Discovery Channel’s “Street Outlaws” explored the world of supposedly illegal and unsanctioned practice of racing that was taking place on a public road. Justin “Big Chief” Shearer has been its central character, as he runs the 405 crew and organizes street races so drivers could earn bragging rights of being No.1 on Oklahoma’s Top 10 list. The reality television show has grown so big since it premiered on 10 June 2013, drawing interest from car enthusiasts and race fans not only in the US, but also across the globe. The landscape of the street racing scene has, in a sense, changed, and many people attributed this to Big Chief.
Meet Big Chief
Big Chief was born Justin Shearer on 9 December 1980, in Louisville, Kentucky USA, of Native American descent. It was his father who introduced the sport of car racing to him, having been a car racer himself. He has memories of working on racing cars with his father when he was quite young.
Unfortunately, his father didn’t live long enough to see Big Chief’s exploits in the street racing scene.
His family moved to Oklahoma in 1992 – his mother went to nursing school and worked full time to raise him and his sibling on her own. He said, ‘She is the superhero that saved my life. I wish I could have seen it back then, I would have been a much better son.’
The lure of car racing brought Big Chief to ride his bike all the way to the Old Route 66 to watch street races, and he soon found himself participating. He recalled losing his first race to a kid driving a Chevy Beretta and said, ‘I vowed right then and there that I would have a car that a Beretta couldn’t outrun. And that’s how it all started.’
Doing something illegal such as street racing wasn’t something he set out to do, but it just turned out that way.
People flocked to parking lots with their muscle cars, and mostly talked about the coolest and fastest car until one challenged another for a race. No one was in charge until Big Chief decided to organize it, and when it became apparent that he was adept at being the race master, more and more drivers joined them. They had a Top 10 list of the fastest street race car in Oklahoma. Once they could afford a trailer, they went to other towns to find street racers in the area, try to race and make some extra money.
His personal life
In 2006, Big Chief married Allicia Shearer whom he met when he was 18 while working at a gas station, and she became his best friend, but they divorced in 2017. He admitted that all he ever cared about was that he got to drag race for a living, which meant that it cut out everything else including relationships. His two boys, CJ and Corbin, didn’t get the attention they deserved from him, as he’s ‘always chasing the next rush, that lower elapsed time…in chasing the money it takes to win the races at higher levels than I’ve ever competed in.’
Big Chief knew it was unfair to his kids that he hadn’t grown up yet. He said that although they were his biggest fans and proudest supporters, there would come a time when he would regret chasing his ‘childish pipe dreams of being a professional race car driver’ instead of playing with his boys.
He’s grateful that his current girlfriend, Jackie, was also a racer. She came from a family of drag racers, and was in junior dragsters when she was eight, and had raced since then. In his Instagram post in June 2020, Big Chief greeted her on her birthday, writing ‘When your whole life is about racing, it’s hard to find time for anything else,’ and continued, ‘If you’re lucky enough to find your person, and spend every day chasing dreams together….you learn to appreciate the day she was born, even more than your own birthday.’
In the early 2000’s, Big Chief created an online site for all racers across the country called Midwest Street Cars in which they could talk about racing. The 405 crew believed themselves to be the ‘baddest street racers on the planet’ – one time, they put out a call to anyone interested to come and race the fastest person on the street for $10,000. Car enthusiasts such as Kyle from 123Video came to Oklahoma all the way from Nebraska to film the races, and upload them online – the videos went viral.
A TV producer from Hollywood found the site, and expressed interest in doing a show about street racing. Believing it was a sting operation, the Oklahomans rejected it. Months passed, and somehow the producer managed to convince Big Chief that it was the real deal, as the former said, ‘I just wanna come and film what you do.’ They had a screen test on 23 June 2012.
The camera guy initially baulked at filming them once he realized it was a real street race, as he didn’t want take part in something illegal, even asking Big Chief what to do if cops showed up.
Discovery Channel gave the green light, and they began filming for season one. It took some adjustments at first as the production didn’t know how to shoot a street race, and the 405 crew didn’t know how to be on camera. Also, Big Chief said that they worked on their cars in secret so a producer came to ‘yell and scream’ at him and said, ‘No one’s gonna understand your passion, and what you do and why this is so important to you…if you’re not yourself.’ After that, they went ahead and did what they always do in street racing, and “Street Outlaws” was born.
Everyone believed they wouldn’t get past the first season, so they did everything they thought was cool at that time. They were surprised that the audience loved them, and they were renewed for another season, and before they knew it, they were the most-watched show on Discovery Channel.
Big Chief believed that the reason for their success was the human interest aspect of the show. Compared to other racing shows on TV, “Street Outlaws” wasn’t just focused on the cars and the racing itself, but also on the personalities of the drivers, giving the viewers someone to root for as they got to know them. Big Chief admitted to having a storyline for every episode that revolved around the races between top players, followed by those further down the list or those trying to get onto it. There would also be a feature on drivers goofing around or playing pranks.
As they reached a wider audience and rose in popularity, they received some flak from people, including those in the professional drag racing community, for glorifying something supposedly illegal and dangerous. Big Chief’s somewhat mocking response was that the 405 crew was just doing heads-up racing on a budget; they were only putting on the biggest tires and racing on the ‘shittiest road’ they could find, and then talking about how cool they were.
Others couldn’t get their heads around the show being real, as the racers weren’t arrested by the police despite engaging in an illegal activity. Some said that since it was a TV show, the production must have gotten permits to film on the streets, but that the racing itself was real, and were all very competitive. Things have evolved to a point that they had upgraded their cars with so much horsepower, that one could end up in a ditch if he couldn’t control it.
“Street Outlaws” finished airing its 17th season in April 2021.
Things people might not know about Big Chief
Negotiator for Wide Open Throttle Team in “Pinks”
Before “Street Outlaws,” Big Chief appeared in SPEED Channel’s reality TV series “Pinks,” hosted by Rich Christensen. The series’ tagline, ‘Lose the race, lose your ride,’ meant that what’s at stake was the participant’s car should one lose; in other words, it was about ‘racing for pinks,’ hence the title.
He was part of Oklahoma’s Wide Open Throttle Team, along with Jeff “AZN” Bonnett as the team captain, and David “Daddy Dave” Comstock as the driver of an ’89 Ford Mustang. As the negotiator, it was Big Chief’s job to check out the opponent’s car, to assess its capabilities, and work out the terms of the race to make it advantageous for their team. Some technical advisors would give their own assessment of what’s reasonable or not when it comes to deciding handicaps in the race. Daddy Dave won the best-of-five drag race against Brandon Somers of the Olympic Armor Coatings Team from Sequim, Washington; having won the loser’s car, they sold it back to the owner at a fair rate.
His first car was wrecked in a race
Big Chief was 16 when he got his first car, a 1972 Pontiac LeMans, which he drove it every day. He named it The Crow, and upgraded it over the years until it met its end when Big Chief raced against Brian “Chucky” Davis from Detroit for the show in 2015.
Brian’s Mustang crossed over the center line and hit the Pontiac’s quarter panel causing it to flip several times until it ended up in a ditch, with car parts strewn all over the place; the Mustang rolled over and ended on the grassy area. Both drivers were taken to a nearby medical facility – Big Chief shared on his Facebook page that he had a broken collarbone, crushed L2 and L3 vertebrae, and pulmonary contusions. He said, ‘Despite all the work we do to keep the car safe, all the preparation, sometimes all you can do is hold on tight and hope for the best.’ Regardless, in true racing spirit, based on where the Pontiac was tagged, it meant that Big Chief was winning and Brian acknowledged it.
Big Chief was heartbroken over his car, as he had great memories with it, from ‘learning to drive…finding lifelong friends and eventually starting a family…all the way to getting the TV show and starting a shop.’ It was his first love and first addiction. ‘There may be more after you, but you will always be the first,’ he added. His latest car is a 1969 Pontiac LeMans, which he’s called “The New Crow.”
Big Chief vs Richard Rawlings
“Street Outlaws” and “Fast N’ Loud” were two of the biggest shows on Discovery Channel. In the first Mega Race in 2017, Big Chief’s 405 crew faced off against Richard Rawling’s Gas Monkey Garage (GMG) Team. Each team had to build a car from scratch for the race. The GMG’s fabricator, Aaron Kaufman, was the designated race car driver but when he resigned from the company, Richard called in National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Pro Stock Racer Alex Laughlin as the replacement, and his team came as well to build the race car. Big Chief admitted that what little respect he had for Richard and his guys before going into this race was gone, as he learned that Richard was cool with lying, cheating, and breaking the rules they’d agreed upon.
In the end, Alex, at the wheel of a 2015 Dodge Challenger with aluminum bullet dodge HEMI specialty, had a better elapsed time. However, Big Chief, who drove a 1970 Pontiac GTO with Pontiac 482ci V8, had a better reaction time and he crossed the finish line first, and so won the best-of-three race, held at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
There was no money at stake, but Big Chief did what his team set out to do, which was to prove that ‘No matter how much money Richard spent, and no matter how many truckloads of experts he brought in, they still can’t compete with Midwest Street Cars.’
Big Chief and Kye Kelley rivalry
Kye Kelley had earned the reputation for being the fastest racer in New Orleans, so he was invited to race against Daddy Dave for “Street Outlaws”, and he lost to him in a tight finish in 2014. It got people talking, and soon he kept getting called out by the fastest in the country; the 405 crew invited him to Texas for a 16-car Cash Days race in 2015. This time, he won not only against Daddy Dave but also against Big Chief and James “Doc” Love, ultimately getting the $16,000 cash payout. Losing to Kye started the rivalry between them, with Big Chief admitting that Kye was a lot better on the street than he’d given him credit for. He said, ‘Every chance I could find him, I raced him, and he beat my ass every time.’ Winning races in Texas, New Orleans, and Oklahoma meant walking away with much of Big Chief’s money, so Kye even joked that he was thinking of quitting his job, and going to Oklahoma to race him.
In the spin-off series, “Street Outlaws: America’s List,” the Top 20 racers from across the US, particularly OKC, Memphis, NOLA, and Texas competed weekly for the No.1 spot to earn bragging rights of being the best in the country.In 2021, Big Chief finally beat Kye in a race, which was a big deal, even if it only meant moving to the No.2 spot on the list. Ryan Martin raced before them and he shared some data with Big Chief whom the latter put to good use, and ended up winning the race.
His net worth
Unlike professional drag racers who have sponsors, Big Chief and the rest of the 405 crew didn’t have one. The show did have advertising, and it allowed them to race on an affordable level. However, when it comes to their cars, they paid for the upgrades and everything they did on them. He also said that he gets to earn a bit of rent money when doing no-prep racing, on unprepared dirt tracks. Based on what he’s saying, it might have seemed that he’s not earning much, but according to authoritative sources, he has an estimated net worth of over $2 million, as of December 2021.
Big Chief announced the big change in “Street Outlaws” – they’re getting rid of “The List.” He said that the 405 was supposed to be the authority in street racing, but they realized they were not. Over the years, the List had somewhat lost its meaning for a myriad of reasons, including a driver refusing to race, or they didn’t race as well as they used to. Their goal for this new season was to regain their title as the fastest street racers in the country. There would be five race nights, with the match-ups determined by drawing chips, with everyone racing twice a night. Five drivers with the best record would head to “America’s List.”
Some people credited Big Chief as someone who changed drag racing through “Street Outlaws,” but he said that he only helped in revitalizing the sport. ‘When they shined the light on me, then it let a lot of other people, who were doing the same thing in their town…say that they drag raced, too,’ he said.
Even though there were still those who didn’t consider what they did as legitimate racing, more people had become proud that they street race.