If you’re a car guy or gal, chances are the names Justin “Big Chief” Shearer and Shawn “Murder Nova” Ellington aren’t new to you. The duo have become cultural phenomenons in racing circles due in large part to Discovery Channel’s hit show, ‘Street Outlaws’. Whether you’re a fan or not, the impact these two have had on the sport of drag racing, and the blistering performance of their race cars, the “Crowmod” and the “Murder Nova” are nothing short of impressive.
We caught up with Chief and Shawn and spent a little time at their now-world famous Midwest Street Cars Automotive shop to get a glimpse at what goes on when the cameras aren’t rolling, as we discussed a range of topics related to their fame and racing endeavours. You’ll also see some behind-the-scenes shots of some of their toys, as well.
Where The Magic Happens
When you roll up on Midwest Street Cars, you’re presented with a very unassuming building that bares the company’s logo. Yes, it’s got some bullet holes in it, but just ignore that. The shop sits amongst various industrial outfits with large equipment strewn about. All seems calm, and when you roll through the gate to the rear portion of the property, not much changes. A mildly dilapidated steel building sits at the rear of the parking lot and larger building sits to the left. This is where the magic happens. When you open the door to the shop, the mood instantly changes.
Kevin Gates is on the radio; the Crowmod sits on a lift, stripped of most of its carbon fiber body, and a buzz of activity has the car engulfed. The Midwest Street Cars crew is all-hands-on-deck converting the car back from the small-tire setup to the massive rubber used on the street to get ready for a race the following day. Having just walked in, you’d never guess that in 12 short hours the car would be on its way to the track.
On the other side of the shop, seemingly out of everyone’s mind, sits the Murder Nova. The all-black Nova’s shadowy presence cannot be ignored or denied, at least by an outsider who just walked in. This car has tons of personality, and that fact is apparent just from catching a glimpse of it from the other side of the building.
We were warmly welcomed into the shop, and as we got more acclimated with the surrounding, we spent some time with Chief and Shawn. Chief was in the midst of deciding how to set up the four link in the Crowmod for the next day’s track outing, while Shawn hung out offering support. The entire crew at Midwest Street Cars Automotive seems to have a great relationship, and you really get the feeling this is just a big group of friends working on racecars. So it made us think, where did this all begin?
Midwest Street Cars – The Beginning
Doing the TV show, we couldn’t do what we do every day. I couldn’t do heating and air anymore; I just didn’t have any time. – Justin Shearer
Whoever is number one at that time gets a guaranteed spot, and we’d just go down the list until somebody was broken and then move on to the next one and so on. Before you know, it came to where it was more important to be number one on the list than it was to win Cash Days.
“Then as far as [Midwest Street cars Automotive] goes, it just came out of necessity,” Chief continues. “Doing the TV show, we couldn’t do what we do every day. I couldn’t do heating and air anymore; I just didn’t have any time. All we were doing was filming the show, so it just became easier to have a shop that focused around automotive stuff, because that’s what I was doing every day anyway. It was just as easy to go from one customer’s car putting nitrous on it to my own car putting nitrous on it. “
When the cameras aren’t rolling, the facility is also a full-service performance and tuning shop for the speed-hungry people of Oklahoma and the surrounding region.
“We do mostly late model GM performance cars — Corvettes, G8s, CTS-Vs, Fifth-Gen Camaros, pick-ups,” Chief adds. “We don’t build racecars, we don’t want to build race cars. We just want to do late model performance. But we only do that when we’re not filming. When we’re filming, we try not to take any customer cars in because it takes up so much of our time we end up pissing all of the customers off.“
Justin “Big Chief” Shearer
Once I got my own car I couldn’t afford to have anyone do the work for me, and I couldn’t afford to pay somebody to tune it, so I had to learn how to do all that stuff on my own by tearing my own shit up. – Justin Shearer
Although Chief is now the street boss of any real racing in the OKC area, it wasn’t always that way. He actually didn’t even have much of an automotive background prior to diving into the racing world.
“My dad was a transmission mechanic,” Chief tells us. “He worked on cars on the side at the house and I helped him with that a little bit here and there. I really didn’t have any automotive experience until I got my first car. I worked at parts houses, a Chevy dealership, and parked cars for a used car dealer, but I really didn’t have any automotive experience, honestly.
Once I got my own car I couldn’t afford to have anyone do the work for me, and I couldn’t afford to pay somebody to tune it, so I had to learn how to do all that stuff on my own by tearing my own shit up. And I got pretty decent at it, I guess.”
Over the past few years, we’ve watched as Big Chief has transitioned from Race Master, to racer, to dominating the 405’s Top 10 List with the black (then white) Pontiac LeMans affectionately known to the world as “The Crow”. The car’s rise to the top was nothing short of impressive, and its dominance seemed like it would be endless. That was, until the crash with Brian “Chucky” Davis that changed Justin’s racing life forever.
When the decorated grudge racer rolled into OKC, his plan was to take Chief’s money and some pride in the process. In the end, he almost took his life.
“I don’t know how you would put it into words,” Shearer says of the crash televised in season six. “It was the scariest, [email protected]#$%^& craziest thing I’ve ever experienced.” Chief suffered some severe injuries in the crash, although you wouldn’t have known it from watching the drama unfold on television. When you talk to Chief about it or hear him talk about it is when you get the true scope of the physical pain he had to deal with.
It was the scariest, [email protected]#$%^& craziest thing I’ve ever experienced.” – Justin Shearer
“That’s every day. The crash itself was insane and scary. But every day since then has been a job just to figure out how you’re going to keep from killing everybody.”
“Building a backhalf car takes a long time,” he explains. “Everything is 100 percent custom, one-off, never-been-done-before. That’s just the way backhalf cars are. I didn’t want to wait again. I waited two years to build “The Crow” and it was gone in about two seconds. I don’t ever want to do that again. I don’t want to pour my heart and soul into something for years and go through all that just to have it gone that fast. And I also don’t want to get to the point where I don’t want to race it because I’m scared someone is going to hit me.
“It worked out for everything that I wanted it to do, and it was available right then and there,” Shearer continues. “Pro Mods are the Big Mac of hamburgers. No, I don’t want a Big Mac, I want a homemade double cheeseburger with real American cheese and grass-fed beef. But, that takes time. Who the hell is going to do that and where am I going to find it? And it’s so expensive. But I can stop right on my way home and get a Big Mac and it’s ready right now and it’s something like a cheeseburger.”
Whether you want to liken any racecar to a cheeseburger or not, Chief does make a valid point.
Shearer gave us some insight into the rebuilding of the relationship.
“It’s going,” he says of his relationship with the NHRA. “We’re not picking out strollers or anything yet, but we’re at least talking. Bottom line, I want to drag race for a living for the rest of my life. I don’t want to work on cars. I don’t want to tune Corvettes, I want to drag race and that’s where people drag race for a living, so I better figure it out.”
Does this mean we’re going to see the Street Outlaws star in NHRA Pro Modified competition in the near future? For a guy who has made his living out of racing on the street, the transition would be a big one, but it’s a challenge he’s up for.
“I’ve got to find a lot of money,” Chief tells us. “I’ve got to find a lot of people to help me, and then I still have to be able to play by the rules. And lord knows I’m not cut out for that. And damn, they do it early! They get to the track at 8 or 9 o’clock; I don’t get up before 2 or 2:30! So, I’ve got a lot to learn there. If I can keep my shit together, I’d like to try it.”
We tried to make a ’69 Camaro look pretty and put a shiny, big, badass blower on it — I took it out a couple of times and I was hooked. After that, the show car shit went out the window. – Shawn Ellington
Ellington is a car guy through-and-through. His drive to win pushes him to constantly make more power and push the envelope of performance. Shawn’s roots in the automotive world are based in, of all things, the show car world.
“I grew up around cars. My dad had a body shop my whole life. Basically, we restored old cars. He did collision body work and restoration, so I did everything I could to help him when I was younger, which usually consisted of sweeping up the shop, and then on days off from school I’d go to the shop and help him.
Cars were kind of my life, even from growing up. But it wasn’t racing. It was more of a show car-type deal. We went to a lot of car shows and things when I was younger, and everything I did was about trying to make my car look prettier. We tried to make a ’69 Camaro look pretty and put a shiny, big, badass blower on it — I took it out a couple of times and I was hooked. After that, the show car shit went out the window.”
If you’ve never seen the Murder Nova in person, it’s a bit rough around the edges. Whether its intentional to ward off would-be competitors, or the patina (for lack of a better term) is real, there’s no denying the cars’ ability to simply destroy anything it lines up next to (except maybe Barry Mitchell). We’ve even seen the car take the win with the back tires. This kind of performance is flat-out nuts, and it can be attributed to one key factor — power.
“I make more power than everybody else does. We have to test and constantly push the envelope and try to go faster and I’ve got the best parts that I can afford to buy on the car. It’s heavy and its not state-of-the-art by any means, but we make it work, and where we race it at, it’s competitive.”
The Murder Nova has had a few different combinations under the hood in the name of dominance on the street. You’re probably most familiar with the current twin-turbo configuration and the ProCharger combination from the beginning of the TV show. But it’s also had a roots blower setup before, as well.
“I’ve never had nitrous in this car, but it has been roots-blown, ProCharged, and I’ve been twin turbo. If I strictly raced at the track, I’d probably still have a ProCharger on it, but doing what we do, and needing the type of power management that we need, the turbos have worked better,” he says.
Whether it’s in the OG Murder Nova or its state-of-the-art counterpart, one thing drives Shawn to be as competitive as possible.
“Winning. I mean, nobody wants to lose and I want to be the best at what we do. It’s something that never ends and there’s always something that can be done — there’s always testing that can be done, there’s different ways to put more power to the ground, and we still have plenty of power on reserve.
“I get to do it [racing] everyday now,” Shawn explains. “We were pretty good at it before, and once you start doing something for a living, you always get better at it. I feel like our game has stepped up and we’ve had to step it up because people are coming out of the woodwork now to race us.”
Nobody wants to lose and I want to be the best at what we do.” – Shawn Ellington
Street Outlaws is the shot in the arm the drag racing world needed. The notoriety and popularity of the show and its characters has brought new life and new fans to the sport. The fact that the television show is based around street racing has brought some negative attention, but the show’s host sees nothing but the positive side.
“It’s positive. It’s all positive,” Shearer says. There’s nothing that we do that’s negative for the sport of drag racing. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care what your opinion is. Everything I do is for drag racing. I live it, eat it, breathe it, sleep it, I’m all about racing. Period. Everything I do has to do with drag racing and as long as more people are talking about drag racing, reading about drag racing, buying drag racing parts, going to drag racing shops, going to drag races, and getting interested in something that has to do with drag racing then it’s good. Period.”