Duel in the Desert Shootout: Behind the Scenes

As you might imagine, putting a test together like this isn’t easy — especially if you want to get great photography, video, plenty of test data and to make sure no one gets hurt. No doubt by now you’ve seen the Duel in the Desert videos (and if you haven’t, go watch them right now). Many of the crazier video shots could not have happened without the production experts of MadMedia.

MadMedia’s production crew has done a lot of high-speed desert work on both the motorcycle and truck racing sides, as well as personally enjoying various types of off-road sports. Originally, it was PickupTrucks.com founder Mike Levine who turned us on to MadMedia CEO Matt Martelli, who, in turn, told us about a buddy of his who could fly up from San Diego and provide us with a highly maneuverable helicopter. Martelli strapped a fearless videographer in it to hover about 40 feet above the trucks as they raced at full speed through the California desert. After those early discussions, we were hooked.

For our eye-level action shots, MadMedia also ran with several high-spirited UTVs that screamed alongside the trucks, running parallel to our full-size half-ton trucks on the dirt roads and river washes at 60 to 70 mph.

Duel in the Desert

It goes without saying that a comparison test like this succeeds or fails on the kind of driver you have behind the wheel. We’ve seen some of the best drivers in the world turn bulletproof rigs into scraps of metal because they only know how to drive one way. One of the most important skill sets Chad Ragland brought to our test was his ability to let the truck communicate to him where its limits were. As a result, he made the trucks dance at or near their limits when snaking through the hundreds of desert obstacles over the length of our prescribed course.

As near as I could tell, much of Chad’s driving was done at three settings: full-throttle, off-throttle and seven-eighths throttle. And when he touched brakes, it was only for a fraction of a second. Just watch my face in most of the in-cab video shots. As test drivers and vehicle dynamics observers, truck engineers will tell you there are some things you will learn about a vehicle only when it is pushed near its limits. Chad was able to do that all day long, with a huge smile on his face much of the time. That proof is in the videos, as well.

If anyone was worried about our remote location or related safety or environmental issues, we can tell you an EMT was with us for the full day, and a representative from the Bureau of Land Management made sure we weren’t damaging any indigenous flora or fauna. We also met some of the local Rangers who help maintain the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area. They seemed interested in both vehicles and made quite a few comments about how each truck seemed perfectly suited for desert duty. Based on their questions about which one we thought was the better all-around choice, it wouldn’t surprise if their station had a few Raptors running through the park next season.

As to our factory reps who attended this test, it turns out that the SVT Raptor engineer was staying just miles away at Ford’s desert-testing headquarters. He was quite familiar with all the routes on our test circuit and the area in general. Likewise, the Mopar guys seemed to take quite a few notes about the area, almost like they were planning a return trip for more testing.

Duel in the Desert

In the end, we are very thankful we were able to do this test because right up until the day before the event, it looked like circumstances (including the weather) were conspiring against us. But it turned out fine — both trucks performed exceptionally well in the extreme terrain they were designed to handle. We give a ton of credit to Mopar and Ford for working as hard as they did to get us the trucks and the support we needed to make this happen. It’s no secret they didn’t have to give us a truck for this head-to-head contest, and the truth is they took big risks by agreeing to it. They deserve a lot of credit for that. Still, it’s our hope they take the data we’ve supplied from this story and the VBOX data we’ve given them and make these trucks even better.

Our Duel in the Desert started quite a few hours before sunrise and didn’t finish until long after sundown, but we got a lot of work done, and we hope you enjoyed the results. This is certainly not the last time we do a serious off-road test, but you can bet the next one will be more than a simple one-round, one-test, heavyweight cage match.

The Ram Runner won this duel, but we don’t expect the Raptor — or possibly Chevy or Toyota — to sit around without coming up with a strong response. Stay tuned.

Duel in the Desert

Duel in the Desert

Duel in the Desert Shootout

The Introduction | The Competitors | The Course | The Driver | The Results | Behind the Scenes


A better test of the trucks would be to get them at the same final price with mods and see which performs better. Guaranteed the raptor, with 16k worth of aftermarket parts, would dust the ram!

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