Who the Hell is…? is an editorial feature series where we recognize the business people of off-road who have helped shape the industry and culture. Entrepreneurs, crew chiefs, engineers, fabricators, event organizers, promoters, dreamers, etc. all play a part in the growth and maintenance of off-road racing culture.
Who the Hell is Randy Anderson?
For over three decades, Randy Anderson has been living and breathing off-road racing and performance. From humble beginnings sweeping a shop floor and running parts, Randy climbed his way up to become CEO of one of the largest off-road aftermarket manufacturer in the industry.
How did you originally get involved in the business side off-road racing? What year?
When I was 16, my dad and Walker (Evans) were buddies. Mark was in construction and so was my dad. They did jobs together. My dad was an electrician. We ended up at one of Walker’s first shops wiring lights and stuff. I just helped my dad some evenings and weekends. That’s how I met him. One day they called and said, “Hey we need a parts chaser,” right after I turned 16. It was April 1st, 1978. April Fools Day. It’s kind of been a joke ever since, right? That’s the true deal. I started as a parts chaser, sweeping floors.
Getting a contract with Polaris, by far, and making it grow. We’ve grown leaps and bounds in 5 years due to the confidence that Polaris has in our company. It’s cool to walk into a building that was full of race cars one day, and now it’s full of machines and people and parts, basically the mix. To see the look on people’s faces that haven’t been there in 10 years is also cool.
It was a little bit of a transition but we went at it with the same philosophy we did in racing. That’s what I’ve told everybody. I think that’s how we made this thing work. There was a few of us that had been there a long, long time, but we treated it as racing where we can’t be late. The green flag never waited for anybody and we have to ship on a certain day. It’s got to look good, just like your race cars do for your sponsors. Our parts have to look appealing. They have to work well. A race car has to work well to win races. Our parts have to work better than the competitor to get the job.
Who inspired you? Who mentored you?
We just did it. Between Walker and Phyllis Evans and myself, we just did it. We had a lot of friends, Jimmy Smith from Ultra Wheel, Michael Gaughan from the Coast Resorts. There’s been a ton of successful people throughout our racing career that were really good friends of ours. I’m sure they gave us their 2 cents. Whether we listened or not or paid attention, I don’t know. We just kind of did what we needed to do. It’s all about making your customers happy.
You are one of the primary people who have innovated shocks, suspension and wheels. Did you ever think it was going to take you this far? Did you ever think it was going grow this big?
Never. Never. I had no idea. As crew chief at 19 years old, did I have any aspiration past that? Hell no. Did I want to drive the car? Hell yeah. Did you think when we quit racing, we were going to make some parts and I figured we’d be okay but I didn’t think it’d be this.
What is your best memory of racing off-road?
There’s a lot of them, but I think for me the Mickey Thompson champion stuff was probably the highlight. That was the most work, the most dedication, stressful, biggest fight. If Mickey was around today, it’d be different. I think the world would be different place in off road if Mickey Thompson was still alive, but it is what it is. That was the most memorable, by far.
What are your favorite off-road events?
I enjoy going to watch my kids race. It doesn’t matter where it is. Lucas Oil races are good. Those people put on a good show. Going to Crandon is always fun. The people and the fans there are second to none. Just going to a WORCS race because of the fact that it’s just family, to me is a good time. I don’t know. I guess getting out of the office is the best part. Where the race is doesn’t much matter.
You have played a lot of different roles in off-road, talk about those different roles?
It was a steep ladder. When I started, I worked for Danny Shields. He was the crew chief at the time. He worked for Stroppe, Parnelli Jones, Dick Russell and all those guys. He taught me a lot. He was the guy. When I graduated high school, he moved on and started his own business and Kim Klepper became crew chief. That went on for a while. Then Kim left and I was the last guy standing. Here’s your hat, right? You have a tool box. Here’s your hat. Follow us. That’s kind of how that thing transformed into that. I’m a lucky recipient. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and worked hard. I did a lot of stuff and had met a lot of smart people and had a lot of input from the Goodyear people, the Dodge people like Dick Maxwell, the Chevrolet people like Herb Fishel. Herb Adams helped me engineer cars and taught me how to do roll centers. There’s a lot of people that I came in contact with that today, would be really hard to meet. The way corporate America is today, it’s not as easy.
What has been you biggest challenge in your career?
The innovation stuff is fun. Building these parts is fun. Testing is fun. Finding the right people to help you manage it as you grow to contain it is essential to keep your spirit up because there’s days that you’re just over it. The biggest challenge is keeping your attitude up. Sometimes it will get the best of you.
Nobody warned me about that. The thing is going to control you, turns into a monster and will control you. You have to figure out how to balance that. That is by far the hardest thing.
Both your children have chosen to be involved with off-road. Your son RJ has become a star in off-road as well as a top competitor in short course off-road, how does this make you feel?
I think it’s cool. When RJ was young, we rode motorcycles a little bit. It just really wasn’t his thing. He enjoyed it and we did it. It wasn’t like he woke up everyday saying, “We need to go to the race track.” We started with the go-cart thing and he kind of got into it. I showed him how to work on it. My kids have to work on things. We had a rule. Either you work on your cars and mow the lawn, or you don’t work on your cars and you don’t mow the law and we don’t go racing. If I hire somebody to mow the lawn, we don’t need to do anything else.
I’m proud of him. It’s cool he’s come this far. Everybody seems to like him. There’s times I wish he wouldn’t do it. I’ve tried to talk him out of doing it on his own, but he’s kind of like his mom, a little head-strong. He said, “I’m going to do it,” and by God he’s doing it. Even for Walker Evans Racing and Walker and Phyllis, they’re just pumped. You never know if they’re going to make it. You lay the ground work, you give them the opportunity and you give them the tools to do it, but at some point they’ve got to do it.
Your extended family is involved with racing as well right?
My niece races and my brother have been a huge supporter of RJ. We help Shelby race. She’s done a really good job and won a championship this year in UTVs. It’s cool to see. It comes back to the family thing. This whole thing generates around family. When you get rid of the family aspect of it, then it’s going to die because that’s the only way this is going to survive.
How involved are you with your sons’ race programs?
Everybody thinks that I do everything for RJ. He eats, sleeps in, and does whatever he wants and he shows up and dad gave him all this stuff. Not true whatsoever. When people find out that he has his own shop they are usually surprised. Is that equipment that I bought years ago and was in my own garage? Yes it is. Is that my tool box that I’ve had for years and years? Yes it is but RJ owns the Pro 2. He owns the semi. He owns all those parts outright. He doesn’t owe anybody any money. That’s all his. He calls the shots. Does he ask me questions? Not very many. Do I voice my opinion? I used to voice it way more than I do now. Now, I’ll let him go. If I think he’s going to get hurt, then I’ll step in. For the most part, that’s his program. I go to the races in flip flops and walk around. I kind of point things out to his guys that work for him. That’s it.
Ronnie’s program is in mod karts. He preps them during the week and we finish it before the race. At 15 years old, he has to prep his own car, mount his own bodies and clean everything. He evens changes his motors out.
UTV side of things for both kids, they all come from RJ’s race shop. His guys prep all the UTVs for Ronnie and RJ. I don’t have anything to do with it. Walker Evans Racing is a financial sponsor, not as much as Polaris or Loan-Mart, but our decals are on the cars and on their stuff because we’re a financial supporter and product supporter.
The cool part about RJ’s program is that it helps my business and my business helps his program with Polaris. It works together.
Is it hard to work all week and race all weekend?
It’s a hell of a lifestyle. To be honest, it’s easier now having a business and then leaving to go to the races. A friend of ours calls it a “race-cation.” It’s a vacation and it’s a race all at once. Typically, I don’t go to races until the day or night before. I don’t go to all the practices and the setup and the tear down. We just show up to support the kids. Carol and I, we support the kids, hang out in the motor home with them, do the whole cookout family thing. When the race is over on Sundays, we’re out of there. If it’s a Saturday night race, we get up early morning and we go home. I need to do it where it doesn’t affect my business because of the fact that all eyes are on me, employee wise, sponsor wise, even my customers are like, “Are you wasting too much time doing that?” No, I’m not. I may take a day here, a day there, but that’s not my program.
What’s in store for your future and the future of Walker Evans Racing? Any new products?
We have new products. We have new shocks. We have new wheels – a new wheel program that we implemented this year with Ultra Wheel. Everything’s been going good. It used to be easy when we were smaller to rapid prototype stuff and get it to the market quick. As we get bigger, it’s a little more of a struggle. It’s a growing pain that I have and it is what it is.
You’re never done messing with shocks because it’s always going to be something new. We are going out and testing some new stuff this December or January that’s going to be really, really cool. People are going to like it across the board, from UTVs, snowmobiles, to slingshots. It will be adapted to everything we make. We’re looking forward to that.
What advice would you give young people trying to break into the off-road business?
Go to school and become an engineer and go do something else. It’s hard. It’s not that big. It’s not like NASCAR. It’s not like anything else. It’s a very small niche program. Even Supercross is huge. Motocross is huge. People race every day somewhere around the world. This is so small and it’s so impacted with such good people, you just got to learn and pay attention. You got to go through all the steps.
There’s so many young people today that think you can go from kindergarten, first grade, and all the way to graduating college. They think they know it all. You have to go through each grade because there’s something you’re picking up there. You may not think you are, but you’ve picked up something there until you get to the end. I’m a firm believer in that. I’ve seen it. Everybody has a better idea and let me show you. No, you have to go through all these steps first. What about this? Well that’s not going to happen. Well it does. Go through all the steps. That’s what I can tell you. You need to go through all the steps.
What do you think we need to do to grow off-road racing?
That’s a tough one. With land use issues and the costs to be in business. The easiest way to make it go today is to get manufacturers support back into it, but all the performance people and big corporations, like GM and Chrysler and stuff, they’re not run by performance people anymore. Dodge was running the Ram Chargers back in the day. There was eleven guys that were into drag racing and everything. Dick Maxwell headed that up. He was our boss. The guys at Chevrolet that ran it and the guys who ran Goodyear, Leo Mel, they were all hardcore racers. All those guys retired and now we got a bunch of marketing guys running it and they think they’re catering to the caravan people driving their families across for family vacation is a better idea. Okay, if that’s your plan, then go for it. That’s the hard part. It has to start with the manufacturers.
Anything else you want to say or talk about?
I think the media people and the social media stuff today is huge. If we had it in Mickey Thompson’s day, it’d be crazy. It probably would have helped that thing keep on and grow faster, but that’s right now what’s keeping it alive. Just like with my kids. It keeps them alive because the videos and all that stuff that doesn’t cost anything.