Racing is a tough business, and sometimes a young driver has to go to extremes to get noticed and land the big ride.
RJ Anderson at times raced three classes last season in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series – UTV, SuperLite and Pro Lite Unlimited. He won the Unlimited UTV title with five victories. In Super Lite he had four victories, stood on the podium 10 times and finished third in the championship. In six starts in the tough Pro Lite class, he earned a podium. That's the sort of thing that gets attention.
“I figured it would be good to get my name out there as much as I can,” Anderson said last season, explaining his three-class effort. “In UTV, I'm a contracted driver for Polaris. The SuperLite, I was given an opportunity by SoCal Supertrucks. I had some fun and some positive results. In Pro Lite, I'd been racing a different series and been hearing some flack about how the V8s aren't competitive, so I brought out the Pro Lite and made it three classes. It's rough, but it's getting my name out there and I think people are realizing I'm not a joke and I'm here to stay.”
If anyone had thought Anderson was a joke, especially his competitors in Pro Lite, they're not laughing now. Not only did he get noticed and land a ride in one of the top groups in short course off road racing, Stronghold Motorsports, he also did it with Monster Energy sponsorship. And just to put an exclamation point on things, he has started 2012 with two wins and a second and is leading the points in the large and extremely competitive Pro Lite class.
“It seems like I've been noticed,” he says. “I'm really excited to be part of this Monster Energy Stronghold team. What was the best for me is I got to bring my truck over, which I got a little comfortable in last year. I brought it to the team, and the guys have been awesome. I think it's a pretty good combination.”
Anderson is running the only Dodge in the series, with a V8 crate engine. The V8s have proven to be a strong package, and most of the field is now running them. Even defending Pro Lite champ Brian Deegan has switched.
“They have two completely different driving styles,” says Anderson of the engine choices in Pro Lite. “Sometimes it's hard to be in a race with those guys because you're doing one thing and they're doing another. We chose it because of the cost aspect. We ran the same motor all year [last season], where those guys [using the four cylinders] are dropping a bunch of coin initially and they've got to rebuild every four or six rounds. We didn't have the time, either, to always be tearing it apart. It seems like that's the way the class is going to go.”
So it is. And Anderson has only Pro Lite to concentrate on now, whereas last year he was constantly shuffling in and out of rather different rigs. “It's rough on me as a driver…I'm in, I'm out, I'm switching helmets. You've got to remember this or that getting out of one car and into another. Sometimes they were running back to back, so it's mentally tough. Physically, it's not too bad; but mentally it's getting your brain into the right category because it's three completely different cars. They don't translate over.”
But that is sometimes what it takes to advance in the sport, even if your father is one of the co-owners of Walker Evans Racing, along with the great off-road racer himself. Anderson started in Trophy Karts, but as he got too tall, he switched to UTVs with a Polaris RZR. A few podium finishes later, and he had caught Polaris's attention.
He says he'd like to make a career out of short course off road, if not as a driver then in some other capacity. He's off to a pretty good start this season, going toe-to-toe with some pretty cagey veterans of the sport like Chris Brandt, Deegan and Casey Currie. But it's obviously not intimidating him.
“I think everyone knows we're out to get them now,” he says. “We're going to show them that this Monster Energy Pro Lite has what it takes.”