The Heat is On

Rocking and rolling with Randall Davis across the Utah desert.

Words Sean McDevitt  |  Photos Provided

Randall Davis

The desert is a harsh mistress.

For those who venture out into the unforgiving wilderness, it takes fortitude, endurance, and courage. Luckily, Randall Davis has all three in spades. As a product developer for Axial and Horizon Hobby, he’s spent plenty of time in the heat desert racing, rock crawling, and trail running, with both cutting-edge radio control rigs and full-scale monster trucks built to take on the challenges of the desert.

Stay cool. Randall Davis is coming in hot.

“The bigger priority.”

Even though he hails from Boring, Oregon, Davis has made it his mission to go in the exact opposite direction. It helps that he moved to a place named Hurricane, Utah. Nothing is boring about cruising down a desert trail at breakneck speeds. Nothing is boring about taking a rig up an incline and navigating the rocks to make it up the side safely. Frankly, nothing is boring about picking up a $600 Axial 1/10-scale desert truck and dropping it on the concrete from various heights. In fact, it’s all pretty fun. Nothing boring here.

“One of the best things I get to do is drop RC cars on their face,” said Davis. “My neighbor came home from work one day, and I’m standing out on my porch holding an Axial RBX10 Ryft above my head and letting it go. It’s smashing right down on the nose, and I’m picking it up and doing it again. He was like, ‘What are you doing?’ I said I’m working. Product testing. He goes, ‘That’s like a $600 RC car! You’re purposely breaking it?’ I’m like, yeah, that’s part of my job. I have to test it.”

His journey to get to the point in his career he was able to drop RC cars from various heights started when he held his first RC vehicle during a cross-country road trip from California to Florida.

His father owned a classic Tamiya Hornet, and he let his son play with it during the trip. At stops along the way, he’d get out of the RV and run the Hornet up and down sidewalks and parking lots. At the end of the trip, his Dad gave it to him as a gift. Over the years, the Hornet was destroyed beyond the typical “drive it, break it, repair it” routine.

It wasn’t until he was an adult did he dip his toe back into radio control.

Davis said, “I wound up buying an old T-Maxx, the regular Nitro-powered one before electric was a big thing. At the time, I was also getting into off-roading and wanting to be outdoors. Once I started getting into the one-to-one scene and being outdoors, camping and off-roading, it became the bigger priority.”

“It just kind of started flowing together.”

At Axial, Davis is a product developer who worked on projects such as the UTB18 Capra 4WD Unlimited Trail Buggy and the SCX10 III Early Ford Bronco, but on weekends he’s often hitting the trail in his full-size machine—a 2007 Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited Rubicon.

As he was getting into off-roading, Davis was told he needed to buy a Jeep, and he had a couple before settling on the Jeep Wrangler he has today. Even though his first Jeep was stolen and his second caught on fire, he still loved going off-roading and was even able to do some trail running and hiking.

In 2004, he started getting into off-roading, and he found it came naturally to him. Davis said, “I know how to do this. I know the angles. I know the tire placement. I know articulation. I know the limitations. I know how to read the rocky terrain. It just kind of started flowing together.”

Not long after, Davis was asked by Rebel Off Road to fill in as a trail guide at a Jeep Jamboree USA event. He was able to take the job, represent the company, and have fun all at the same time.

“I continue to trail guide for Jeep Jamboree in Big Bear,” said Davis. “I was also contracted with Huntington Beach Jeep, which is a Jeep dealer in Southern California, to do customer appreciation runs. I’d take a few new Jeep owners out on a trail and teach them how to off-road, air down tires, shift, and read the terrain. I have a huge passion for continuing to trail guide.”

“Not everybody gets to do that.”

One of the most grueling desert races in the world is King of the Hammers, an off-road race that combines desert racing and rock crawling. This race is held in February on Means Dry Lake in Johnson Valley, California.

In 2016, Davis and his race team, Desert Turtle Racing, were able to build a car, start the race and finish the race in their first year of competition. It was an accomplishment few have ever completed.

“We took my buddy’s Jeep, and we tore it completely down to just the tub and the frame and built it back up into a race car, rebuilt the motor, axles, suspension, roll cage, seats… the whole kitten caboodle to make a race Jeep,” said Davis. “It’s very unlikely that any one team can start and finish King of the Hammers in their first year or in any number of years. Some guys have never finished going on double-digit years. We did it in our first year, but in 2017, 2018, and 2019 we never finished the race because it’s so gosh darn hard.”

Davis and the team documented the entire 9-month journey to get to the 2016 King of the Hammers EMC Race and turned it into a movie.

Davis said, “We actually rented out a theater and we invited all of our sponsors, plus a bunch of friends to come out and sit in a theater and watch the movie. Go out, get popcorn, go to the snack bar, and come back and watch the show. Not everybody gets to do that.”

“I cannot believe that’s what happens when you’re on the course.”

An area that Davis has excelled in is competitive rock crawling--another aspect of his adventure-driven life. Competitive rock crawling is getting through a specific course and dodging cones within a time limit to earn points. It’s a two-person team with one person behind the wheel and another spotting.

“There’s a lot of planning because of where they place the cones,” said Davis. “Drivers need to get through this set of cones and be set up to get through the next set of cones. There are a lot of puzzle pieces involved. So with spotting, your energy is spent discussing with the driver how to get through the course and making sure he doesn’t touch the cone.”

The Lasernut Racing crawling team of Davis and his driver Cody Waggoner spent a lot of time during competitions going over all the ends and outs of the vehicle as it navigated the course. A lot of things go on with the car while navigating that people from the outside don’t really think about. From obvious maneuvers like steering and gas to not so obvious, like locking and cutting the breaks independently on each wheel, each step is carefully calculated.

On social media, Davis and Waggoner got popular after they uploaded some of their in-car audio while out on the course. Davis recalled, “We would record our in-car audio. I had a GoPro attached and connected to our in-car audio. So, you would hear us talking and see the car driving, and the in-car audio is what really got people excited because we would get into these heated arguments. And we never wanted to edit it out. This is what it is. This is raw. This is real. People would listen to it, watch the videos, and say, ‘I cannot believe that’s what happens when you’re on the course.’ We would argue a lot during competition, but as soon as we were done, we’d go out, have a beer, and hang out. That’s the competition.”

“I’d love to race King of the Hammers again.”

While straddling the line between radio control product developer and full-scale desert driver has always been easy for Davis, the closest opportunity for that Venn diagram to meet in the middle is Axialfest. Hundreds of participants worldwide come together to share their love for all things Axial and take on the off-road challenges in California and Indiana. At each location, drivers experience sand dunes, wooded trails, gravel, mud, and rocks—trails and terrain for all types and skill levels.

Davis said, “I’ve always told everybody the cool thing about Axialfest is that it’s 1,500 people that are like-minded individuals all there to do one thing—play with RC cars. I host the rock racing and the rock bouncing events, which is a whole lot of fun. There’s no other event like it in the world, and I think it’s really cool that it’s only Axial vehicles.”

What does Davis see as the future of Axial? Without a doubt, the emergence of scale realism has him most excited.

“One of the really cool things that I’ve seen over the years is this huge segment of people that will sacrifice performance for scale realism,” said Davis. “Some other car brands might perform better, but it’s not lifelike. The biggest thing I’ve seen is people have a level of acceptance of performance with scale realism.”

As for the future of Randall Davis, he’s always looking to find a way to get behind the wheel and take on the challenge of the desert.

“I’d love to race King of the Hammers again,” said Davis. “I’d love to be back in a race car, have a race team. That event to me is in my wheelhouse of things that I think I’m good at.”

Find Randall Davis and his alter ego, ectosports, at all the usual places online including:

His offroad tours company, Ectoventures, is also online at the following:

Enthusiast Bio