Legendary racer Jeff Lutz wrecked one of his iconic cars, a 1957 Twin-Turbo Chevy, in 2021 while filming for an upcoming season of Discovery Channel’s “Street Outlaws.” He was one of the most prominent figures in the automotive-themed reality television series, so many were quite concerned when they heard the news of his horrific accident. His loyal fans wondered about his condition, and if he could come back in fighting form on the track.
Get to know Jeff Lutz
Jeff Lutz was born and raised in Pennsylvania. His father bought him his first ride, a 1974 Chevrolet Nova Hatchback, but he had never driven it. When he was in his teens, he drove without a license and was caught, so it took a while before he could enjoy driving.
How Jeff got into the racing scene
His brother, who came home to Pennsylvania after serving in the Gulf War, called Jeff up and asked him to look at a car with him, a 1970 Camaro. Jeff could still vividly recall how his brother drove the car up the road and then turned around to ask him if he wanted to drive it. As soon as Jeff was behind the wheel, he said that he dumped the clutch and let her fly, and then told his brother to buy it. Soon they were at the track, and he was hooked.
The ‘74 Nova was supposed to be his first race car but life got in the way as he had kids. It was after he bought a house that he purchased a 1985 Chevrolet Camaro Iroc-Z. He thought it was fast and felt incredible to drive, and was the first car that he cut up and then put big tires under it, to became his first race car.
His foray into the racing world might have come later in life, but he more than made up for it with an impressive list of accomplishments. He began making a name for himself as a serious contender at the NMCA Muscle Car Nationals, said to be the ‘ultimate street car motorsport series,’ under the Pro Street or Pro Mod Class, and it went from there.
Drag Week and Drag Weekend champion
Jeff won Hot Rod Magazine’s Drag Week twice – it’s a competition in which participants drive their street-legal drag cars 1,000 miles along a designated route with several checkpoints, and make at least one quarter-mile run at each of the four drag strips on five consecutive days. Support vehicles aren’t allowed except for a small trailer that the race car can tow and which contains tools, spare parts, and anything else that one will need for repair and maintenance. With the motto, “Drive it fast, make it last,” the one with the lowest average elapsed time (ET), will be declared the champion.
Jeff along with his crew chief, Scott Murray, always came close to winning since 2009 with impressive timeslips, but it was only in 2014 that he scored the title of Drag Week Champion aboard the “Evil Twin,” a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, with a week-long average ET of 6.84 seconds and speed of 212 miles per hour. He did it again in 2016 with his 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Pro Mod, nicknamed “Mad Max,” with an average of 6.1918 at 240.018mph, making it the quickest in Drag Week history.
Hot Rod’s Drag Weekend is 500 miles of street driving, and three days of quarter-mile racing; it follows the format of Drag Week. For the first-ever Drag Weekend in 2015, Jeff with his black Pro Mod Camaro was declared the winner out of the 350 participants who took on the challenge. His weekend average was 6.4767-second ET at 211.39mph.
OMG! Jeff Lutz just let the cat out of the bag… He’s taken his Outlaw Pro Mod Camaro – the same one he went 5.70s with…
Posted by Drag Illustrated on Saturday, September 12, 2015
Jeff Lutz in “Street Outlaws”
Street racing is illegal, so it’is done under the cover of darkness in some abandoned road. A production company called Pilgrim Studios delved into the world of street racing – Oklahoma was where it all began in 2013 when it made its TV debut, and the guys competed to get on the List of the top 10 fastest in the area. The series had become so big that the network featured street racing scenes in other cities through various spin-off series. Before long, fans were treated to thrilling shows, in which the best of the best in America competed to earn the title of the fastest on the street, and on a No-Prep track.
Jeff met Justin “Big Chief” Shearer and Shawn “Murder Nova” Ellington in 2008, during his first Drag Week race at Muncie, Indiana. When the reality TV series started, Big Chief reached out to him, and was banking on his help with the race car, popularly known as the Crow. Jeff flew to Oklahoma and lent his expertise in building the fastest ride for not just Big Chief but also to many of the guys who wanted to get on top of The List. His expertise as a chassis builder and fabricator was quite well-known in the industry.
A lot of people think that it was all ‘Hollywood-made,’ just for show, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth. The guys were true street racers, and the Top Ten List as well as Cash Days were real. It was an eye-opener for him, as he said, ‘They made me a street racer! Because I’m a drag racer, and to see what they can do on the street, I was like: “You’ve got to be kidding me!”’ Initially, his involvement was just on the mechanical side of things, but he soon found himself racing to get on that famous List. In season nine, he went straight to the top with “Mad Max,” but his reign came to a halt when Big Chief nixed Pro Mods from the List to shake things up. He came back with a ‘57 Chevy, and made it to the No.4 spot.
Jeff Lutz totaled his ‘57 Chevy in 2021 crash
Filming for “Street Outlaws” involved actual racing, so the risk of a car crashing would always be there. As the racers would always say, ‘it wasn’t a matter of if, but when.’
On 9 May 2021, news came out that Jeff was involved in an accident while they were filming for the TV series’ upcoming season. Photos of the wrecked car circulated on social media, and his fans were deeply concerned about Jeff’s condition as the damage to the car looked quite extensive. Chuck Seitsinger, one of the cast members of the show, took to Facebook to share his disgust over the leaked photos as it was deemed insensitive, and he believed that the people who did it just wanted to boost their number on social media. What’s worse was that Jeff’s wife, who was on the first flight out, got to see those photos even before reaching his side, so one could only imagine what she was feeling at that time.
Before the crash, Jeff said in an interview that he didn’t just want to make it onto America’s List; he wanted to come out on top. He was out to prove that he was one serious contender, as if anybody would ever doubt that, considering his history on the tracks. He was behind the wheel of his yellow ‘57 Chevy when he raced against Damon Merchant who was in his ‘68 Camaro called Rogue. As he crossed the finish line, he lost control of the car and hit the curb on the opposite lane before it spun around and flipped. He believed he was going 170mph when it happened. The only thing he remembered was that the car hit a bump on the road before sliding right, and for a moment he thought Damon was going to hit him.
It seemed that he lost consciousness or everything was a bit hazy at that time, because he said that when he came to, he was upside down. He crawled out of the car and stayed down on the ground; it was a terrifying moment for him. Everyone from the production, the cast, and the paramedics rushed to where he was; viewers could hear him groaning in pain as he said that he couldn’t breathe and that his back was hurting from the neck down to his butt.
Big Chief, the racemaster, was quite emotional upon seeing his friend on the ground and then loaded into the ambulance, saying, ‘No matter how many times you go through this, it never prepares you for it.’ Jeff was airlifted to a hospital in Tulsa; he recalled waking up in a hospital and was touched when he saw Ryan Martin by his bedside, who said that James “Doc” Love was there too but only one person at a time was allowed inside the room. He said that the 405 guys were like one big family. Even if they competed against each other, they all came together at times like this. Everyone had been sending him messages, expressing their concerns and support for him, and he greatly appreciated it.
Jeff Lutz, suffered a horrible accident in his 1957 Chevy while filming the next season Street Outlaws. We’re happy to learn that the safety systems on the car did their job and Lutz will be ok.
Read more: https://t.co/84xjqbeuA2 pic.twitter.com/qH6yUBWist
— HOT ROD Magazine (@hotrodmagazine) May 10, 2021
He explained that he stayed at the hospital for a few days, mainly because the HANS device or head restraint he was wearing during the crash resulted in bruises on his neck and around his shoulders; it was so bad that he was unable to move his neck for a time.
First time seeing the wrecked Chevy
Jeff and his wife made their way to the garage to check on the car. The first thing that came to his mind upon seeing the shape that the car was in was that it did its job and saved his life. He knew how lucky he was to walk away from the accident with only ‘bumps and bruises.’
Still, he and his wife shed tears as they were heartbroken to see the extent of the damage, and he knew in his heart that he couldn’t fix it this time. They remembered all the blood, sweat, and tears that they poured into building this iconic car, had won a lot of races and a large chunk of money with this one. Jeff said that he banged up this car before but nothing like this. He and his son racked their brains to somehow rebuild it, but had to accept that its time on the street was definitely over. That said, he reminded himself that the car was just a tool that he used to do his job, and as such, it could be replaced.
A GoFundMe page for his race car
Jeff received messages from some people offering to set up a GoFundMe page for him. However, he felt that this crowdfunding platform was for someone sick whose family needed financial assistance with the medical bills or something similar. As much as he appreciated those making an effort to help or contribute, he was adamant about not using GoFundMe for his race car; he said it was something that he would never do. They had enough sponsors, and he and his son, Jeffrey Jr., worked hard for this. If ever they couldn’t make things happen on their own, then they wouldn’t do this.
Jeff’s return to racing
It had only been a few days since he was released from the hospital, and he was back on the street. The guys weren’t really that surprised to see him, but had to ask him why he was back so early. Jeff said, ‘I’ll be honest with it. I thought to myself I either go back down this road right away or I probably won’t ever do it again.’ His passion for racing was that deep.
With his ‘57 destroyed, Jeff brought his No Prep King car on a non-NPK race, as he said that his GTO might be lighter than most street cars, but it wasn’t illegal to put it on the street. Big Chief said that getting back so soon was risky. As a fellow racer, he was excited to see Jeff back, but as a friend he was worried. Jeff’s first race was with David “Daddy Dave” Comstock, and although he lost that night by a car and a half, he was quite relieved to try to put the crash behind him. He said that he had been racing for about 25 years, and this was a bittersweet loss for him.
Jeff went on to race for “Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings” and “Street Outlaws: America’s List.” He also joined the guys in the Street Outlaws vs Australia for a No Prep King race at four tracks in 2023.
Rebuilding a ‘57 Chevy
Since Jeff wasn’t quitting the street, he had to build a race car for that, and it was another ‘57 Chevy. He said that it had always been his dream car since he was 12 and nothing was going to change that. They acquired an original but pretty rusted ‘57 Chevy Bel Air Hardtop, and made use of some of the salvageable parts from the one that he’d totaled. They filmed how they rebuilt his new race car, and the video clips were uploaded onto his YouTube Channel called Lutz Race Cars. However, since he was busy filming for the Street Outlaws franchise, he didn’t have time to rebuild it on his own or with his son, and so they collaborated with a team he trusted most with it. The new one would be yellow. He didn’t exactly know why he preferred that color, but he just knew that his first car was yellow and his last one would be that color as well.
Expanding Lutz Race Cars
About four years ago, Jeff bought an eight-acre plot of land beside their own that would become the new home of their shop, Lutz Race Cars, because they outgrew the old one and just planned to use it as storage. Jeff said that he bought the old property about two decades ago, and it had never flooded, but after more houses were built in the area, the shop would be submerged in water from time to time and it was such as hassle. With the new property, they put truckloads of dirt to raise the ground so flooding wouldn’t be an issue anymore. It was big enough that he could drive a rig all the way in and out. At least two buildings would be constructed: one would be for the rig as well as for their personal cars, and another one for the workshop.
Jeff has a shop in Oklahoma, and it has a living room and a bedroom. He stays there when filming “Street Outlaws” while his wife and son live in Pennsylvania to keep their shop running. At times, they traveled with him to attend events. Jeff said, ‘It means the world to me to build these cars with my son, Jeffrey…In fact, if he and my wife, Christine, weren’t doing all of this with me, I wouldn’t do it. It’s definitely a family deal.’
The crash was very traumatic for him, and was something he never wanted to experience again. Getting back to the racing scene after that was a bit scary, because nobody was slowing down on the street. Whatever car he hit the street with, he had to go fast, and he would keep doing it. Jeff said, ‘I’m living a dream. Jeffrey’s living a dream. We get to do what we love to do – racing for a living every weekend.’