In the world of television where characters are type-cast, roles defined, and genres enforced, it’s easy to pigeon-hole the featured personalities, even on reality TV, into one of an innumerable array of infinitesimal categories. Case in point: Discovery Channel’s Street Outlaws franchise. There’s the ever-present temptation to ask, “Is this person a ‘true’… No-prep racer? Street racer? Arm-drop street racer? Small-tire track racer?” And the list could go on. But what if, just maybe, it was best to label the person a “racer,” pure and simple. Such is surely the case with Jerry Bird, driver of a blue Ford Probe that is raced on prepped tracks, no-prep tracks, concrete roads, asphalt… you name it.
Though he has most recently appeared in the Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings series, Jerry first came into national prominence on Street Outlaws: New Orleans. And as a resident of New Orleans proper and son of Plaquemines Parish — the string of low-lying towns on either side of the Mississippi River, along it’s flow southeastward from New Orleans to the Gulf — Jerry was in many ways perfect for a series set in Cajun country.
Me and my brother, we go round for round, because we’re two totally different people. Yeah, we fight a lot, but you know, when it comes down to it, we get in there, and we get it done. – Jerry Bird
“That’s what people don’t understand,” he says. “I’m really from the bayou. That’s where we grew up, on the water.” And whether on water or on land, the culture there instilled a competitive drive in him, early. As he explains it, “We just like to race. I mean we race everything, we race boats, and bikes, cars, duallies, whatever. …We try to be fastest in anything we got out here!” And in the Bird family, that drive has taken Jerry and his brother Darryl a long way indeed, albeit in separate directions, at first.
Interestingly, between the brothers it was Darryl who first got into drag racing, as a driver. In the meantime Jerry was nevertheless building speed, forging his reputation as a motorcycle builder and general repair resource (think grudge motorcycles like Hayabusa’s, ZX14’s, GSX-R1000’s, etc.). That business continues to this day, but in the mid-‘90’s a shift began towards 4-wheeled drag racing. The impetus was Darryl’s decision to step away from driving after an on-track fire, so intense that he had to jump out of the car. Jerry had gradually become interested in drag racing, too, and at that point took the opportunity to keep the family involved, with his own car.
As he puts it, “I’d watched Darryl race, and I wanted to get into it. And I’m always the type of person, when I do something, I try to do it a hundred-percent.”
So nevermind that he had never been down a race track before, Jerry went right out and bought a 1970 Camaro, installed a roll cage, coil-over shocks and ladder bars, fitted a complete PAW 468 short block with Merlin heads, Victor intake, and Dominators, and gave himself an 11.90-second introduction to drag racing. Soon he had that combination down to 9.90’s on motor, racing the car on the streets and anywhere else he could find. To find more speed, that motor moved to a lighter chassis, a 240Z, which enabled Jerry to reach the eights. But the weakness of its stock chassis became apparent when the car started to hang the left-front tire — at rest.
So the same 468 was again moved, out of the twisted 240 and into a purpose-built ’92 Beretta, purchased out of California. Now this was a car that Jerry made as perfect as possible with paint and body work. Performance-wise, on motor alone the new combination went 8.50’s, and took Jerry to 7.80’s on nitrous. Jerry and Darryl eventually retired the venerable 468, replacing it with a 632 they bought in Chicago. This would be the last upgrade to their racing program, at least for some time. That combination achieved 8.0’s on motor and, on spray, cleared the eighth in 4.70, but the car was destroyed in a crash soon after.
We just like to race. I mean we race everything, we race boats, and bikes, cars, duallies, whatever. …We try to be fastest in anything we got out here! – Jerry Bird
As Jerry puts it, “I wasn’t used to tire shake, man. So I tried to drive right through the tire shake, and I wound up wrecking the car, putting it on it’s roof.” And, because at the time he couldn’t afford to replace what was lost, he began to drive other peoples’ cars, as a hired driver.
That is, until a certain Ford Probe became available. And to the same degree that their previous car — the Beretta — was professionally-built and refined, the Probe was raw. When Jerry begins his description with: “Let me tell you a little bit about this car…”, you know it’s going to be good. He continues, “When I was a little kid, I watched this guy Manuel Licciardi and Perne Roberts build this car [the original Probe, which has been replaced by the newer, Pro Stock-style Probe pictured], and they built it in my friend’s daddy’s back yard, and in his shed — on a wooden jig. And I watched this car being built, and it’s went through a couple of other peoples’ hands and then one day, this other guy Bill Weaver owned it, and he came around [and] said he wanted to sell it.”
Of course it’s debatable whether the $10,000 price reflected it’s market value, but regardless, the car was in Jerry’s possession. “We double frame-railed it in my buddy’s back yard once we got it … and we put a lot into it,” he continues. From a new front-half to new suspension, the Bird brothers made it their own. But this time, beauty wasn’t on the to-do list. Though the chassis is built for purpose and certified to go 6.0, “you ain’t gonna’ win no car shows with it,” Jerry concedes. But of course that’s not the point. This car was built to do work, and that’s exactly what it’s been used for. Indeed, as Jerry says, “I’ve probably got a thousand hits in this car — I’m comfortable in it.”
And as with every car and racer who’ve entered the limelight of Discovery’s Street Outlaws franchise, the nature of that transition cannot be anticipated or planned for. In Jerry and Darryl’s case, the Probe’s ill-handling characteristics on the street soon became apparent for all the world to see, as documented on the first season of Street Outlaws: New Orleans. “We struggled,” Jerry admits, acknowledging “we caught hell at first.” But, after the two brothers got to work and adapted, their performance reflected their true ability.
“Once we figured it out… they all were catchin’ hell,” he says wryly. Indeed, any doubts about whether Jerry and Darryl were “true” street racers got put to rest by videos, widely circulated, of the Probe on the streets of Dallas–Fort Worth during an authentic Cash Days, put on by Limpy himself. While the accounts of their performance that night are impressive in their own right, the fact that they cared enough to risk — and endure — arrest was influential in swaying skeptics. “Yeah, that was an experience!” Jerry says of his arrest and prosecution, continuing, “People thought that was ‘fake,’ [but] that wasn’t fake.”
Even when as they entered the burgeoning no-prep scene, the Bird brothers had to face down challenges. As Jerry says, “I really thought I was a good driver until I started no-prep racing.” And yet that transition was handled in stride, too, as shown by a run to the finals in Bristol, the blockbuster event that preceded Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings. In Jerry’s opinion, the team’s success derives from the unique and complimentary strengths of himself and his brother Darryl. Because the two are far from the same.
I’m really having fun at this point in my life. My wife, my brother, my son, everybody goes and we have a good time, man! – Jerry Bird
“Me and my brother, we go round for round, because we’re two totally different people,” he says. But as he explains, “Yeah, we fight a lot, but you know, when it comes down to it, we get in there, and we get it done.” Perhaps what makes that possible, then, is the fact that each brother needs the other. “I don’t tune none of this, man, I just drive it,” Jerry admits. “Darryl, he’s really the brains of the operation … he’s smart — real smart — at what he does.”
And by the two of them reaching out beyond the family, too, their program is strengthened further. Though navigating his newfound public role has sometimes been difficult for a private person like Jerry, he feels the connections he’s achieved with fans and suppliers have been essential to the race team’s success. As he acknowledges, “If you don’t get people to like you, you ain’t gonna make it in this, because a lot of the stuff I get, I get by making these people like me first, and then they want to help me.”
Woolf Aircraft and Racetech Motorsports are two such sponsors, with additional help coming from Charlie Buck at Buck Racing Engines, TPS Motorsports, Hughes Transmissions, and Dan DaVinci with DaVinci Performance Carburetors. Furthermore, a longtime connection is Steve Johnson of Induction Solutions, who has helped the Bird brothers keep the nitrous flame alive. “We’ve been real loyal to Steve Johnson, and it’s a friendship,” Jerry says. “We’ve been friends with him for twenty, thirty years.”
The idea that his is a family-based team comes through clearly when you talk to Jerry. As he tells it, “We have fun — I have a good time doing this … I’m really having fun at this point in my life. My wife, my brother, my son, everybody goes and we have a good time, man!”
All seasons of STREET OUTLAWS can be streamed on the Discovery GO app