In June of 2013, the Discovery Channel aired the first episode of a reality TV series about a specific group of street racers and their street racing exploits in and around Oklahoma City. Street Outlaws pulled back the covers on a world of unsanctioned competition normally cloaked by the Midwest night and transformed what most had considered a grossly irresponsible pursuit (at best) into an irresistible draw for race fans and car enthusiasts alike. Even after having spawned an array of spinoff series, the original Street Outlaws (no colon needed) has consistently showcased racers at the bleeding edge of performance on the street, competing to be No. 1 on OKC’s Top 10 list. That series returned to the air in January 2021, and on this occasion, we had the opportunity to hear from racemaster Justin “Big Chief” Shearer about his own racing and his excitement about what the 405 has created.
Dragzine (DZ): Can you describe how you first found street racing or, perhaps, how street racing found you?
Justin Shearer (JS): I never had the intention of being a street racer, or being famous for being a street racer. It was just that, my family, and where we came from, there just wasn’t the opportunity for us to have a trailer and go hit two or three tracks up a month. With us it was just more of we barely had the money to keep the car running, in general.
And, for whatever reason, the drag racing that we had enjoyed to watch was heads-up. So, the only way that we could race heads-up, was to drive out Route 66 after work. And, it was nothing against anybody else’s way of doing it, it was just that, instead of buying a $4,500 trailer, or a Suburban or a truck to pull it, we could spend that money on parts and go out and race all weekend.
To us, the winning or the losing was the same. You’d go out there, and you race the biggest dudes that you know on that street, and somebody was coming home a winner and somebody was coming home a loser. So it was still drag racing, it just wasn’t in the same place. But to us it was the same thing. We never wanted to be illegal street racers. That was just…how it turned out.
Now, with the opportunities that we’ve been given in the past few years, we’ve been able to show the world what we love to do, and why we love to do it. And it turns out that a lot of people like to watch us do it. And that’s the coolest thing ever.
To us, the winning or the losing was the same. You’d go out there, and you race the biggest dudes that you know on that street, and somebody was coming home a winner and somebody was coming home a loser.
DZ: Recently, you went your separate ways from Shawn (Murder Nova), which surprised a lot of people. And you don’t often team up with too many others. Is it just that you’re a “lone wolf”, so to speak?
JS: It’s not by choice that I’m a lone wolf. It’s just… I’m a jerk. I only know one thing, and that’s racing for a living — that’s all I want to do. And if you’re around me for 10 seconds and you don’t want to drag race for a living, then we’re probably not going to get along. It’s something that clicked in me a long time ago: I want to do whatever it takes, to drag race for a living. Wherever that is, whatever that means, that’s what I want to do.
All I care about is that I’m getting to drag race for a living. And so, that really cuts out everything else. Any friends that I’ve had I’ve ran off, or [they’ve] decided they didn’t want to deal with my shit anymore, and I understand. It’s just really tough, man! And unless you can find someone else, that all they want to do is drag race for a living, then you’re gonna’ be doing it by yourself. Thankfully…Jackie wants to drag race for a living, and we’re doing it every day, day in and day out. But, it’s not easy, for sure. Because you never know where the paycheck’s going to come from, you never know how anything’s going to get paid. And sometimes you’re trying to hide the truck so the bank doesn’t come and get it.
I wouldn’t wish this life on anyone. But at the same time, when someone says, ‘What do you do?’… if they don’t know who you are, I get to say I’m a racecar driver.
DZ: As a racer, you’ve been able to adapt to and perform well in a variety of formats: street, no-prep, radial, Pro Modified, etc. Which of your attributes allow you to race so competitively?
JS: From a very young age, I realized that I was never going to have the best stuff there was. I was never going to have the opportunity to drive some rich guy’s car, I was never going to have all the things that come along that. I just didn’t have those opportunities. Nothing against guys who do, it just wasn’t in the cards for me. But what I did learn was in drag racing, so much of what you do is work-based. And so much of the race is won in the shop and in the weeks and months beforehand in preparation. Making sure you have the right parts, and that they’re in the right place — the right fasteners, and all that.
I don’t really think that I changed drag racing, but I think I was given the opportunity to help.
And so, that’s the only thing I’m good at, really, is the work part. It’s just spending the time in the shop. And, unfortunately it’s cost me everything else in life that people enjoy, and that people strive for. I gave up all of that, to spend more time on the car, and in the shop. So when it comes to that sacrifice, if I’m not going to have the most money, I can sacrifice more — I can spend more time and I can make my parts work together better than maybe the next guy can. I’ll give up everything else to make sure I have the best shot when I get there.
DZ: People often look to you as someone who’s changed the sport of drag racing, via your visibility on the Street Outlaws series. Is that how you see it?
JS: I don’t really think that I changed drag racing, but I think I was given the opportunity to help. When they shined the light on me, then it let a lot of other people, who were doing the same thing in their town, and in their area — it ‘allowed’ them to speak up and say that they drag raced, too. Even though it’s not what people thought was legit racing, now all of a sudden, people are able to say they street race and they’re proud of it. And that is so f–kin’ awesome.
DZ: The original OKC Street Outlaws series is back, after a long hiatus. There’s a sense that something different is coming this season… a new “phase” of the show. Can you describe that?
JS: We had all got into that motion of clocking in and list racing. And a lot of us were scared to go to blacktop roads, or go out of our comfort zone. We had gotten used to doing it a certain way. And we weren’t even looking at other ways.
Then, we ended up going to a big race, out of town. And the road, it wasn’t what we were used to. And all of a sudden, we were fish out of water. And we’re supposed to be the authority, you know? We still feel like we’re the kings of this sh-t and we couldn’t hit our ass with both hands. So then it was, ‘Okay, we need to change. We need to change a lot. We need to change everything. Whatever it takes. We’re either going to be the best at it or we’re not gonna’ do it!’
It was absolutely the best thing that could have happened to us. Everyone on that show, even the guys that you think may be ‘sending it in’, ‘mailing it in’, or don’t give a sh-t anymore? Everyone on that show gave a shit. And by the end of the season, they were all rock stars. I mean, some of the fastest, craziest passes I’ve ever seen were laid down up there. Seeing the progress that we saw, in that time that we were there…it was crazy. It was unbelievable. Man, everybody stood up, and by the end of that I was so proud to be a part of the 405 that I was beaming man, I was smiling…I couldn’t do anything but smile. If I don’t do anything else for the rest of my life, that was one of the coolest things I ever got to do.
And now, the viewing public gets to follow along and see where this latest leg of the Street Outlaws franchise takes Justin and the group of evening-hours, Route 66 street racers on their journey from the fringes of drag racing to full-time competitors — figureheads in the sport. Indeed, their work has been worth it.
New episodes of Street Outlaws air Monday nights at 8 p.m. ET on the Discovery Channel. The ‘405’ is followed at 9 p.m. with Mega Cash Days.