It’s often said that what others think of us, is often beyond our control. James “Doc” Love, however, would beg to differ. He knows what he’s about, where he’s from, and what his values are, and isn’t afraid to let his reputation reflect that. The public knows Doc as the driver of the Street Beast, a 1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo that features prominently on Discovery Channel’s Street Outlaws series, now a fixture on Monday night cable television. Yet exposure does not equal success. Rather, success in the limelight requires unrelenting drive and scrupulous attention to one’s own good name.
And when you grow up poor, drive and a good name are perhaps your most precious assets. Doc can certainly attest to this, sharing “I’m the son of a concrete construction worker. In the wintertime we’d nearly starve to death eating beans and cornbread and stuff.” Then in the warmer months, when school was out, he recalls having to work all summer to be able to buy clothes for the following year.
It was in those early years a Chevrolet Monte Carlo was central to Doc’s life.
I’m the son of a concrete construction worker. In the wintertime we’d nearly starve to death eating beans and cornbread and stuff.
“My first actual car was a ’77 Monte Carlo given to me by my parents. We were dirt poor — I was given mom’s car to help get my brother and sister to school, and for me to go to work so I could afford gas to get my brother and sister to school,” he explains.
And when he had the opportunity to buy the first car with his own money, he went for another Monte Carlo, this time a ’72 model — for $75. With fondness he recalls, “Put a timing chain on it and some rear brakes and drove that for quite a while.”
Around this time, Doc’s determination and mechanical aptitude began to pay dividends. He went to technical school at UTI and became a young diesel mechanic, turning wrenches to tool up further. Soon he was shop foreman at the Peterbilt dealership in town, and after a few years founded a new venture, Southwest Diesel Service, where he’s been the sole proprietor for 15 years now.
All the while Doc bought and played around with a variety of cars, but as important as those were to him, the responsibilities of a growing family and a growing business took priority. So for a period of 12 or 13 years he put his automotive passion on hold, selling all his cars including his favorite toy, a 1969 Chevelle SS 396. As many of us know, however, vehicular obsession is hard to shake.
As soon as the diesel repair business afforded some financial stability, he seized the opportunity. “It was time. I needed to do something for myself,” he explains. Wanting to fill the void left by his Chevelle, Doc looked at prices and quickly realized he was out of that market. Knowing his personal history, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he looked to Monte Carlo’s next. The car we now know as the Street Beast was found in Milwaukee, Wiscsonsin and purchased on eBay in 2003. “It was just what I was looking for,” Doc recalls. “Something I could get in and cruise and drive and have fun with. Loud noise and loud tires. And the occasional pass the race track.” With a mild-steel eight-point cage, small tires, and an iron-headed 468 on a single carburetor, it fit the bill perfectly. However, its 12 second elapsed times weren’t satisfactory for long.
The evolution of the new-to-Oklahoma G-body began with a modest goal — 10 seconds in the 1/4-mile. So as the first upgrade, Doc sourced a pump-gas 565. It immediately went 10.60’s. And with a little tuning, it was deadly consistent in the 10.50’s and could even hit 10.40’s if the air was good. But still, Doc was not content with “consistent”. He wanted to keep pushing himself to go faster, and wasn’t satisfied with the heads-up racing scene at nearby tracks. “I just got tired of being king of test-and-tune,” he simply states.
Enter the streets. As he recalls, “I ran into Monza [Jerry Johnston] from a mutual friend, and he invited me out to one of the street races within a couple of weeks of meeting him. I met the Midwest Street Cars guys and was hooked then.” The Beast certainly earned its name in those early days. As if 565 cubic-inches wasn’t already exceedingly large for a street-raced car, Doc saw that most other street racers ran nitrous, and seized the opportunity for more power. However that power proved a bit much for the original small tire setup with a bolt-in cage. The Beast was “really, really, really hard to tame,” he says.
In the winter of 2008, therefore, the next phase of evolution began with major chassis upgrades: the car was cut up, back-halved, and put onto big tires. And at that point the Beast truly came into its own. On the street it finally ran well — one of the perennial top contenders for the OKC Top 10 list. As Doc says, “It was hard to beat. Me and Shawn went back and forth, me and Dave went back and forth, me and Monza tangled a few times.”
I get asked all the time, ‘Where do I start?’ Start with your favorite car, [or] start with what you can afford and work your way up. It is what you want.
With the nitrous-fed 565 now hooking, Doc’s success carried over beyond the list, highlighted by a win at the first Cash Days he entered with the car. Even in the nascent no-prep scene at the tracks of Oklahoma and northern Texas, the car proved itself. Doc took home the win at the Street Beast’s fourth no-prep race, the Fall 2011 King of the Concrete, at Thunder Valley in Noble, Oklahoma.
Since the show has come about the evolution of the Beast has continued, of course, just at a much accelerated pace. Indeed, the rate of race car development now has to match the added pressure of competition in the limelight. The Street Beast, for instance, first appeared on the show with a 570-inch big-block Chevy, with a nitrous plate and single fogger; the car still had it’s 8.50-certified mild-steel cage, with stock front suspension and full frame ahead of the backhalf. Weighing in at around 3450 pounds, the Beast would have to make its advantage early, before the lighter cars could come around it.
To keep pace Doc decided to “go big” and jumped to a massive 706 cubic-inch powerplant. Of course this kind of power exposed weaknesses elsewhere. “We quickly learned that that car was not built for that kind of horsepower and torque,” he recounts. So he front-halfed the car and with a few additional bars got the car set correctly. It’s with this combination that Doc took the car to number one on the list. The 706 was punched out to 728, and an identical spare motor was added to his program. The latest wave of changes were to the chassis, and they were extensive. For weight reduction — 700 pounds worth — Bob’s Pro-Fab in Culleoka, TN put the car on a full chrome-moly chassis, built to 25.3 specification and certified to 6.0.
… I wasn’t born a millionaire, I wasn’t born from a wealthy family, everything you see [and] everything you touch, I worked my ass off for.
This sort of evolution is critical — the rise of no-prep racing and the involvement of track-based teams has challenged the original cohort of OKC street racers. Indeed, as exposure from the show has brought attention to no-prep racing at the track and even to competition on the street, it’s attracted money, as well. With no-prep payouts regularly above $20,000, big-name racers from sanctioned series have taken notice. “They’re tired of racing for $2500 or $5000 to win,” Doc notes.
He underscores the challenge this poses to guys like himself who’ve been committed to street racing, saying, “It’s making us realize that, hey, these pro’s are coming in. These guys who do it for a living are coming in, these top-notch teams are coming in, we really have to figure this thing out and step up our game to stay competitive, or we’re just gonna’ get run over. They’re not going away, so we just have to put on our big boy pants and face it down, run with it, and make ourselves better.”
In the face of the ongoing challenge, Doc’s motivation and resolve are only strengthened by the ever-rising popularity of ‘outlaw’ drag racing — street or track— underscored by the success of the Street Outlaws series and the debut of Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings, which focuses on the burgeoning no-prep format. “That makes me proud, because I’m part of that movement.” And he sees good reason for this trend to continue: “Humans just have a desire to watch cars race each other. Loud exhaust, lots of tire smoke, rumbling, the adrenaline rush … and we’re bringing it back down to the grassroots, back-porch level, and people can relate to that and they’re getting interested.”
To remain competitive and advance with this rising tide, for power Doc will continue to rely on Morgan & Sons Racing Engines — “they fix them as fast as I can blow ‘em up!” he notes — Ross Pistons and Total Seal rings, Comp Cams, Haltech fuel injection and engine management, VP Fuels, and of course Nitrous Outlet. Power delivery is via either a ProTorque or a Neal Chance converter (depending on the surface), Rossler Transmissions, and Nitro Gear & Axle on the back end. And perhaps, in the near future, a TRE-built 959 cubic-inch monster might even make an appearance at the track, for no-prep events.
Through these tools he not only aims to provide entertainment, but as part of a broader mission, Doc hopes to encourage younger enthusiasts to pursue their own goals in the sport. “Drag racing is anything you want it to be,” he emphasizes. “I get asked all the time, ‘Where do I start?’ Start with your favorite car, [or] start with what you can afford and work your way up. It is what you want… It’s just ever evolving… It’s just the most amazing sport in the world.”
Truly, Doc himself has come a long way from the patched-up, 75-dollar ’72 Monte in which he started this journey. But he’s proud not only of how far he’s come, but also of how he’s gotten there. “I’ve always stuck to my guns, that hard work and determination will give you anything you want,” he says. “And I try to instill that in everybody I meet — that hey, I wasn’t born a millionaire, I wasn’t born from a wealthy family, everything you see [and] everything you touch, I worked my ass off for. And my personality, and my work ethic, has drawn people to work with me … and that’s a very proud moment for me.”