at present day are all different, but there is one commonality we all share: the passion for automobiles. Paul Lee has taken his passion and turned it into a lifestyle.