Multiple-time Drag Week Overall and Unlimited Class champion? Check. Competed at the highest levels of Pro Modified eliminator? Check. Held the crown on Street Outlaws? Check. Gone head to head with the best of the best on No Prep Kings (NPK)? Check. That is certainly an impressive list of accomplishments for any resume, but for Jeff Lutz, that’s only scratching the surface. Jeff is also a renowned chassis builder and fabricator who runs not one, but two bustling chassis shops, with the help of his wife Christine and son Jeffrey, all the while juggling consistent appearances on Street Outlaws, competing on the grueling No Prep Kings circuit, and continuing to stand out as an all around great guy who is as cool as a cucumber.
Jeff carved some time out for us during the recent NPK tour stop at South Georgia Motorsports Park to answer a few questions and give us some insight on what life has been like for he and his family and crew over the years.
Mainstream America met Lutz when he first appeared on Street Outlaws back in season nine, which saw him walk in the door and go straight to the top of the list with his sinister black Camaro known as “Mad Max.” Jeff’s reign at the top ended, however, when full-tilt Pro Mods were banned from list races, but that didn’t deter him, as he returned with a then-new 1957 Chevy Bel Air that more closely fit the image of a street car and currently holds OKC’s number four spot. Hardcore drag racing fans have known the Lutz name for far longer, as Jeff was one of the pioneers of drag-and-drive racing, which pits an array of cars and drivers not only against the clock, but the highways of America as competitors drive their racecars from track to track over the course of five days. The iconic event also served as the setting for what Jeff considers his proudest moment in racing.
I’m currently on three shows, soon to be four, and it consumes every waking minute of my time, but I’m not complaining, it’s a great problem to have.
In 2014, Lutz’s son, Jeffrey, strapped into the elder Lutz’s legendary matte black ‘57 Chevy and ripped off his first 200-plus mile-per-hour pass in the 21/4-mile. For a man who has spent decades breaking records, winning races and competing at the sport’s highest levels, Jeff had zero hesitation listing this as his proudest moment.
“Back in 2014, Jeffrey drove the original ‘57 Chevy. We were in Tulsa, I had wrapped up and won the Unlimited Class and his main goal was to go 200 miles per hour, and he went out and went 200 and I was tearing up on the starting line watching him drive. It was just crazy! Over the past summer, I let him drive the yellow ‘57 at a handful of appearances we were at and man, that kid can drive! I think it’s time, he’s gonna’ be wheelin’ one here soon.”
Tying Drag Week to his more recent street-centric routine, we asked Jeff what he thought about a hypothetical rule that the cars competing for a spot on the 405’s Top 10 List have to drive to the spot to be considered eligible to race and if he thought that might play into his strengths. His reply oozed confidence earned over years of having to build cars that not only laid down blistering passes on the track, but had to endure several-hundred-miles long drives between venues.
“It would, for sure. I would have a big advantage, and that would help level the playing field for everybody, but I would probably have one of the biggest advantages.”
Speaking of racing on the street, the story of how Jeff, a native of the perfectly-named Mechanicsburg, PA area ended up competing on the streets of Oklahoma City is rather amusing, as well.
“When Big Chief was looking to get the Crow done, he had gotten my number and called me, and I didn’t answer. Well, he went to California to sign the contract for the next season of the show and I was just sitting down and I thought ‘I’ll call him back,’ and he got up from that meeting to take the call and told me what he wanted done with the car, and I told him I could handle that, so I flew out and the rest is history. Now I have a shop in Oklahoma that has a bedroom and living room and I stay there when we’re filming the street show, and my wife and son keep the shop in Pennsylvania running.”
As you might imagine, this leads to what can only be described as juggling the duties of a chassis builder, fabricator, and driver, but Lutz points to his wife and son for helping him keep track of all the goings-on in their lives.
“Junior runs the shop back in Pennsylvania. We’ve slowed that shop down a bit over the past year and a half while we’ve been working on FarmTruck and AZN’s build show (more on that here), so it’s been a family deal all around. My wife comes to all of the No Prep Kings events and sells apparel, Jeffrey tunes the car, and I drive. Then with the other shows, they give what time they can, but it’s very much a ‘be careful what you wish for’ and a ‘dream come true’ at the same time. I’m currently on three shows, soon to be four, and it consumes every waking minute of my time, but I’m not complaining, it’s a great problem to have.”
While it hasn’t aired on television as of this writing, many of you are likely aware that Jeff recently suffered a devastating crash in his show-quality ‘57 Chevy, the car he refers to simply as “the yellow car” while competing in the annual Cash Days events on the streets of Oklahoma City. While it’s clear that car was badly damaged, we asked if there was a chance we’d see that car again, to which he said emphatically that isn’t happening.
“Oh no, that car is totaled,” he quickly responds. “There’s nothing left of that build that can be used. It was pretty gnarly, and I’m honestly lucky to be here. I got too close to the curb and the bump got me, spun me out and then I barrel-rolled and went end over end…it was just crazy. When I came to upside down in the car and hit the [quick release] buckle and hit the roof, I crawled out and when I made it back to the street, I just rolled over and pretty much blacked out then.”
Turning from discussing the crash, Jeff gave a brief play-by-play of his recovery and how he wanted to get back behind the wheel quickly.
“I don’t remember anything but waking up in the hospital. I guess they life-flighted me, and Ryan was standing there and Doc was in the waiting area. I got out of the hospital Sunday night and met with Sam, our producer, and we met for dinner and I told him I gotta’ get back in a car right away or I won’t do it, and he said we could put the GTO on the street.”
He continued, “So on Monday I was still recovering, Tuesday they came out and filmed me with my wife, we were seeing the car for the first time after the crash and of course, I cried because the car is just destroyed, then on Wednesday we went to Texas to test the GTO, so I never really skipped a beat. I had to because I wasn’t sure I would if I waited.”
Ryan being the first face Jeff saw after his accident speaks to how close the two have grown since Lutz took up semi-permanent residence in Oklahoma. Jeff points to Ryan as not only one of his closest friends but also his nemesis among the 405 contingent, despite that fact that they often load up and go testing at various spots around the 405 together.
“You know, I’ll tell you who I just can’t seem to beat; Ryan. He’s always just a step ahead of me. We’re like best friends but every time I line up against him, I come up short. We’ll load up the night before race night and go find a quiet street and tear it up all night testing. A lot of people think we just show up and race but there’s a lot more that goes into it. And everybody says, ‘Oh, it’s all legal now since it’s on TV’, but I’ve gotten tickets for testing so trust me, it’s not all legal. But Ryan and I test together a lot, and he’s really been a big, big help for my street program.”
You know what I miss: 1/4-mile racing. All this no-prep stuff and radial stuff has has brought us all to 1/8-mile so long that when we do go back to the quarter with Mad Max, we’re gonna’ break some records, because what I’ve learned in the 1/8 is just crazy!
Speaking of testing and preparing for upcoming races, there’s a surprising difference in mentality and preparation for racing on the street versus an event held at the track. Most observers would assume there’s more consistency when dealing with a sanctioned event at a track, but Lutz says there’s more consistency in preparing for racing on the street.
“On the track, you don’t really know what you’re racing on until you get there. Some tracks, even at no-prep events, still have a lot of rubber on them and ‘come around’ [track-speak for traction improving over the course of an event] pretty quickly, others might be scraped down to the concrete. Some have bumps, some have dips, so you can’t really tell until you start making laps. On the street, it’s kind of a given that it’s going to be nasty, it’s going to be hairy to get down, and that’s just what you expect and plan for. That’s why we do twice as much testing for the street as we do the track, though.”
With much of his reputation garnered during his Drag Week days, the question arose if he’d ever revisit that format. If you’re hoping to see Lutz back on the highways between tracks, you may be in for a very long wait, but if you’re a Pro Mod fan, you might be in for a surprise.
“I think my Drag Week days are behind me. The level that I did it at, and the level that it’s at now, I just don’t know that I want to do it again because I was miserable at that level. It just takes the life out of you, and I’m getting older; I’ll be 51 this year and I just don’t know that I could do it any more.”
Lutz went on to add, “Now, Pro Mod, absolutely. Mad Max is still sitting there ready to go, it just needs the motor put back in it. You know what I miss: 1/4-mile racing. All this no-prep stuff and radial stuff has has brought us all to 1/8-mile so long that when we do go back to the quarter with Mad Max, we’re gonna’ break some records, because what I’ve learned in the 1/8 is just crazy!”
All of this talk about the future ultimately circled around to discussing the past, and that’s where Jeff got a little sentimental discussing the car that he, along with most of his longtime fans, remember most fondly; his matte black 1957 Chevy.
“That’s the car that started it all for me. When we built that car, if you had told me what all would happen, I’d have told you you’re crazy. A lot of people don’t know that we had a fire in the shop that destroyed my Pro Mod Monte Carlo, and my insurance company wouldn’t cover anything of mine as far as racecars. So, the original ‘57, I took all the stuff I could off the Monte Carlo and put it on the ‘57. I used so many parts off that car because I didn’t really have the money to build a new Pro Mod and I was in the midst of rebuilding the shop and out of the fire, the ‘57 came out and it’s all been upwards from there. Everybody just loved it…they loved the flat black paint and that kind of started that whole fad — everybody said how sinister it looked and it was just crazy.”
“That car is still sitting in my shop today looking the exact same way, all the original stuff that was in it when we brought it out. It’s outdated now and I’d hate to cut it up, so we’re going to put an LS in it and just drive it.”
Past, present and future, Jeff Lutz and his family are the quintessential racing family, and there’s no doubt the legacy of the Lutz name is far from over. With the 2021 season of No Prep Kings really just kicking off, this year has much to offer, and with Jeffrey waiting for his turn behind the wheel, there’s no doubt we will be hearing the Lutz name for another at least a few decades to come.