If you’re not too familiar with the off-road racing scene, you might not have heard of RJ Anderson before… At least by name. But if you enjoy a bit of speed, big air and some automotive mayhem in the middle of a California metropolitan, then you’ve likely come across RJ on YouTube behind the wheel of a RZR sending it over a water feature. Or maybe he was engulfed in a cloud of self-procured smoke baking some donuts for the local cops standing by.
And when he’s not living out our childhood fantasies, Anderson’s fulfilling his own dreams on the track kicking ass and taking championships. What’s next on the calendar are on-going appearances on Polaris Off-Road’s recent flow of fast-paced, fun and adrenaline soaked video series(es). We were lucky enough to catch up with him at one of those shoots in Palmdale, California to pick his brain and ride shotgun in a stock RZR Pro Turbo R – across a motocross track, no less.
UTV Sports: Let’s rip the Band Aid off. Which is more fun to drive: trucks or side-by-sides? Which is better to race?
RJ Anderson: Well, there are two parts to that question for me! There is no replacement for driving a 900hp, 4wd, purpose-built race truck. It’s one of the most capable vehicles that I wish more people had a chance to experience! However, there is nothing more fun to me than putting someone in the passenger seat of my RZR and giving them a thrill ride! So, I’ll go with more fun to RACE a truck, but more fun to DRIVE a SXS.
USM: Competitions like Crandon look like utter mayhem. What’s the craziest move you’ve made on the track – or even prepping – to nab a win?
RJ: Funny you should ask. The 2020 Crandon Cup race was just like you said, mayhem. The Pro2s (2wd race trucks) start in front of the Pro4s (4WD race trucks). As we work our way through the pack having our own race, we pass the slower Pro2s working our way to the front. One of the back markers spun out (or tried to block me) and left me no room so I literally drove up and over his truck! It made for a great photo. Well, at least I thought so… And we went on to win the race!
USM: We heard a story about you taping your friend’s freshly cut ponytail to your helmet during a race because you wagered he wouldn’t lob it off into a mullet then and there. Do you like to keep the vibe light in your camp before you hit the track?
RJ: If you’ve been to Crandon, you’ve seen that it has its own vibe, all its own. For the 50th anniversary, Kid Rock came to perform, so on our day off, we tried to keep it light and fun before the real work began come race day. I told my buddy Chris Adams (who had been growing his hair out for years) that if he let me cut his hair into a mullet, I would tape his hair onto the back of my helmet as if I had a mullet. Well, he held up to his end of the deal, and so did I. And we have an epic photo standing in the winner’s circle that weekend with two [solid] mullets!
USM: How do you get your team, your car and your mind right before a big race?
RJ: Honestly, 80% of the team work and truck preparation happens before we even show up to the race track. We tune in about 5% in practice, and when the green flag drops, it’s all on me to complete the last 15% of the circle. Off-Road racing is a huge team sport, and I credit a lot of my success over the years to the people I’ve surrounded myself with!
USM: Rumor has it, you might be racing the next [SCORE International] Baja 1000 in a RZR. If that’s true… Do you have any particular goals you’re aiming for at that event?
RJ: Haha. Word spreads fast! We have some details still left to iron out, so time might not be on our side this year. However, I have been a part of the Baja 1000 winning team two separate times, so if we do end up in Ensenada this November that is the only goal in mind.
USM: You really shine on the short-courses. Is it fun to branch out and experience different formats of competition, like long-distance desert racing? How do you train for those transitions?
RJ: I definitely enjoy short-course racing [most]. The all-out, everything-you’ve-got, 100% adrenaline rush is just more my style. It fits my short attention span. Desert racing is more of a chess match. Your pit crew, navigator and hundreds of miles of race course all have to mesh together with a strategy. It’s not always the fastest team who wins in a desert race, but the team with the best strategy. Dust, slower traffic and luck also come into play on the longer races. I can say that competition in desert racing has increased significantly over the years, and I have learned to respect just how grueling the desert can be. It’s far from my specialty, but I do enjoy mixing in a few each year.
USM: Have you ever considered rally raids – like the Dakar Rally, for instance?
RJ: I have a ton of respect for rally raids, and I think some of the best off-road drivers in the world compete there. However, I’m not sure it’s in my wheelhouse. I would definitely like to attend one as a spectator one day for sure. I’ve heard the days are long and there is a ton of racing in sand dunes. Believe it or not, I get motion sickness pretty easily while driving in the sand dunes, so I’m not sure you’ll ever see my name on a Dakar entry list. But who knows, I’ve ended up in crazier places for sure, and if the opportunity presented itself, it would be hard to pass up.
USM: You’ve been trackside your whole life, dedicating precious time which could have been spent achieving “normal” milestones. Of course, your sacrifice all contributes to the greater success story, but is there a significant moment in your life which you’d give up a podium finish to be present for?
RJ: One thing that can never be replaced is time! I may have missed out on the end of my childhood years to focus on racing, but I’m so thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given and the places around the world my job has taken me. I choose to flip the script and say in turn I got to enjoy it all that much more at such a young age.
USM: Speaking of interesting off-track experiences. When you started racing UTVs, did you ever think you’d be hired to do stunts that have you jump random urban obstacles or splashing through fountains?
RJ: Haha, seeing as this first RZR I drove went about 52MPH, not exactly! But since I’ve gotten into this sport, I’ve seen the progression and always wanted to show the outside world just how capable these cars are. Stunts and viral videos were just the necessary steps to achieve the views as UTV racing was never as big as it is now.
USM: What is it like to film those types of high-speed tricks in sketchy cement jungles? It seems like there’s a pretty small margin for error.
RJ: It’s a blast coming up with the creative and dreaming up all the ideas of places I want to drive and jump a RZR. [Then] when you show up on-set and [the idea is] built [out] is a whole different story. There is little-to-no room for error on so many instances. Even in some of the connecting shots, there is a cameraman [capturing] a badass angle, and if you mess up, their safety is on the line.
Viral video shoots are a very high stress environment, and 90% of the time, you’re in a brand new vehicle with zero testing or time in it. I’ve done about eight now, and two have included a pit-stop at the hospital (haha). So yes, there’s a huge weight off my shoulders when we wrap, and the final product is always worth it.
USM: We know a guy who’s a madman on a racecourse, but cruises at grandma pace on the highway. Do you like to move at lightning speed in every vehicle you take control of (truck, UTV, dirt bike, bicycle, shopping cart)?
RJ: I try to keep my speed on the race course, but we are currently building an 800hp street legal C10 at my shop, so maybe I’m just lying to myself, lol. I can say I’m good at pushing other people around me out of their comfort zones and getting them to try things they don’t necessarily want to do.
USM: Which makes you go faster: a mustache or a mullet?
RJ: Mustache for sure. Mine is pretty pathetic, but I still give it my best shot for special occasions.
USM: How do you blend “party mode” and “race mode” so well?
RJ: It’s easy. Put in the work, and if the race goes well, then party mode follows behind effortlessly! In all seriousness, it takes a lot of work behind the scenes, and anyone involved in off-road racing already knows that. We may only post the fun stuff, but it takes a lot of work on the back end to get there. Surround yourself with a good group of people who share the same goals, and it makes the fun days that much better.
RJ is moving non-stop, and while you might not be able to keep up, you can keep an eye on him. Follow his UTV shenanigans on Social @therj37 and stay tuned to his company RJ37 Off Road on their website.