Big Chief has been a prominent character in the reality television series, “Street Outlaws” since it premiered on 10 June 2013, as he led the 405 crew and organized the highly dangerous, illegal, and unsanctioned form of car racing on public roads. The show has become so successful that it eventually aired for 17 seasons, and spawned several spin-off series. When Big Chief was no longer seen on “Street Outlaws: Fastest in America” and “Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings,” it was much talked about online, with people speculating if or why he’d left the show.
- 1 Meet Big Chief
- 2 “Street Outlaws”
- 3 Did Big Chief leave “Street Outlaws?”
- 4 Big Chief’s response to rumors of his absence
Meet Big Chief
Justin Shearer, the 41-year-old street racer of Native American descent, hailed from Louisville, the largest city in Kentucky USA. His moniker, Big Chief, was given by his childhood friend and fellow racer, Kamikaze. His interest in muscle cars and car racing was influenced by his father, a transmission mechanic who was passionate about the sport. Little Justin helped his father while the latter worked on cars at the side of their house.
As early as nine years old, he would ride his bike to Old Route 66 and watch the street races. In 1992, his family moved to Oklahoma City, generally known as the hub of street racing, and he soon found himself being part of it, and not just as a spectator, participating in heads-up racing on Route 66 during weekends or after work. Oftentimes it was all about racing the ‘biggest dudes’ that one could find on the street. He said he didn’t set out to become an illegal street racer, but that it just happened that way because he loved to race.
The good thing about racing, he said, was that it was work-based. He couldn’t afford the most expensive car for racing, but he learned early on that winning a race was all about the time and effort spent working on the car in preparation, ie having the right parts in the right place and making sure everything worked together, and this was something he was really good at.
Admittedly, he didn’t have any experience working on autos until he acquired his first car when he was 16, a 1972 Pontiac LeMans, naming it “The Crow.”
He didn’t have the money to pay someone to work on it, or tune it for him, so he learned how to do it. His experience related to cars was limited to working for a Chevy dealership, and parking automobiles for a used car dealer.
Big Chief set up the Midwest Street Cars website in 2000, for a more efficient and fun way to communicate with racers all over the country. It started with just 60 members, who were mostly his buddies, and were constantly egging each other on as to who was the better driver, or who had the faster car, and then they would race on the street to earn those bragging rights. He put a call out on all drivers who were interested in coming to Oklahoma to race the fastest car on the street, for money! The 405 crew soon became known to many racing and car enthusiasts; a guy named Kyle from the 1320Video crew came to film the races, and the videos went viral after they were uploaded online. A Hollywood producer reached out to them through the site, about doing a reality TV show.
— Street Outlaws (@StreetOutlaws) January 18, 2022
Once they realized that the offer was legitimate and wasn’t a cop who was out to arrest them for engaging in illegal racing, they agreed to do it, and “Street Outlaws” was born.
Nobody thought the show would get past season one – Big Chief revealed that they were told by the production company, Pilgrim Studios, that it was going to be ‘one and done,’ but they caught the interest of the viewing public, and the ratings shot-up until they became the most-watched series on Discovery. It was said that the producers had obtained the necessary permits to film the races, and so the roads were blocked for their safety, and ambulances were on standby. However, the racing was real, and no one was paid to lose or win.
Midwest Street Cars Automotive
Big Chief and Shawn “Murder Nova” Ellington opened Midwest Street Cars Automotive Shop in Oklahoma out of necessity. When the show was renewed for a second and third season, and more episodes were ordered, he knew that he had to quit his regular job and so did Shawn, as they had to film for about 16 weeks straight.
They also worked on their respective cars behind their houses, but once filming started, they found themselves in the same garage every day. It soon became apparent that it would be more practical and convenient to have a shop. Big Chief already had a site called Midwest Street Cars, and sold merchandise out of the back of his truck from 2006, so everything just came together.
It was an automotive shop that offered full-service performance and tuning. ‘We do mostly late model GM performance cars — Corvettes, G8s, CTS-Vs, Fifth-Gen Camaros, pick-ups,’ he said. They didn’t build race cars, and only accepted customers when they weren’t filming for the show, as it would take too much of their time.
Big Chief wrecked The Crow
In 2015, Big Chief raced against Detroit’s Brian “Chucky” Davis, but as he was winning, Chucky hit the quarter panel of The Crow after crossing over the center line, and caused the car to flip several times.
His buddies who were there could only hope that he was alive, as they said that it was the worst crash they’d ever seen. Big Chief said, ‘When I got hit, I heard the crunch and then…it’s rolling so fast and I just gritted my teeth, closed my eyes, and held onto the steering wheel.’ He recalled saying to himself that this was the crash, the one that he never wanted to happen.
Big Chief was taken to a nearby medical center, and shared via Facebook that he’d crushed his L2 and L3 vertebrae, had pulmonary contusions, and had broken his collarbone. He knew how lucky he was to have survived the crash. When he recovered, he went to see The Crow at the shop, and had a hard time looking at the extent of the damage, as he said, ‘This is my whole life right here.’ He’d put everything he had into the car, but a crash like this had no insurance payout.
At Odds with NHRA
“Street Outlaws” has had its share of ‘haters’ or ‘bashers’, particularly from the drag racing community, which wasn’t surprising as the show was about illegal racing.
The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) warned racers that they would become ineligible for racing at their events should they appear on the show, as they didn’t want to condone the practice of a supposedly illegal and unsafe activity. This ultimatum wasn’t received well by the public – NHRA and Big Chief went at it on social media for a while, and then somehow made peace with each other. He was in agreement with them on the need for a controlled environment in racing, saying that they were on the same page when it comes to safety issues, but each spoke a different language so they weren’t able to communicate well. In 2016, in partnership with NHRA, he filmed a public service announcement to discourage illegal street racing, aired on Fox Sports during NHRA events.
Big Chief at the Chevrolet Performance US Nationals
In 2016, Big Chief made his NHRA debut as he competed in the Pro Mod Class at the 62nd Chevrolet Performance US Nationals held in Indianapolis at the Lucas Oil Raceway.
He said, ‘The fanboy in me is going out of control, and the racer in me is out of control’ as it was the most prestigious drag race. He spent $40,000 to upgrade his 1968 Pontiac Firebird he named “Crow Mod”, to comply with the rules or standards set by the NHRA, including putting $16,000-carbon fiber brakes on his car. Big Chief was well aware that with the horsepower that he had, he wasn’t a threat to the Pro Mod Series regulars but said, ‘For now, we’re at the U.S. Nationals – with my motor, my car, my truck, my trailer. I tune it, I build it. I drive it. That’s so cool.’ In the end, he didn’t qualify, clocking 6.361 seconds in elapsed time at 226.47 mph.
Did Big Chief leave “Street Outlaws?”
There was much speculation online when Big Chief failed to make an appearance on “Street Outlaws”, and wherever he was expected to be in its spin-off series “Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings” and “Street Outlaws: Fastest in America.” With no official announcements from the network, producers, or Big Chief himself, many feared that he’d left the show for good but not so. Here are some of the issues that people attributed to the cause of his absence from the show:
He went through a divorce
Sometimes whatever happens in one’s personal life can affect one’s work. In the case of Big Chief, many were wondering if his absence from the show was caused by his divorce from Allicia, his wife of 10 years. He met her when he was 18, married her in 2006, and had two boys with her. When people saw him dating Jackie Braasch, an official member of a motorsports organization for women called Car Chix, they thought he was cheating on his wife, and it became a hot topic online. He cleared the matter up when he shared in his podcast that he and Allicia went their separate ways in 2017. Jackie, he said, is his future. She’s Ms. May in the Car Chix Calendar of 2015, and clearly Big Chief was smitten by her. She began competing in the Junior Dragster Racing events, and has been racing since then. As his life was all about racing, he felt lucky to have found someone who shared his passion for it, as he said that like him, ‘Jackie wants to drag race for a living, and we’re doing it every day, day in and day out.’
Big Chief wanted to be the best dad to Corbin and Covil, but he’s unable to give them the attention they deserved as he was ‘always chasing that next rush, that lower elapsed time…the money it takes to win races at higher levels.’ From time to time, he would post photos and videos of his sons on his Instagram account.
Checked into rehab
Some explained his absence by saying he entered rehab for his drug problem. He denied this, and said that he only took some time off but he’s been working in his shop.
Had a falling out with Murder Nova
His split from his best friend and business partner, Shawn Ellington, was big news. They started a podcast called “The Chief and Shawn Show” in 2013, as they talked about their lives, “Street Outlaws,” and the 405 crew. When Big Chief was asked about their separation, he shared that all he ever wanted to do was race for a living, and his friends who didn’t want to deal with his ‘shit’ anymore had run-off but he understood that.
The two had different plans for the future, and priorities in life.
While Big Chief was busy building a mega race car, Shawn was more interested in taking care of his family and being responsible. Unlike him, Shawn was not willing to sacrifice everything just to win at races. It came to the point where they were having disagreements on lots of things and they were no longer hanging out like they used to. Shawn left their shop, but they still talk from time to time, and see each other at racing events.
Moved to Memphis
Big Chief made a guest appearance in the spin-off series, “Street Outlaws: Memphis,” and it had people buzzing that he’d abandoned the 405 crew and joined JJ Da Boss’ team. It also didn’t help that he was absent from the “No Prep Kings” series during that time. Big Chief explained that JJ called him and Jackie to ask if the latter was interested in joining the big cash days that he was organizing. Since they weren’t sure if Jackie’s car would be ready in time, JJ assured them that it wasn’t part of the deal, as he only wanted them to be part of the race.
The couple went there to just hang out with the Memphis guys, bet on races, and gamble in the casino, but Jackie participated in the race when she was given a car to drive. The invitation was not some part of a narrative for the show, or planned by Pilgrim Studios, as the production was surprised to see them there. They were not paid to be on the show, and they also took care of their own ‘plane tickets, accommodation, and entry fee.
Not invited to “Street Outlaws: Fastest in America”
Big Chief has been the face of “Street Outlaws” since it started, and the selling point of the show was that he and the 405 crew were the ‘baddest and fastest’ street racers in the country, so not being part of “Street Outlaws: Fastest in America” when it premiered in 2020 was strange. In the show, JJ Da Boss from Memphis hosted the biggest street race in the US, as elite drivers from nine street racing teams competed to earn the right to challenge Memphis for the title of the fastest in America, and for the prize money of $100,000.
The simple truth about what happened was that Big Chief knew nothing about it, as no one from the network or the production company approached him about doing the show and he didn’t have any contact with JJ during that time. He only learned about it through Facebook, as he heard about a race for money and was interested in it, only to find out that it was for a Memphis show on Discovery. The producers then talked to them about it, and said that if they wanted to be part of it, they could make it happen, but suggested to think hard if doing it would be worth it. The schedule would be brutal, as it would involve a lot of traveling and prepping the cars, as they would also be filming for the original show and the No Prep Kings show around that time. In the end, a decision was made to sit this one out, saying ‘It’s a Memphis thing. Let it remain a Memphis thing.’
Big Chief’s response to rumors of his absence
On why he wasn’t saying anything about his ‘sudden disappearance’ from the shows, he explained that he didn’t feel the need to post every race that he’s not going to participate in, or even attend as it wasn’t right to announce something like that. The only way he would ever do that was if his photo was used to sell tickets but he wouldn’t be there. He knew his fans would not only be disappointed, but would also be annoyed with him even if it wasn’t his fault. Issues would then crop up that would put him in a negative light, so he’d like to avoid that.