“Street Outlaws” drew millions of viewers season after season, as the thrill of watching underground street racing in the U.S. hadn’t waned since the show first aired in 2013. The reality television series was subject to much controversy, as the nature of the motorsport featured was illegal and therefore extremely dangerous; to say otherwise only meant that it was staged or fake. Many attested to the fact, however, that the cars and the races were real. As such, the fans wondered about how much money the cast made, that they willingly risked their lives as they participated in what was purported to be unsanctioned races.
Background on the show
People love auto racing because of the intense adrenaline rush that they get whether they’re race car drivers or merely spectators as it involves high-powered performance cars that travel at impressive speeds. Since it was a dangerous sport, associations such as the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) for drag racing were formed that serve as governing bodies that would host the racing events and set the rules to make it safe for everyone.
For some, there would be an added thrill to the race if it wasn’t sanctioned and it occurred on a public road where the police could come at any minute to arrest those who were present. Perhaps this was what drew Justin “Big Chief” Shearer and other teens who watched street races at some abandoned or unused road in the middle of the night, and who someday dreamed of racing cars themselves. Most of the street races in Oklahoma at that time were spontaneous, so there were times when nothing big happened during car meets, and it was only when Big Chief took charge that the races were organized, although they were still illegal.
He eventually set up an online forum called Midwest Street Cars in which people across the country could talk about their love for cars and racing. The 405 crew with Big Chief at the helm claimed to be the fastest if not the baddest street racers in the country and invited anyone interested for a race, with $10,000 as the prize money for the winner. Many came to watch and participate, and someone filmed the event, uploaded it online, and which became viral.
Soon, a Hollywood TV producer reached out to them through their site, and asked if they would be interested in being featured in a show about street racing. The guys rejected it as they feared that it was a cop who was talking to them, so it took months before the said producer convinced them that it was a legitimate offer. They filmed in June 2012 for a screen test, and Discovery Channel executives gave the green light for season one.
The reality series premiered on 10 June 2013, and became such a huge hit that it spawned several spin-off series, such as “Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings,” “Street Outlaws: Farmtruck and AZN,” “Street Outlaws: Memphis,” and “Street Outlaws: Fastest in America.” That all were successful was a clear indication that street racing was highly addictive to watch. The 18th season of the original show aired in 2022.
“Street Outlaws” – Fake or Real
When the reality-TV series began airing, some viewers thought that it was all scripted, for the simple reason that street racing was illegal, and surely, the cast members and others involved would get arrested. They could hardly believe that no one would notice the bright lights, the small crowd, the cars, the noise and the camera crew, and not call the cops on them. Besides, the producers still needed to get a permit from the local government to film in the area.
If what they were doing was truly illegal, then they would be in trouble with the law. Some said that the production had acquired permits for the races and that everything was actually legal, but was being presented as actual street races that they were trying to hide from the cops.
JJ's small-tire shootout continues 😤💰#StreetOutlaws: Memphis starts right now on Discovery and discovery+. 👉 links.discoveryplus.com/streetoutlawsmemphis
Street racing as a dangerous sport
As “Street Outlaws” attracted millions of viewers, the NHRA immediately warned that race licenses would be revoked or not be issued to those who participated actively in the show. The association discouraged street racing because the risk factor in it was quite high, as it wasn’t regulated with precautionary measures in place that would protect not just the drivers themselves but also bystanders. Also, it was illegal, and they wouldn’t condone that. It appeared that the livelihood of some of the cast members was drag racing, so it was important that they took the warning seriously. Later on, the NHRA and Big Chief came to an agreement about the safety issues concerning the races.
The cast had their share of crashes during the racing events when filming for the show. Big Chief wrecked his car, a 1972 Pontiac LeMans he named The Crow, during a race against Detroit’s Brian “Chucky” Davis in 2015, sustaining a broken collarbone and crushed L2 and L3 vertebrae. David “Daddy Dave” Comstock crashed his car at least twice during a No Prep race: one in 2015 as he lost control of his 1963 Chevy Nova, nicknamed Goliath, and slammed it into a concrete barrier and flipped six times, while the other one was in 2021 when the car went off course after crossing the finish line, and hit the guard rail. He ended up with a bruised lung and a serious concussion during the first crash, but was relatively unharmed in the second one, only damaging the exterior of his Goliath Chevy II.
In 2018, Jerry “Monza” Johnston lost control of his 1972 Camaro Rally Sport, also known as the Sinister Split Bumper,” and it went sideways, hit the curb, and then barrel-rolled numerous times. He sustained no injury, not even a scratch, but wrecked his dream car. James “Doc” Love’s most serious car crash was during a race in 2020, when he lost control of his 1970 Chevy Monte Carlo, dubbed as the Street Beast, and it rolled five times before knocking down Cedar trees in the area. He regained consciousness after 30 minutes, and suffered a bad concussion.
These guys were fortunate that they recovered well and continued to race, but the show had one fatality. 41-year-old Ryan Fellows lost control of his gold Nissan 240z and it rolled over and caught fire. It happened while filming for “Street Outlaws: Fastest in America” in August 2022, and those present were unable to reach him in time to get him out of the burning vehicle.
How “Street Outlaws” cast made money
The guys knew the risks they took when they participated in every race, as they drove powerful cars pushed to the limit just to be the first across the finish line. One had to wonder if the race car drivers were just addicted to the adrenaline rush, or if money was a great motivator. It was said that car racing was one of the most lucrative sports, and it was quite evident, with the number of sponsors that pay to have their name or brand on the driver’s vehicles, helmets, and racing suits. However, the same could not be said for the cast of the show, as they were not allowed to do that considering they were supposedly engaged in underground racing. Besides, some companies might not want to be associated with an illegal form of racing. This begged the question of how the cast made so much money, especially considering the cost of their equipment.
The prize money came from bets placed by individuals who participated in the race. Naturally, only those who believed that they had a chance at winning would join. Unless one was highly skilled, had a fast car, and enough experience, there was no money to be had in street racing. If one had all that, then the driver could win at least until someone with a faster car and better driving skills would challenge him to a race.
In “Street Outlaws,” they did place bets on the side, but what they really wanted was to make it to the top of “The List” of the 10 fastest racing cars in Oklahoma City, or to win against guys from another city or state for bragging rights. Of course, no one would say ‘no’ to what they called Cash Day events with up to $50,000 on the line. In 2014, the buy-in was $1,000, and Shawn “Murder Nova” Ellington walked away with the winner-take-all pot of $12,000.
Mega Cash Day was on a different level, as it had a prize pool of $600,000. More than 60 racers participated in the event, which had a double elimination format, as each racer had a chance to win $5,000 per race for the “winner’s bracket” and $3,000 per race for the “loser’s bracket.” For the final race, the winner would take home the grand prize of $100,000, plus the money won from every round. The inaugural winner for that event was the California native Brandon James, who was new to the racing scene.
Ryan Martin, who represented the “Street Outlaws” Team, won the prize money of $75,000 in the Mega Race Showdown 2 event in 2018, as he competed against the NHRA Pro Stock Racer Alex Laughlin, from Richard Rawling’s “Fast N’ Loud” Team. He also took home $100,000 as he won the “No Prep Kings” championship in 2019.
As the cast of “Street Outlaws” gained a huge following, it stood to reason that they would capitalize on that. Merchandise such as hats, hoodies, mugs, and shirts were for sale online, but they were also available on race days, as well as Meet and Greet events, which gave the fans a chance to meet their favorite driver and ask for their autographs. Here’s how much their merchandise usually cost: Daddy Dave’s fleece hoodie was for sale at $50. Ryan Martin had a collectible diecast car replica (1/64th scale) of his red Fireball Camaro, a 2010 5th Gen Camaro SS, for sale at about $30. Farmtruck’s Straw Hat was available for $28, but $10 more if one wanted a large hat signed by Farmtruck and AZN.
Nails by Farmtruck 🤣💅 pic.twitter.com/uGZMF3mNkT
— Farmtruck and Azn (@AZN_Farmtruck) November 4, 2022
Running or working at an auto shop
It cost a lot of money to race cars, so not everyone could participate in racing events unless having a sponsor, and was given a car to drive. The cars were designed and modified for that particular sport, so the parts, fuel, testing, and everything it needed were quite expensive. Some of the guys in “Street Outlaws” owned a car shop, or worked in one as a builder, mechanic, or fabricator, which helped them in keeping their cars in top condition, ensuring that they would deliver the best results in every race. Some ventured into it so they wouldn’t have to spend so much in having others fix or improve the cars’ performance. It also became a source of income when they were not out racing.
Jeff Lutz, who was known for his expertise and skill in constructing racecars helped Big Chief and Murder Nova with their respective cars, and also participated in the racing events. Daddy Dave owned Comstock Auto Shop. Ryan Martin co-owned B&R Performance, which specialized in aftermarket performance products and performance cars. Doc was the operator and owner of a full-service garage called Southwest Diesel Service.
Monetizing YouTube and Instagram
Most people could monetize their YouTube Channels through the YouTube Partner Program if they gained at least a thousand subscribers, and over 4,000 hours of overall watch time. Creating content might be simple for some, but the biggest challenge was to attract the required number of subscribers and views for their videos. Those who were famous and already had a big following, such as the cast of “Street Outlaws” had it easy because once they announced that they’d opened their YouTube accounts, so their fans would flock to their channels and watch everything they uploaded, be it about cars or their personal lives. It was a great way to promote their shows or businesses, and they could also be paid to endorse products, services, or brands.
The more subscribers and views they had, the more money they earned. The Daddy Dave Racing channel had about 80,000 subscribers, and over 3.5 million views since he opened an account in June 2021. Big Chief’s Midwest Street Cars channel had over 300,000 subscribers and more than 35 million views since he joined the video-sharing site in December 2013. Ryan Martin had over 100,000 subscribers and nine million views since December 2015. Farmtruck and AZN joined YouTube in April 2006, and gained nearly 300,000 subscribers and close to 40 million views for their videos.
Also, they could make some serious money from their Instagram accounts, as they could be paid for each post that they made for a particular brand or company. The higher the number of their followers, the more they could command a higher price for sponsored posts.
Appearing on TV
There were several reasons why people agreed to appear on TV or be part of a reality show, including using it as a platform for their advocacy, educating viewers, or just wanting to be famous, but the biggest draw was probably the money they received – they were often paid to share their stories or expose their lives to the public.
Reportedly, the cast of “Street Outlaws” could each earn $20,000 to $30,000 per episode. Since their paychecks weren’t revealed to the public, it wasn’t known who was paid the most, or the least. Many wondered if the amount they received was based on who was part of the show the longest, or the most popular. It could also vary depending on the TV ratings each season, which would dictate the terms during contract renewal. Considering that “Street Outlaws” had been airing for 18 seasons, with each season having at least eight to more than 20 episodes, it appeared that the cast made serious cash year after year. Those of the original show could also be seen in the spin-off series such as “Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings” and “Street Outlaws: Fastest in America,” so that would have to be additional income for them.
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“Street Outlaws” cast net worth
As the reality show became a huge hit, it meant that its stars gained popularity as well. It didn’t necessarily mean that they would all become rich, because it would depend on various reasons including how much they were being paid for their participation, or how many episodes they appeared in. However, it opened a lot of opportunities for them to generate more income. As such, many were curious about how wealthy they had become.
Here’s the estimated net worth of the cast members as of November 2022, according to an authoritative source:
Big Chief, Ryan Martin, and Sean “Farmtruck” Whitley each had a net worth of $2 million. Jeff “AZN” Bonnett’s net worth was $1 million, Daddy Dave’s was around $900,000, while Murder Nova and Monza had about $500,000 each.
Some of the cast had come a long way from earning a few hundred bucks during their street racing days before the TV series began airing. It seemed that as long as people continued to be obsessed with car racing, the network would continue to order new episodes, and its stars could make more money.