Discovery Channel’s “Street Outlaws” made a big splash when it premiered in 2013, due to its controversial nature as it delved into the underground street racing circuit in the US, with the spotlight on Oklahoma City. It has since become the most-watched on the network as it gained a huge following in the US and across the globe. Monza from the 405 crew became famous for topping the OKC “List” of fastest street racers numerous times, with his 1972 Camaro “Sinister Split Bumper.”

All about “Street Outlaws”

The reality television series “Street Outlaws” has become a source of fascination for car enthusiasts and street racing fans, as it opened the world of what was once wrapped in mystery due to its illegal nature, and the danger that came with it. The show continued to generate interest even after 17 seasons, and several spin-off series were produced, such as “Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings” and “Street Outlaws: Fastest in America.”

Monza was amazed at how far the show has come. When the group was first approached by a production company to do the show through the website Midwest Street Cars, he thought it was cops who wanted to catch them in the act so that they could arrest them. Despite their misgivings, they put their trust in Justin “Big Chief” Shearer, the guy who led them and organized the races. During the screen test in 2012, they did what they usually do on race nights, and that was to huddle together for a meeting, as they went over the rules and last-minute instructions before beginning racing.

Discovery gave the greenlight, and a camera crew started filming Monza and the rest of the guys for the first season. It had no commercials when it was aired, and Monza revealed that the whole group had to work hard in promoting the series to make it the No.1 show in the network. Street racing is basically an illegal and unsanctioned form of racing, and the show’s popularity across America has been a cause for concern in the drag racing community.

The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) sanctioned its members who participated in the show by revoking their competition licenses, which generated a backlash from the public when it became known.

At some point the association has changed its perception of the show, although they continued to be against illegal racing. Perhaps it has something to do with what was reported in some articles, that every racing event was cleared, as the production company applied for the necessary permits in whatever city they were filming. Some said that a more fitting description for the show was that it was based on street racing, but Discovery made sure that they were not breaking any laws.

As far as its authenticity is concerned, Monza admitted that the road was blocked off, and there were ambulances and fire trucks on standby, but the races were real. Long before there was a camera crew to film them, they were already racing on the street, competing to get into the Top Ten List of fastest cars and drivers in OKC.

They had this rule that the only way one could advance on the list was to challenge the driver who was one step higher in ranking; one had to work his way through the list to get to the top. As a result, each racer continually upgraded their car whenever possible, to be the fastest on the street. Sometimes, Monza and the other guys would travel to another city in search of the best driver, and invite him for a race with not just money at stake, as they were also out to prove that the 405 crew was the fastest in the country.

It was said that the positive impact of “Street Outlaws” has been the interest it generated in auto racing in general, and in making fast street cars fashionable again. It inspired grassroots participation, as people pick up their tools and work on their cars.

Getting to know Monza

Jerry “Monza” Johnston is part Indian. He was 14 when he started motocross racing, and the day he received his driver’s license in the mid-1980’s, he was into street racing. ‘I’ve only known one speed, and that’s wide-open street racing,’ he said.

In 2006, he did class racing called Mod Street behind the wheel of a Mustang with a Chevy motor in it. He won the championship that first year, and again the following year. Monza worked at auto shops, and so acquired the essential skills that helped him in car racing.

He got his nickname from Shawn “Murder Nova” Ellington who was drunk one night and couldn’t remember his name while they were out at a drive-in on 39th street in OKC. Shawn started calling him “Monza” based on the car that he used to street race when he was younger, and his username “Monzilla” on the Midwest Street Cars website. The rest of the drivers heard it and the name stuck. He said he didn’t mind whatever it was that these guys wanted to call him, and even shared how he found it funny that when they were out somewhere, someone would say, ‘Hey Mazda, I’m your biggest fan.’

People who watched the show came to recognize Monza as the 6ft 4in (1.95m) guy with a beard and a braid.

He was not making a fashion statement, but had to braid his hair for practical reasons, as it was easier to contain it as he put on and took off a helmet when racing.

Working together with his son

The first car he took to a drag strip was a Monza, and he recalled trading his truck for that big-tire roller from his little cousin. He took this as a perfect opportunity to get his son Brandon, who was 13 at that time, interested in racing cars, to keep him off drugs and doing stupid things. They began constructing cars together.

At first, they had help from the HPP Racing guys, particularly when it came to tuning the car, but soon realized that it was best they learned the skills and did the work themselves. He has nothing but praise for his son, as the latter did a phenomenal job of ensuring that his car was ready come race night. He said that the only reason he could confidently walk away from his car to attend a drivers’ meeting or to film was that he knew his car was in good hands.

Working with his son was not always easy, as they often would butt heads.

Brandon can be quite stubborn in what he believed was the best thing to do when it comes to making changes or modifications to the streetcar, but he wasn’t right all the time. Monza said, ‘It can be tough but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t want anybody else there backing me up, pulling me to the starting line. My life’s in his hands.’ He can be vocal about his love for Brandon, and said that the closeness he enjoyed with his son is something he’d never had with his father.

Many were curious if Brandon would follow in his father’s footsteps in street racing, but Monza said that his son won’t go for the ‘List” – if ever Brandon races, it would be something that has to do with small tires.

What’s keeping him busy during the off-season

Monza was into fishing and hunting, as he grew up doing both in Kansas. His dad would often take him fishing, and he remembered running limb lines for catfishing. He has a boat now, and his favorite fishing line is walleye fishing. When it comes to hunting, he said that he has been doing it since long before he was driving, and he’s never going to stop.

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His favorite weapon is a Raven R20 Crossbow, as it’s like a rifle that could shoot a target at 100 yards; it’s pricey, but then he’s getting his money’s worth. He used to have a $500-crossbow. but said that the difference between that and a $2,000-crossbow is like the difference between a Ford Fairmont and a Cadillac Escalade. Monza has a wheat field, and a feeder set up. He has a hunting lease, and in the wintertime, one could find him in the woods chasing deer.

Why he rarely spoke on the show

Monza has earned a reputation for being a man of few words, and he was rarely seen or heard voicing his opinion on the show, unless directly asked. He seemed so serious all the time that his fans wondered if that was his real personality, or is he just shy in front of the camera. He opened up in one of his vlogs, that when he’s on “Street Outlaws”, particularly during race nights, all his focus was on his car. While others were having fun hanging out, he’s stressed out. When he’s walking up and down the road, he’s thinking ‘Is my tune up too hot or is it not hot enough?’

Monza said that when he was younger, nothing could stress him out, but as he’s got older, he can’t relax. However, once the race is over, he’s a completely different person. He even said, ‘I promise you, once you get to know me, there’s never a dull moment around me.’

His legendary ride – “Sinister Split Bumper”

The 1970 to 1973 Camaro Rally Sport has always been his dream car, but he couldn’t afford to buy it when he was younger; years later, he got one from Joe “Dominator” Woods. It was actually a bare hull, but he turned it into a race car. As he competed against faster cars, his team switched from running Nitrous to twin turbos, so he had to learn to master the technology involved. They made sure that the car had ‘the best of the best in it.’ Although its motor could be tuned to 4,000 horsepower, they only tuned it to half of that, as there’s only so much power they could use on the street.

Monza’s biggest rival

In season one, Monza was on the “List” at No.4, and he called out David “Daddy Dave” Comstock for his spot at No.3, but failed to get it. Dave is his buddy, but said, ‘I probably get a bigger kick out of beating Dave out of anybody,’ as it felt like he had accomplished something.

He liked the challenge of racing against Dave, as the latter was a good gauge of how fast one was on the street.

What happened to Monza

Monza crashed his 1972 Camaro Rally Sport Split Bumper

In 2018, he was racing against Chuck Seitsinger who was behind the wheel of a 1989 Ford Fox Body Mustang called “Death Trap,” when he lost control of his car after crossing the finish line at over 270km/h (170 mph). It jumped sideways, hit the curb, and barrel-rolled several times. The 405 crew rushed to get to him; fortunately, it was only the car that was wrecked, as he suffered no injury, and didn’t sustain a single scratch. Investing in the right safety gear might cost a lot of money, but it saved his life. After he got out of his car, he immediately looked for his son, wanting to assure him that he’s okay.

His team didn’t change anything on the car, but only fixed everything back exactly like it was before the crash.

Monza broke the losing streak of the 405 guys in Mega Cash Days

In 2021, sixty-four drivers from all over the country came to compete at the Mega Cash Days event, held in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, with more than $300,000 prize money at stake.

Only Ryan Martin advanced to the winners’ round, as Big Chief, Chuck, Dominator, Doc, and Jeff Lutz were all eliminated. The 405 drivers were all hoping that Monza would break their losing streak. He had all the available data from his teammates who raced before him, but said that since every car was different, it wasn’t going to help him as he faced off with a driver from Texas. He discussed strategy with his team, and won that round. However, the final winner of the Mega Cash Days was not from OKC.

Monza 405 Motorsports

In January 2021, Monza joined YouTube and started his own channel called Monza 405 Motorsports. It featured behind-the-scenes footage, particularly when he and his team were working on cars, as he said, ‘I want them to know how much time and effort we put into making these cars run.’ He also planned to show not just his shop, but also his house and five-acre ranch. He shared a side of himself that his fans weren’t aware of, so after only a year of vlogging, his videos had gained almost two million views.

His net worth

Being part of the cast of a successful and long-running reality TV show such as “Street Outlaws” and its spin-off series, must mean that Jerry “Monza” Johnston was raking in serious dough, although he’s not the biggest earner on the show. According to authoritative sources, he has an estimated net worth of $500,000 as of December 2021. It hasn’t disclosed how much he was paid per episode, but when he was talking about paying for the repairs of his car, he said that it cost him $50,000. ‘That’s a whole bunch of episodes’ worth of money right there…I am definitely not getting rich off the show,’ he said.

In the new season of “Street Outlaws,” Monza and the rest of the 405 drivers were surprised at the news that OKC was getting rid of the List, as it had since lost its meaning with guys not wanting to race, or with their poor performance against street racers from other cities.

Subsequently, Big Chief set new rules with the goal of reclaiming their title as the fastest in the country.

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