Those who dedicate their days to street racing not only deal with huge loads of adrenaline and drama every day, but also with the constant reminder of putting their lives on the line every time they’re behind the wheel.
While safety measurements aren’t uncommon even for street racing, shows such as “Street Outlaws” let us see that the profession is still very dangerous for those involved in it. That’s why when hearing about the death of the show’s star Wayne Smozanek in early 2022, people couldn’t help but wonder if his passing was caused by a racing accident.
So why did the veteran driver Wayne die? Stay here to know about the passing of this memorable “Street Outlaws” cast member, other details about his life and so much more!
Why Did Wayne Smozanek Die?
No one denies that racing in general is a sport quite dangerous even regardless of safety cautions. However, while some tragedies happen on the track, some other saddening events occur far away from it.
The latter is the case of Wayne Smozanek, a veteran driver known for his appearances in “Street Outlaws” and its spin-offs “Mega Cash Days”, “No Prep Kings” and “America’s List”, putting his life on the line at a variety of tracks every season.
Nonetheless, it wasn’t speed which ended his life. On 17 December 2021, Wayne was diagnosed with COVID-19 along with his wife and son, though unlike them, Wayne required immediate hospitalization, leaving no option than to put him on a ventilator a couple of weeks later. According to his wife Wendy in an early January 2022 update, Wayne was stable and sedated at that point: ‘(he) was struggling to breathe on the BiPAP and they thought it was best to let him rest and let the vent do the work, as scary as that sounds’, she wrote.
However, his condition worsened and after eight weeks in the hospital, Wayne unfortunately died on 12 February that year at 60 years of age. He was survived by his wife Wendy and son Will.
Who Was Wayne Smozanek?
Although many people think Wayne Smozanek was a Florida native, the race driver was actually born in Summit, a northern city in New Jersey, on 14 July 1961.
Wayne set foot on the racing track at the early age of 16, when he was already living in Florida. By the late 1980s, Wayne focused his career entirely on the monster truck Penda Points league, for which he drove the Tropical Thunder truck until 1993.
So here’s a quick video Wayne and I did before race night in Scottsbluff, Nebraska! Mega Cash Days Monday’s at 9 pm on Discovery. Watch it and let me know what you think ! Don’t forget to like and share our page!
Posted by Team Tropical Thunder – Wayne Smozanek on Monday, February 1, 2021
Despite being quite good at trucking, nostalgia was stronger, and for the following two decades, Wayne joined as many races as it was possible. At the same time, his career as a mechanic grew to the point of starting his own business, Performance Center Auto Repair in the Florida town of Jupiter.
A full-time business gave Wayne the financial stability to start his own Tropical Thunder team, officially debuting in “No Prep Kings” in late 2019, during its third season premiere. From then on, Wayne had a safe spot racing in some of the most important competitions in the “Street Outlaws” franchise.
What Happened To Wayne’s Team?
Following Wayne Smozanek’s death in early 2022, dozens of condolence messages were posted by “Street Outlaws” fans and by other drivers.
Nonetheless, the most heartfelt message was posted by his family, as they promised to keep Wayne’s legacy alive. Loyal to their promise, Wendy and her son Will have kept Wayne’s Tropical Thunder team alive, joining several “No Prep Kings” competitions all around the US, by having Wendy as one of its main drivers: ‘I’m doing this because it’s the only thing I have to use to my advantage to help my child long-term’, she said in an interview with DragZine, in which she also admitted having a tight budget due to a lack of sponsors.
While the Tropical Thunder’s team efforts were partially supported by fans of Wayne, who donated to the funding campaign set up by the Smozaneks, the goal of $25,000 hasn’t been achieved yet. However, the campaign is still active nowadays: ‘(the) family is asking for help to continue Wayne’s drag racing dreams, so whether it’s one dollar, or one hundred, it would mean so much if you could donate’ they wrote, listing traveling expenses, medical and funeral bills as some of the urgent costs the family had at the moment.
All in all, it’s truly admirable that the Waynes are doing their best not to let his legacy fade away.
Who Else Died In The Show?
Besides Wayne Smozanek, there are other “Street Outlaws” cast members who have unfortunately lost their lives since the show premiered in 2013.
Tyler “Flip” Priddy
The first “Street Outlaws” cast member to pass away was Tyler Priddy, also known as Flip by his friends in the Oklahoma racing scene. Flip only appeared in the first show’s season, and as the most loyal audience might remember, he was a good friend of other iconic drivers such as Justin Shearer, ‘Big Chief’.
Despite his short-lived time in the show, it was evident that Tyler was as deeply passionate about racing as his co-stars. His 1980’s Chevrolet El Camino was a sight to behold for being built with several parts from other cars, attracting the attention of people whenever it went.
However, Tyler’s adventures behind the wheel came to an abrupt end on 28 May 2013, when he unfortunately died in his Yukon, in Oklahoma at 31 years old. There’s no official statement explaining the conditions leading to his death, but some sources point to it being caused by a bullet wound.
Regarding the fate of his car, the El Camino apparently belonged to Shearer, who kept it for over a year in his garage after Tyler’s death. However, sensing that the auto needed to be driven again, Shearer gifted it to his friend Chris Day, known by “Street Outlaws” audience as Kamikaze Chris, and also a good friend of the late Tyler.
A tribute to Tyler Gene Priddy aka Flip, who appeared in Street Outlaws season 1. Know about him and his death!#TylerGenePriddy #Flip #StreetOutlaws #Season1 #FlipCars #ElCamino #TheOldSlut #FlipWife #FlipSons #Death #Mystery #Tribute #eCelebrityFactshttps://t.co/kx3mMabf6y
— eCelebrityFacts (@ecelebrityfacts) March 17, 2018
Even though the name Chris Ellis might not sound too familiar to casual viewers of “Street Outlaws”, those who paid attention to “Big Chief” Shearer’s team surely remember him. Chris was a mechanic in Shearer’s business Midwest Street Cars Automotive, and was quite popular thanks to it, accumulating over 70,000 followers to his Instagram account in only a couple of years.
According to his obituary, Chris was dedicated to his craft. He had graduated from a local Oklahoma learning center, and spent most of his days either in the garage, on the streets, or simply hunting and pursuing other hobbies outdoors. Chris was described by his family as someone ‘generous and kind, and knew exactly how to make the people he loved smile’.
Unfortunately, Chris sadly passed away on 9 September 2020 from an apparent drug overdose. Reportedly, his body was found by his friends, who went to check on him after receiving no news from Chris for a couple of days. At the time of his death, Chris was 39 years old, and was known in Oklahoma’s racing scene as “Kentucky”.
Not long after the unfortunate passing of Chris Ellis, the cast of “Street Outlaws” once again lost a memorable cast member. Born Michael Connors but widely known as Gypsy Mike, the California native driver was quite popular, to the point of being featured in some race themed productions such as the series “Won & Done” on the Motorsports Network on YouTube.
Mike’s 1968 Chevy Camaro took him to places and gained him fame as one of the best on the streets, as asserted by some of his fellow drivers in Oklahoma: ‘You can’t say street racing in California without bringing up his name’, as Chuck Seitsinger said in “Street Outlaws” upon Mike’s debut in 2019.
Unfortunately, Gypsy Mike’s decades long career on the streets came to an abrupt end in 2020, when he suffered a heart attack and died on 18 December. However, due to the lack of social media updates from those close to Mike, the news of his passing wasn’t released until mid-2021.
The unfortunate death of race driver Ryan Fellows is undoubtedly the most tragic incident that ever occurred in the show. The California native racer was known for appearing in the spin-off series “Fastest in America”, in which drivers from all around the US compete in order to earn a juicy $100,000 prize.
Unfortunately, Ryan’s escapades behind the wheel came to an unfortunate end on 7 August 2022, when he crashed his Nissan 240z just before he crossed the finishing line during an event in Las Vegas. Though it’s unclear what might have caused the accident, the official reports point out that Ryan had lost control just before the accident, which was apparently caught by “Fastest In America”s cameras.
According to an interview with Channel 13 Las Vegas, his widow Elizabeth affirmed that despite trying to rescue Ryan from the flames which engulfed his car upon the crash, the temperature of the auto’s body was just too high for any of his friends and fellow drivers to be of help. At the time of the crash, Ryan’s family was away at home in Chula Vista, California.
Following his death, Elizabeth set up an online funding campaign to afford funeral bills and other expenses, prompted by the sudden death of Ryan. Though the campaign’s goal of $50,000 hasn’t been achieved to date, almost half of the funds were collected thanks to the support of “Street Outlaws” fans.
Together we mourn the untimely passing of Street Outlaws racer Ryan Fellows this past weekend. Our heart-felt thoughts are with his family and loved ones in this dark time. pic.twitter.com/xS0hECLBku
— Pilgrim Studios (@Pilgrim_Studios) August 9, 2022
While the loss of many “Street Outlaws” cast members is truly unfortunate, other stars from the show were fortunate enough to get out of trouble alive, but only just.
Known as a veteran driver of the Oklahoma team, James “Doc” Love is a show’s fan favorite, and was the owner of The List’s number one position for a long time.
Regardless of Doc’s decades long career behind the wheel, not even his experience could prevent him from being seriously injured during an accident in 2020, while driving his Chevy Monte Carlo. According to his Facebook post from September that year, he had suffered a serious accident while filming “Street Outlaws” in Nebraska months before, but apparently couldn’t give out details about it until the season wrapped up filming.
As Doc stated, he was knocked unconscious for half an hour following the crash, and suffered serious injuries including a concussion: ‘I am fine if you can call being yellow, black, blue, green, and a wonderful shade of purple from my neck to my calves’, he wrote, thanking the business which built his car’s chassis for allegedly saving his life.
As seen in the photos from the accident, Doc’s 1970s Chevy’s front was completely destroyed, leading to several months of repair and rebuilding to return the tarnished auto to its original glory.
Not only is Jeff Lutz one of the original and most popular drivers in “Street Outlaws”, but also used to own one of the most stunning cars on the street. His 1957 Chevrolet surely left an impression on everyone who saw it, not only for its bright yellow paint, but for his prowess on the track.
That being said, even the most amazing and the most experienced drivers aren’t immune from experiencing accidents from time to time. In Jeff’s case, the terrible incident happened in May 2021 while racing against Damon Merchant for a “Street Outlaws” episode. It was just a matter of seconds after the starting line when Jeff lost control of his Chevrolet, crashing forcefully against the sidewalk and rolling over in the air.
Jeff’s life was seriously put at risk in the accident, but he was fortunately able to get out alive and in one piece. However, it was a different story for his 1957 Chevrolet, which was completely destroyed, leaving no option other than to replace it with a flipped Bel Air.
Another one of the messiest accidents ever to occur in the “Street Outlaws” franchise was that of Tricia Wayne, from the Memphis team. The incident took place in January 2022, when Tricia raced her husband JJ Da Boss, whose car caught fire and accidentally crashed against hers, sending her onto the sideroad in a terrible way.
While JJ Da Boss’ injuries were enough to send him to the hospital, Tricia suffered the most serious damage from it. She fortunately survived, but had to undergo surgery, and was physically immobilized for months.
All in all, the world of street racing is a dangerous one, but even if some accidents might occur on the road, it’s actually very rare for these to take a fatal turn, at least when it comes to “Street Outlaws”.