JJ Da Boss: Exclusive interview with racing legend behind Street Outlaws: Memphis

JJ Da Boss from Street Outlaws: Memphis
JJ Da Boss of Street Outlaws: Memphis calls the shots and picks the winners

It’s not an easy task to interview JJ Da Boss, the main attraction of Discovery’s new Street Outlaws: Memphis.

Like any good ol’ boy, there’s a lot of hype and self-promotion. But make no mistake, the old adage that you either got “it” or you don’t rings completely true in the case of JJ Da Boss, born Jonathan Day.

He ain’t lacking confidence, he’s running a big outfit that is technically illegal, and on top that there is the mystery of his earlier “bad boy in prison” days, and the whys of it. JJ masterfully dances and distracts in conversation.

His lust for life is plain as day. With 11 children (he is just 44) and a career made putting it out on the line nightly to scoop up the glory, the sacks of cash and just trying staying alive while doing it, he’s truly a larger than life character.

Street Outlaws: Memphis is a huge hit for the Discovery channel based on all of that. They hitched their network wagon to him for good reason.

Coupled with the real-life danger inherent in street racing — on roads not exactly Formula One racetrack pristine and where vehicles that can easily spin out of control — the resulting show is truly addictive.

JJ knows how to rook and hustle cocky competitors, getting his wife Tricia and lifelong friend “Queen of the Streets” Precious Cooper to wager with men who may not quite get that racing can be a unisex endeavor.

He puts his “rags to rods” spin on himself with great flourish on his website, which describes JJ as: “Always, country, poor and Happy. He was the only child of a pentecostal mother. JJ grew up in the streets at an early age gambling, hustling anything to earn a few dollars…He was driving and racing at the age of 10 on dirt and gravel roads around Mississippi County.”

We spoke to JJ about everything Street Outlaws: Memphis.

Monsters and Critics: Let’s begin with just some basic things for fans that are new to street racing that maybe don’t know what some of the terms you use are. What they mean. Like water burnouts when you guys are setting up the races.

JJ Da Boss: You know, we use water burn out because really that’s what our grandfathers used, but really we don’t glue our street down and turn it like into a track surface. We leave it real street.

So it’s like you can go to the street, and you cover it up in mud, you no longer have a street race, you have a mud pull. So we use water, that way we don’t glue our street down and make it like a track.

M&C: How do you keep the police out of your hair?

JJ: We got kind of a neutral respect with the police. We try to respect them, they respect us, and we have…there’s laws and politics in the street racing world.

You know, we try to…as JJ Da Boss, you know, the main guy for my people, what I do is I try to always make sure I’m not close to a school, or close to a church, or hospital or anything that’s going to endanger anyone. We try to get out there ourself.

There’s politics between us, all the street racers that we have. We don’t care what gang you’re from, what race you are, what religion. When you’re in the street racing world, you don’t let your other problems bleed into it.

Let’s say it’s two gangs, they come to the street race, they got a problem, they start shooting each other, it messes it up for the street racers.

So we got to…there’s a rule and a law, when you’re at the scene everything’s neutral. Everything’s squish. Respect everyone. Treat everyone like you want to be treated.

M&C: It’s interesting you say that. This is a sport. There’s a lot of people that when they need to get their adrenaline up would use cocaine or meth or some drug or something. How do you keep that controlled? I’m not trying to paint street racers as drug addicts, don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying how do you manage that?

JJ: You could never…a real street racer, anyone that races…if they got a car that they worked on and spent $20,000 to $30,000, they’re not using no damn drugs. You know what I’m saying?

A drug user’s going to be out on the street somewhere using drugs, on a corner. He’s not going to be somewhere racing, doing something, spending all his time sweating. So you know that’s kind of like the simple-minded of America how they stereotype everyone. Kind of like myself, you hear me with a country twang, you think I’m a dummy. You know?

M&C: The first episode of the season was almost like it was a complete family thing. Even your adversary Ronnie Pace, at the end of the premiere, when you raced him, you guys hugged and you’d almost killed each other…

JJ: Right.

M&C: …but you know, there was a family vibe…it was like you guys knew each other.

JJ: You know why? Because we’re passionate about what we do. We hold dear to our heart. So if you know someone’s passionate same as you, if someone’s doing the same job that you’re doing and they love it and they’re passionate about it, even if you don’t like them, you got to respect them, don’t you agree?

M&C: Oh of course. But later in the series, I know that some people roll up on you who aren’t as well known. We see in the teaser for the series that fists are going to fly. Can you talk about that?

JJ: You know, yes. I can talk. I’m JJ Da Boss. I keep it real. I don’t ask anyone for anything. I try to treat everyone like I want to be treated.

M&C: Yeah. But when people roll up on you and they hear your reputation and they want to bet against you, how do you vet them? How do you make sure that these are people that are worthy of your time?

JJ: You know, do I want my little nine-year-old daughter Aubrey at a street race? No I don’t. Okay. Dough Boy [JJ’s eldest son], he just came in the street racing scene this year his first time. Dough Boy’s 25, 26 years old. You know I’ve never really had Dough Boy too much in the street racing scene, you know?

I’m going to say this about the street racing world. It’s an underground world. We respect everyone. We treat everyone like we want to be treated. Is it dangerous? Yes. Can you die out there? Yes. Every day you go out there, there’s a chance you can die. But most of all, what I try to do is, I don’t want to die doing something that I don’t love or I don’t honor or I don’t respect.

If I’m going to die, I want to die being happy and doing something I believe in. And that’s where it is with the streets. It is dangerous, yes. It’s not for everyone.

M&C: Otts’ Killer Cab Car is one of my favorites…there are many cool cars, but the Killer Cab makes me laugh every time I see it. I’m sure all the vehicles are like children to you. You’ve got favorites and there’s history. Can you talk about the favorite cars, and maybe if you had to pick one?

JJ: You know, I got the ’67 Nova that I call “Heifer”, right? I bought that car when I was 22, 23 years old. I still own that car today and I’m 44 years old.

No one in the world owns nothing on that car. No one’s given me nothing for that car. I worked for it. I put the stuff in that car. I built that car. Then I have Ole Heavy. It’s a ’49 Chevrolet truck that I built; I put the rear in. A race car place didn’t build that truck, I built it.

You know, our cars we hold close and dear to our hearts. It’s what we believe in. It’s what we do.

I was trying to think how to answer you on how do I stop from betting…like if I told you right now to come bet with me this weekend on a street race, you don’t even know where I’m at. And what I’m getting at is, if people’s out there in that world, they’re somewhat legit, or they wouldn’t even know where we’re at.

M&C: How did you find Precious Cooper? How did this woman come into your orbit at the MSO Club?

JJ: Precious Cooper, she’s known as the Queen of the Streets. Precious and Tricia both grew up as life-long friends. Precious is the Godmother to my kids. Me, Precious and Tricia, Jason Carpenter, Jeffrey James, Jason Ainsworth, Kenneth Gulley, Anthony Smith….all of us, we grew up in a little town outside Memphis about 700 people.

In our town everybody street races. It’s what we done on Sundays, you know? After you get out of church, go to the spot and everybody’s out there street racing.

Precious, her family always loved street racing. I love street racing. She grew up with my wife, Tricia. She helps take care of all of my bills. She helps me as much as I help her. It’s just kind of a neutral respect. Nothing crazy. Nothing unmorally.

Precious Cooper
JJ’s secret weapon is Precious Cooper, a lifelong friend

M&C: Well it’s a really interesting family that you put together. The emotional scene when you almost died racing Ronnie, and you went right over to your mom who was crying. She was so worried about you. Can you talk about the emotional toll? The conversation that maybe you had with her?

JJ: You know, it is really emotional, you know what I’m saying. And when I was young growing up, my mother, she’s Pentecostal, she said, “Hey son. Do what you know’s right. What’s right for you might be wrong for me. What’s right for another man might be wrong for you. You do what’s right in your heart, and you’ll know what’s right.” I never even dreamed of what my mom was going through all my life as I’m street racing.

But as I watch my son do it, I can kind of relate to my mother now. You know, hey it’s…street racing is something I love, but there’s a chance that I’m going to die out there every night. Because, this is the real deal street race. We’re not gluing it down. It’s not nothing. It’s a real street race. And there’s a lot of danger with it. You know, we’ve got to have our heart right.

M&C: For sure. I was watching how you’re arranging the money and how you’re doing the bets and everyone’s right up front with the money. Have you ever had a situation where it got hairy or someone welched on the bet and you had to go to plan B?

JJ: Yes, ma’am. You see people try to pass off counterfeit money. You see every kind of hustle, you know what I’m saying?

A short stack of nine hundred-dollar bills for $1,000. They’ll hand you $1,000 and it will be $900 there. There’s nine million different ways to hustle. That’s why the street’s really not for everyone. You ain’t get to cheat, you gotta be smart enough to keep the cheat off of you. And that’s why you see me do certain things that I’m doing.

And when you see me count that money out, I’m not counting that out for everybody to see. I’m counting it out to make sure that it’s right, because if you hand me a stack of money and say it’s $2,000, and then another guy hands me a stack, if I don’t count that in front of y’all and stick it in that bag, at the end of that race I owe $4,000.

I can’t hand that man the money and say, “Hey it’s only $3,200. It was $4,400 and it’s short.” Naw. It don’t work like that in the street. So you count the money in front of each other. And you see what that money is right as the person’s there. Once it goes to me, or in that bag, I owe whatever was said.

M&C: Can you tell us more about the crew and who drives what?

JJ: Okay. Tricia, she drives Heifer, that’s my personal car. Precious drives Ole Heavy. That’s my truck. And then there’s Jeffrey James who drives Big Block Killer. Jason Carpenter, he drives Sexy the Camero. Lee Roberts, he drives Night Force. Anthony Smith drives Hercules. Kenneth Gulley drives Bounty Hunter. Jason Ainsworth drives Prosecutor.

Those are the guys that I grew up with my whole life, that we walked the gravel roads with, that we went hunting together. We went fishing together. That I went to elementary school with. You know, Dennis Bailey, Don and Jamie, I’ve street races with them for approximately a couple years. They wasn’t lifelong friends.

M&C: How long have you been married?

JJ: You shouldn’t ask me, because I’m going to sound crazy now. Me and Tricia been together for about 10 years.

M&C: How many children do you have with her?

JJ:  Four kids. Three girls and one boy.

M&C: It’s really a tight family unit. And it shows on the series. It’s really watchable fun and also white-knuckler reality series. And it feels real. It doesn’t feel like it’s being put on.

JJ: We don’t scrip anything, you know? Discovery had…their people came at me for many years wanting me to do a show. I wouldn’t do it. I don’t race for a living. I race because I love it and it’s something I believe in.

They came at me for a couple years and I wouldn’t do it. And then they sent this guy, this producer came. I can just tell he was serious and he appreciated it as much as I did. And I got a trusting vibe. You know when you meet somebody you can tell if there’s something, you know?

You get that feeling. And I got this feeling with this guy. He told me, he said, “JJ. If you’ll just trust me and believe in me.” He said, “I will be out there with my cameras and I will not interrupt of disrespect or try to run anything in your scene. Y’all street race and do it as legit and just like y’all do if we wasn’t here.”

And that’s what I’ve done. It’s been kind of a blessing. It allows the world to see the real us, uncut.

M&C: For the fans…in the news this past summer, you had a terrible accident. You were lucky, you know?

JJ: Yes ma’am.

M&C: You were hauling Ole Heavy and Heifer and you got had quite an accident. Are you healed up?

JJ: I did, and I don’t know how old you are, but at my age at 44 I feel it. I ain’t going sit here and lie and say I don’t feel it. But, I had broke some ribs, and busted my eye and head and broke my hand. You know? I’m alright. All in all, it was a blessing. It could have been a whole lot worse. I got bunged up. Cars got messed up. But I’m up and at ’em.

M&C: That’s good to hear. I know you don’t want to give away spoilers for the fans, but is there anything major coming up this season that fans can be alerted to? To watch for?

JJ: You know, there’s going to be a lot of things that you don’t understand, you know? What I can say is, try to. Because it would be like sending me up to your place and you start talking your terminology that I don’t understand. And I could cast judgment on it real quick. Be as open-minded as you can. It’s our world. Make yourselves happy.

M&C: Sure, absolutely. Well, off witcha head, man. I love your sayings. I think that one of my favorite ones from the first episode was, “Closed mouths don’t get fed.”

JJ: That’s truth then. Early bird gets the worm.

Street Outlaws: Memphis airs Mondays at 10pm ET/PT on Discovery.

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