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Thursday, March 05 2015 @ 02:30 PM PST

The Best Thing About Thunderhill Park Is The Ride....

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At a recent NASA event here I had the opportunity to race the track we all call the “three miles of adrenalin.” If you think about all the road courses that you have driven or ridden on and what that experience was like, the one element that sets them apart is the nature of the “ride”. By this I mean the challenge of the various corners, the length and top speeds of the straights and, most importantly, how it all flows together to make a lap experience. It is like the combination of food quality, service and ambience at that restaurant that you rave about. It’s just special in some unique and almost personal way.
Well known road racer Randy Pobst recently said in his column in Sports Car that Thunderhill Park was the best new track built in the last twenty years. He cited the “flow of the track” along with the large run-off areas and overall “feel“of the place. Given that there has been a building boom of road-race tracks in this time period, this is quite a compliment! It certainly validates the idea that a good track is one that gives the participants something special when the race is done or the lap complete and, finally, when the season is wrapped up.
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Last weekend I enjoyed Thunderhill as a driver. The track gave me that unexplainable value that makes me, and many others, do all that it takes to get on the track and in a race with other drivers.
My race started with a top qualifying effort in the NASA PTE class. That was the good news. The even better news was that Randy Evans, a Miata champion in both SCCA and NASA, was a close second. We like to play games at the start coming down to the high-in-the-sky starter’s stand for the green flag. This was a race that also included a bunch of legends cars as well as a huge number of BMW E-30’s, the new class that has all the characteristics that the Spec Miata class displayed at its onset.
For once I kept Randy at bay when the green flag waived by not ever letting him get past the mirror on the passenger door as we shifted our way to turn one. I was a half car ahead of Randy in turn one.
I never really got more than a ½ car ahead of Randy until turn nine when he did what we have all done before and that was to follow me off the track.  I actually did not go off but I was pointed that way and he was pointed at my tail lights so when I corrected he went off, but only long enough to lose second place to Jarrett Tamaye.
By turn eleven I had Tamaye one-half car behind me and he appeared to actually be a bit faster than me. Lap one ends. Tamaye is on my left side about at the rear wheel. There is no one in turn one as we approach. But there was oil. Lots of oil deposited on the track by a now ventilated Porsche. The first reaction to lots of unseen oil on the track in a 100 mph turn is slip and slide and to provide lots of steering input. I was getting through without spinning off when I felt a large slam on the left side or my car. Off I went as I watched Tamaye and Randy Evans pass by. Again I had some good luck as I did not spin or lose forward motion. I re entered the track mid way to turn two. I was wondering what was broken on the back corner of my maroon 1800cc, 94 Miata. I was also wondering when I was going to find out what it was.
Tamaye, in his # 808 Miata, must have sustained some front end damage because I was able to pass him before we completed the next lap and found the red flag standing out at the starters stand. Stop. While we were stopped I talked with Tamaye when he pulled along side. I asked him if my rear wheel looked bent or if there was anything else I should know. He said no. He was concerned about the contact but I assured him that I do not believe in grousing about contact in racing as it is illogical to race well and close and then get upset over some amount of unintentional contact. He hit the oil as I did and then he hit me. Over.
Randy backed up from his first position on the grid to join the conversation. I expressed some concern that my car may be damaged and wondered how long before the broken wheel or cracked hub would fly off the car. He said not to worry about it. I didn’t. With the clock running and the NASA schedule always jammed up, Randy and I figured that we were looking at a famous NASCAR – green-white-checkered. We agreed not to start close behind the Legends cars that were now nose-to-tail in front of us on the grid. So we dropped back as we rounded the track in preparation for the green restart.
By leaving the big gap, Randy, who was leading, enabled the green flag to waive while we were approaching turn 14. In a restart, unlike an original start, the track is green for everyone when the first group gets the flag. I was watching the flagger in 14 and Randy was warming up his tires. The flagger moved his elbow down and I took off. I was along side of Randy when that flagger, who was told on the radio that the track was green before he moved his elbow, flipped the green light.  Great start for me and a good lead. I don’t think Randy was pleased.
Despite our belief that the event would end in two laps it did not and we caught up with the Legend cars. In turn nine, one of those Legend cars took my apex and Randy went motoring by. Damn! This happened at the last NASA event when we were racing on Sunday. Randy won! It was not going to happen again. Fortunately there was not a checkered flag waiting when Randy led me across the starting line next time around, but there was a Legends car in front of us. It was about far enough ahead to be a factor in turn one. He was. Randy took the inside and, like me in turn nine, lost some momentum. The legend cars are not slow in a straight line but they are slower than us in a turn, all turns.
Enter turn two. Randy had to decide what to do so he protected the bottom and tried to get under this pesky Legends car. He did get his nose in but it slowed him down. I went to the outside of both cars and, at the mid point of the always fun turn two, I got to about the right side door of the Legends car. Randy was on his inside. It must have been a real wake up call for that Legends driver. This was a low percentage move for me but I like those kinds of racing opportunities. I figured the Legend car was going to see Randy and turn into me and it would be all over. Oh well. It was a great race.
But the Legends driver did not make that move and Randy and I cleared him at the exit of turn two.  I had the inside line. Race over. One crazy move and I am in front, Randy is in second and the Legends driver hates all Miata’s like most other non-Mazda road racers.
For the remaining few laps I was able to hold off my friend and fellow racer Randy Evans and score the win. It was a great race with great opportunities to make fast decisions that produced rewarding feedback - immediately. That is what it is all about and that is what Thunderhill provides its many competitors. This is why hundreds, and maybe even thousands, of road racers in cars or on motorcycles keep coming back to experience the three miles of adrenalin that is Thunderhill Park.
It is about the track. It is about the ride. It is about the rewards that are impossible to duplicate except on tracks of the quality of Thunderhill. And it is what you should do as often as you can via any mechanism that is available. Come play with us at Thunderhill in a NASA, SCCA, or AFM event, or any one of a dozen other groups and organizations that offer you this rare and very special opportunity.
Go to www.thunderhill.com today and come to the track tomorrow, or the day after and every day after that that you can. It is an experience that is unique, rewarding and fun and it will make you a better person. Trust me. Just don’t beat me on the track.
David Vodden