News & Analysis

Street Outlaws: The Twisted Love Child of WWE and the Bachelorette


By Pete Ward

Since the demise of Drag Racer Magazine of which I was editor, Jeff Burk, the founder/proprietor of this illustrious electronic publication, has been after me to once again start writing.


To that end, he asked me to comment on the Dec. 2nd airing of Discovery Channel’s Street Outlaws. This episode featured the series’ final race of the year, held at Billy Meyer’s drag emporium in Ennis, TX.


Oh, sweet Jesus, where to begin?!


First of all, viewers of Street Outlaws, I trust you realize it is a scripted TV program, no different from any of the thousands of other shows featured on your broadcast network of choice: Think NCIS with a shot of nitrous. When Outlaws first aired, this “reality” series sold itself as following the exploits of a bunch of badass street racers engaged in clandestine confrontations on dark back roads. The first “tell” should have been, NO TV network is going to be involved with activities which could leave them open to legal action, in this case, illegal STREET RACING! I can picture the coverage on Fox News…”Toddler and her pet chihuahua maimed during filming of Discovery Channel’s illegal drag race series!!!!” There would be more lawyers circling than turkey buzzards over a road kill. It would be akin to NBC TV airing a series on how to construct fireworks in your basement.


From this original concept Outlaws seems to have morphed into a twisted combination of macho WWE wrestling and ABC TV’s weepy Bachelorette. This December 2nd “Last Race” episode featured equal parts of oddly edited ‘competition’ and soap opera. The actual side-by-side action, in most cases, appeared to be so lopsided in nature as to be yawn producing without the fancy cutaways. And the ‘dramatic’ plot lines were soap opera-worthy. If you weren’t a regular viewer (like myself) you’d have no clue how to follow all the convoluted interplay as to who was pissed off at whom and why they were all so bitchy. And what brought about all the hairy knuckled chest thumping? The convoluted machinations as to how the competitors pair off was also a head scratcher to a casual viewer…akin to the game of Clue. How exactly do you arrive at Colonel Mustard killing Miss Scarlett with a candlestick in the solarium? This episode was an odd mix of drag racing and emotional theatrics.


To be charitable, if you are a regular viewer and able to suspend your belief in reality, I can see why Outlaws is able to command its considerable following. The race cars are mechanically interesting, there’s some tech involved (the scene of a freshly minted mega-buck Pat Musi engine being wheeled out certainly caught my eye), the cast of characters are engaging and the real-world unpredictable automotive shenanigans “no prep” racing provides -- wildly out of shape passes, cars into the wall or on their lids and fiery grenaded engines -- provides a nice visual hook.


Bottom line, the numbers don’t lie. Discovery Channel wouldn’t keep Street Outlaws on its schedule if it didn’t pull in the ratings it does (pushing two million viewers at times). Anecdotally, its popularity can be measured by the spectator turnout in the pits when an Outlaw star shows up at an NHRA national event. It equals or exceeds that of our sport’s biggest stars. It’s a head scratcher to me.


If drag racing with a heaping helping of manufactured melodrama tickles your fancy, grab your popcorn, a box of tissues and have at it!   


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