There was a time, long before Uber and Lyft and the convenience of mobile ride-sharing apps, that one in need of a ride would hail a bright yellow taxi cab — a 1955 Chevrolet, perhaps — that looked much like a tamer version of Jamie Otts’ familiar and fan-favorite Killer Cab.
The bright yellow cabs and the concept of flagging a car down from the sidewalk are rather antiquated in this high-tech, instant gratification era, and while Otts’ ’55 certainly looks the part, it is by no means archaic under the cloak of its factory steel bodywork.
Otts, who hails from Byhalia, Mississippi, situated on the outskirts of Memphis proper, christened the Killer Cab two years ago, when he was invited by race-boss JJ DaBoss to be a part of the Street Outlaws: Memphis cast. For the 46-year-old Otts, the cab was the latest in a long lineage of street and race-bred machines.
“I started racing when I was 15, 16 years old. I’ve lived in Mississippi most of my life, and here you can get a driver’s license at 15. My dad was a hot rodder — he had old Camaros, Chevelles. He was one of those old gearheads that would buy something with bent quarter panels and he’d fix them up. He raced dragsters and altereds, and funny cars and that’s what got me into this,” he explains. “I had a 355-powered Malibu and a ’71 big-block Chevelle that I drove to high school. I was street racing and just gradually getting into better cars. As my racing progressed I built a Mustang with a small-block Chevrolet that went 5.0’s, then had a ’67 Camaro leaf spring car that we drag-radial raced. Then I built a ’71 Nova for X275 that we went 4.50s with.”
Some of Otts’ Memphis-area buddies had formed what was known as Memphis Street Outlaws, a collective group of street and track racers who eventually inspired the Discovery Channel reality program of the same name. “They came to me and said they really wanted me to do this, and they talked me into it, so I started racing with those guys.” Otts bought and raced a ’68 Camaro with a Gene Fulton 632-inch big-block on nitrous with the Memphis group, later selling it to buy a ProCharger-boosted Mustang. “During that time, my buddies were telling me they were getting a TV show and that I needed to do this with them — they said we think you’ll be a stout guy on the team,” Otts shares.
I like the radial racing….over there, it’s either you’re good enough or you ain’t, there’s no middle-ground.
Knowing he’d need a more formidable chariot he could stuff a wide set of slicks under, Otts’ located and purchased a 1955 Chevrolet that famed chassis builder Wally Stroupe had constructed in the mid-1980s. Bright yellow in color, it quickly earned the nickname Cash Cab among his Memphis peers. Like the antique cabs of lore, it too was outdated — all steel with a box-tube chassis. Not a fan of its given name, Otts’ then-10-year-old son suggested they name it the Killer Cab, complete with a monster on its flanks.
With the nitrous-fed 632 for power, Otts had the car wrapped in a patina taxi cab theme and starred for two seasons on the Discovery Channel. But, a hardcore drag racer at his core, Otts was led away from the bright lights and the television cameras.
“When I bought the cab, JJ told me if I could outrun Precious [Cooper] and Ole Heavy, I could be back on the team,” he shares. “Well, I whooped them and that put me back on the show. Oklahoma thought of me as one of the faster cars out of Memphis, and I beat Dominator on the show. But it got to be a racket. It just wasn’t what I believed in and I didn’t see it going anywhere for me. It was TV, but it wasn’t TV….it wasn’t racing, in my mind. I’m more of a racer than a TV guy.”
While transitioning away from the show, Otts befriended Pro 275 star Ziff Hudson and purchased the single-turbo, big-block combination that had propelled him to the first 3-second run in history by a 275 drag radial-equipped machine. He also tabbed Teddy Houser Race Cars to completely revamp the ’55 with a 25.1-spec, double framerail chassis and outfit it with lighter-weight carbon-fiber doors and nose. Just like that, it had the efficiency of Uber and the looks of aa taxi of yesteryear.
Hudson offered to tune the car, and according to Otts, was fast right out of the gate — at least for what he was working with. The team contested the Armageddon no-prep last summer and then ran in the no-time class at No Mercy IX last fall, clocking a 4.01 on the radial tire.
Otts and Hudson snuck up on the combination last fall and into this spring, Jamie adding, “I knew we were in the ballpark, as far as being a contender with it.” Foregoing the idea of contesting the Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings series, Otts took the cab to the Radial Fest in Huntsville, Alabama earlier this month and recorded a career-best elapsed time of 3.97-seconds with the biggest and bulkiest car in the field.
“I’d never been a ‘three,’ and I really wanted to go a ‘three,’ ” he says. “We unloaded and made a couple test hits and then went the 3.97 at 192 mph. This single turbo deal makes around 3,000 horsepower to the back tires, similar to the big nitrous engines, but they can be 300-pounds lighter than us. We can’t ‘sixty’ with those guys and I knew that going there. But we turned it up racing against Tim Slavens and it went .970 60-foot and then went in the air and all the wheels came off the ground,” he notes with a laugh.
The Killer Cab is motivated by a TKM Performance-built 520 cubic-inch big-block Chevrolet centered around a Donovan cast iron block and cast Brodix Headhunter cylinder heads, fed boost by a Precision billet 118mm turbo driven by the gases from the Southern Speed-fabbed exhaust. A Callies crankshaft swings GRP connecting rods and Wiseco pistons, while and the valvetrain is spun by a Bullet camshaft. Hudson tunes the car via a FuelTech FT600 ECU, which also controls the FuelTech FTSpark ignition module. A Rossler Turbo 400 and Camerons torque converter deliver the power out back via a PST driveshaft to a Larry Jeffers Race Cars-built rear end housing with Strange Engineering axles. Menscer Motorsports shocks and struts are situated behind the striking RC Components Comp Series front and rear wheels.
Weighing in at 2,650-pounds in big-tire trim, the cab is primed to be a contender in virtually any venue Otts chooses to compete.
This offseason, the wrap was removed and a local paint shop, Paint by JC, applied the striking new look to the cab for its next racing chapter. The wild paint scheme — complete with a healthy dose of blood splatters — combined with its long and low stance and unsuspectingly-flat hood, it’s a car unlike any other.
Despite the considerable efforts on small tires, Otts ultimately intends to spend most of his time in the no-prep landscape — just not with the No Prep Kings. Instead, he has Armageddon, the Redemption series, and Dirty South No-Prep penciled into his calendar. And he won’t rule out selected events on radials, but takes a particular liking to the wild-west style of racing that no-prep provides.
“I like the radial racing….over there, it’s either you’re good enough or you ain’t, there’s no middle-ground,” Otts says. “But Armageddon — that’s the best no-prep race I’ve ever been to, Dirty South, you park, you hang out, and it’s racing. In my mind, racing should be about whether you’re bad enough or you aren’t, and if you have to stack the deck to make it where you’re not bad enough, then maybe you need to go bracket racing.”
“But I’m sure I’ll still do some radial racing. I’ve already told Duck [Donald Long] I’m coming to No Mercy,” he adds.
For Otts, who along with wife, Kelli, has two sons Brad and Brayden), a daughter (Nicole), and six grandchildren, racing is a shared family endeavor.
“My youngest boy, Brayden, he loves to line me up, and I try to make him an important part of it. When I go racing, I want him there. He’s 12 now, and I want him to be as big a part of it as possible. You keep them in that and they won’t get into other stuff later.”
Hudson, has likewise, become not just a racing acquaintance, but a close friend to Jamie and an integral part of his racing.
“To be honest, when I bought the motor I didn’t know Ziff. He was somebody I’d seen on the internet and at races, but I never knew him. But he’s become like family to us. He lives in North Carolina and I live in Mississippi, and he’ll show up and hang out for a few days and help with the car. He’s become a real good friend. Everybody in day-to-day life has different problems, you have highs and lows, and he and I talk about those things. I wished we lived closer to one another, because he’s a cool dude to hang out with. And he cares as much about my program as I do.”
Jamie’s ’55 has already taken him to previously unimaginable places, from the bright lights of cable television to the 3-second zone on drag radials, and he’s primed to continue forging a name for himself in big-time drag racing. And even if you don’t remember his name, you’ll certainly recognize the Killer Cab anywhere it goes. Just don’t flag it down for a ride…they don’t call it the Killer Cab for nothing.