Clovis Racer Rides a Long Journey to Drag Racing Show

Team Blacksheep 559 prepares to race at Chuckwalla Speedway in Desert Center, CA on June 11. It was this race where James Bodine (in car) impressed a former “Street Outlaws” competitor, earning him a spot on the show. (Photo contributed by James Bodine)

Clovis will see a familiar face on national television next year, when “Street Outlaws” – a Discovery Channel reality show centered around drag racing – begins its 16th season in January 2021.

James Bodine never expected his racing to take him any further than the finish line. Now, it will take him to the national stage, where he will represent his hometown and family on the fast-paced competitive show.

It’s been a journey three generations in the making.

James Bodine gearing up for a race. (Photo contributed by James Bodine)

The Bodine story dates back to the 1950’s, when James’ grandfather Homer Bodine raced on the dirt track at Clovis Speedway. The speedway once stood where Clovis Rodeo Grounds stands today, with the grandstand still intact – the same grandstand where spectators witnessed Homer go bumper-to-bumper with local dirt racing legends Al Pombo and Marshall Sargent.

Whether it was at Clovis Speedway or the storied Kearney Bowl, Homer brought his son Robert along to races. That was how Bob Bodine gained a firsthand knowledge of dirt racing, back in the sport’s rough-and-tumble heyday. It was the era of James Dean and Greasers, when racers were seen as “outlaws” and left to fend for themselves.

By growing up in this environment, Bob Bodine developed traits of toughness and work ethic that he passed onto his own son, James.

Although Bob did not pursue a racing career at first – instead he worked as a truck driver – every moment with his son involved racing. On Bob’s days off from work, he spent time with James tinkering with cars; on other days, they watched races on TV together.

At the age of 11, James Bodine grew a special interest in drag racing, a favorite of his father’s to watch. Even at such a young age, Bodine knew what he wanted in life: to hit the street with a race car built all on his own.

In 1987, at age 13, James built his first car engine by himself.

“There was no Google back then,” Bodine remembers with a laugh, “so I went to the library and studied books and magazines on how to do it. I started the engine up with my Dad on the phone, and he got so excited when he heard it.”

Once James got his driver’s license, he put his self-built engine to use, starting his drag racing career in 1990. Father followed son four years later when Bob retired from trucking, bought a Dodge pickup, and challenged younger racers on the streets.

“We threw some money into the Dodge in order to make it quicker, so my Dad could race these kids in their new cars and hurt some feelings with it,” James recalls.

As James puts it, the Bodine father-son duo “had a good ol’ time” drag racing for several years in the 90’s and 2000’s until Bob became ill and passed away in 2012.

Bob’s Dodge pickup truck, now a memorial to a father and mentor, sat untouched in James’ backyard for three years, until his fiancee Susan convinced him to build the car back into racing shape.

James remained hesitant to use his Dad’s truck at first, given the special meaning behind it, but relented when Susan noted, “it’s what he would have wanted.”

The truck transformed into Blacksheep 559, a race car styled and built exclusively by Bodine, who takes special pride in his self-dependence.

“We’ve always built everything we have on our car,” Bodine said. “So when we go racing on the weekends, we’re thinking, ‘Our stuff is badder than the next guy’s.’”

The confidence of its driver led Blacksheep 559 to compete in more races, gaining experience and speed at each stop. Then came one fateful stop on June 11 at Chuckwalla Raceway, where Bodine met the opportunity of a lifetime.

Jay Boddie, a well-known street racer from the Bay Area who previously competed on “Street Outlaws”, raced against Bodine at the Desert Center track and left impressed with how the pickup truck from Clovis performed.

“Boddie walked up to me afterwards and said he would’ve never guessed how fast my car was,” Bodine said.

A few weeks passed by and all seemed normal – until Jay Boddie called Bodine and offered Blacksheep 559 a spot on the California team competing on the 16th season of “Street Outlaws.”

Bodine didn’t think twice to accept. It was a program that he enjoyed watching over its prior 15 seasons.

“Street Outlaws” premiered on Discovery Channel in 2013. The show has a relatively simple premise: there are 16 teams based on region, with 10 racers on each team, set up in a bracket. Two teams compete in a series of one-vs-one drag races, with the first team to win eight races securing a spot in the next round.

Yet James was not always a fan of the show. When he first watched it, he couldn’t believe what he saw. In his words: “I thought it was fake.”

“It made no sense, because cops came whenever we were racing somewhere, and we were getting busted every single time,” Bodine said. “I didn’t know how it was when they tried it, they never caught trouble.”

Still, Bodine recognized the authenticity of the show’s racing. More importantly, he saw the chance to improve his own racing while making his name known nationally.

“People say they don’t watch it, but they’re lying,” Bodine said. “Every part of the cars and races in that show is legitimate.”

It was James’ dream to compete in the national spotlight, but it did not come without sacrifices. Bodine had to leave his fabrication shop for multiple weeks, leaving son Trent behind in Clovis to run the shop.

Another unique factor was the coronavirus pandemic. Bodine and his traveling Blacksheep 559 team had to get tested for COVID-19 before their flight to the filming location in Casper, Wyoming. Upon arrival, they were tested again and quarantined for a few days until their results cleared. Safety was a top priority amidst filming as well, with temperature checks for competitors every day.

None of it took away from the experience of racing against the fastest cars in the country.

“Meeting those people at that level was unbelievable, because they are the cream of the crop,” Bodine said. “I learned so much from the tricks and secrets they shared with me.”

Overall, Bodine entered his three weeks in Wyoming with three goals: “learn as much as possible, show what I could do and meet good people.”

After returning to Clovis when filming concluded on July 24, Bodine is confident he accomplished what he wanted from his “Street Outlaws” appearance. In fact, he’s using the new knowledge gained to reimagine Blacksheep 559 for the future.

Yes, the mighty 2000-horsepower truck is about to get even faster. But James Bodine remains humble as ever – and keenly aware of those who left tire marks before him.

“My family is from Clovis. We don’t expect that call to be on TV,” Bodine said. “My Dad would be going nuts right now.”

Gabriel Camarillo has written for the Clovis Roundup since August 2019 and follows high school athletics, Fresno State football and former Clovis Unified student-athletes. Gabe also writes for The Collegian as a staff sports writer and works at One Putt Broadcasting as a board op for 940 ESPN radio.