The world of street racing is exciting and highly passion-driven, but can also be extremely dangerous in more than one way. Although the show’s legitimacy has been put in doubt more than once, those who watch “Street Outlaws” are already aware of the challenges which come along with racing, which go further than just wrecks and losing money.
License problems, broken regulations, lawsuits and arrests are only a few of the most remarkable legal-related issues which audiences don’t get to see on the show, bringing up the question of how far “Street Outlaws” cast members are willing to go for their love for speed and money.
Stay here to know all the legal issues behind “Street Outlaws”, whether or not the show is real, and what could happen to it in the future.
Is The Show Real?
As with many other reality TV shows, “Street Outlaws” has been questioned on whether or not what happens in it is legitimate, or is an arrangement of scripted lines and planned scenes. These questions don’t come alone though, as a full debate regarding the legality of street racing has been going on since the show’s premiere in 2013.
That being said, the racing featured in “Street Outlaws” is real, but it’s not exactly illegal as it might seem. According to a report by Tulsa World in 2014, the show gets city council permits before every race meeting takes place, ensuring that not only can authorities guarantee the safety of non-race drivers and civilians, but also bring safety and emergency crews to the area, ready to act in case someone gets hurt on or off the track.
In an interview with DragZine in 2015, “Street Outlaws” star Mike Murillo also confirmed that safety precautions were taken in the race areas, including enclosing the place and not allowing audiences to join: ‘The racing is real, but it’s TV. It’s way different than what people think of as street racing’, he said.
While common city streets aren’t necessarily up to the standards of professional drag racing strips, the racing is as legal as it can be, even though the show hints at it being otherwise.
Despite the fact “Street Outlaws” is a close representation of what street racing is in a fully-legal way, that doesn’t mean everyone has a good opinion about the show and what it portrays.
In 2016, former Tulsa City’s Mayor Travis Yates affirmed that the message sent by “Street Outlaws” was wrongly influencing people, arguing that the rise of street racing activities in the area following the filming of the show was worrying: ‘Someone is going to get seriously injured or killed doing this illegal activity, then I’m going to have to answer for us allowing a show to come into our town’, he warned, affirming that despite the safety measures taken by the show, citizens mimicking these activities weren’t following any guidelines.
Negative criticism about “Street Outlaws” doesn’t come from authorities alone, but also from other parts of the car industry. In an interview with Jalopnik, the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Communications Vice President Geno Geffler affirmed that his organization had openly opposed the show since its debut, but received no response from Pilgrim Studios.
All in all, “Street Outlaws” has caused a stir in the car racing world, but that hasn’t stopped the show from recording high rating numbers, and producing several successful spin-offs.
While the NHRA has always been wary of “Street Outlaws”, the rough relationship between both parties reached a new low when the organization sent letters warning drivers to refrain from appearing in the show.
The issues started in late 2014, when the organization noticed that drivers with logos and competition numbers belonging to the NHRA frequently appeared in the show, directly breaking their rules: ‘That implied endorsement was unacceptable, and we communicated that point to the production company’, as NHRA’s executive Geno Geffler told Jalopnik.
As read in the letters sent to hundreds of drivers, the participation in illegal street racing such as the activities portrayed by “Street Outlaws” was dangerous both for those involved and audiences alike. Given that joining these types of activities was breaking some rules of the organization’s conduct guidelines, they warned that a future suspension or revocation of NHRA’s licenses could be awaiting those who decided not to follow the rules.
— Street Outlaws (@StreetOutlaws) March 21, 2023
The letters weren’t received with open arms – the NHRA was accused of being jealous of “Street Outlaws” popularity, something Geffler described as an ‘inaccurate supposition’ given that the organization and the show didn’t share sponsors, or even the same broadcast platforms, as he told Hot Rod.
In the end, no one in “Street Outlaws” reportedly had their license revoked, but the parties probably came to an agreement, given how the show drivers weren’t illegally racing per se.
Although the biggest legal debate when it comes to “Street Outlaws” has to do with the supposed illegal factor of the races, some cast members haven’t escaped other types of legal issues.
It all goes back to when “Street Outlaws: Memphis” star JJ Da Boss was accused of assault by Chad and Genny Larkin, a racing couple from Missouri. As read in the complaint filed by the Larkins in 2018, Chad was contacted by some show drivers through social media to join a race that would be featured in “Street Outlaws”, and carry $30,000 for the winner.
On the day of the race, Larkin affirmed to be given a clandestine location for the race, and was prohibited from advertising that he was racing for the show. Furthermore, he claimed that JJ Da Boss’ demeanor was violent and rude throughout the race, resulting in a fight in which JJ and two other drivers beat up Larkin. His wife Genny was allegedly also attacked in the midst of it by a member of Memphis’ crew, but the show’s staff apparently didn’t interfere or defend the invited drivers or the Larkins during the fight, continuing with the filming as usual.
In the complaint, the Larkins also accused Discovery and Pilgrim Films & Television of inciting the assault, but it’s unclear what the case resulted in.
Even though the tension between racers in the streets might be enough to heighten the audiences’ joy while watching the show, the more serious and concerning issues take place when cameras aren’t rolling.
As happened in September 2015, Shawn “Murder Nova” Ellington’s business Midwest Street Car was shot at on a Monday night. Fortunately, no one was hurt when the culprit hit the auto-repair shop 11 times, but the business’ facade was severely damaged as a result.
Following the attack on his business, Shawn’s property was broken into by a man on the same night. Fortunately, Shawn’s house alarm was quick to warn him of the intruder, who ended up running away into the woods once he noticed Shawn was following him. Not long afterwards, Shawn saw a Chevy Blazer SUV passing the property several times, but it was unknown if the car had any connection with the incident. A $5,000 reward was offered to anyone who would offer information which could lead to the culprit’s identification.
As read in further reports posted by HOT ROD News, a couple of weeks before the incident Shawn had apparently confronted a careless biker who had flashed a gun at him and warned him about knowing his identity. However, in the end, it was unclear if the incident could have resulted in the shooting. Either way, the attention brought by television fame isn’t always a positive one.
When it comes to the negative consequences of appearing on TV, the theft of cars owned by “Street Outlaws” stars is right up the alley.
In 2016, two of these unfortunate incidents happened to known drivers from the show. The first victim was David “Bird” Jones, whose 1967 Chevy Camaro, trailer, and hauling Ford pickup were stolen one night. At the time, he was on his way back home from a car show in Texas, when he parked at a local inn to spend the night.
However, upon waking up at 5 AM, David discovered that his cars were missing from the parking spot. Given that he hadn’t heard a thing while the theft occurred, and was left with no clues to follow the culprit, David was left with no option but to ask his social media followers for help, offering a $13,500 reward to anyone who would help him locate his cars. As reported, his Chevy Camaro was valued at around $100,000 due to the modifications done to it.
Later in November, “Street Outlaws” star James “The Reaper” Goad had his 1955 Chevy Bel Air stolen from an auto shop in Oklahoma. James’ car was valued at $175,000, and was fortunate that his car was recovered soon afterwards, but it’s unclear if David Jones had the same luck with his stolen cars.
Other Legal Issues
Unfortunately, some former “Street Outlaws” stars haven’t been able to keep themselves away from legal problems.
The name Ronnie Pollard might not sound familiar to many viewers, as he appeared just once during “Street Outlaws” earliest seasons. Nonetheless, his career as a TV race driver was cut short by his own doing, as in 2015 he was arrested for stealing over $440,000 from an auto parts shop in North Carolina. As caught by security cameras, Ronnie and a man identified as Christopher Goodman broke into the shop to take several performance parts valued at hundreds of thousands – both were arrested less than a week later in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Later in 2016, a Mississippi-based mechanic and former driver from the show named Rhett Peters pleaded guilty to several charges of possession and distribution of crystal meth. He’d managed the illegal activity from his auto shop, and was reportedly facing up to 20 years jail.
Also in 2016, former “Street Outlaws” driver Israel Valenzuela was imprisoned for his involvement in an illegal race which resulted in two people dead, after his opponent lost control of his car and crashed into a crowd. Despite not being the direct culprit, Valenzuela was condemned to one year in prison for vehicular manslaughter.
Changes & The Show’s Future
Despite the serious issues involving “Street Outlaws” throughout the years, in recent times the show’s future has been put in doubt due to a tragedy which occurred on set.
As it happened in August 2022, racer Ryan Fellows unfortunately lost his life in a car wreck while filming the spin-off “Fastest In America” in Las Vegas. Later in February 2023, his family sued the show under the argument of unsafe race conditions, and the production’s apparent lack of care about accident prevention, as reported by TMZ.
Following Ryan’s fatal accident, the production of “Street Outlaws” moved the rest of the show’s season to a professional drag race track in California, which as his family stated in the lawsuit, proved that safer racing conditions were possible.
While the production’s choice of moving to a track race could hint at further measures to ensure the drivers’ safety in future races, it’s still unclear if these changes would be permanent or short-lived.
Either way, one thing for sure is that the racing which takes place in “Street Outlaws” is no kid’s play by any means. Even regardless of the legality of it all, the criticism, backlash, legal issues, and overall negative attention attracted by the show have had serious consequences in the drivers’ lives.