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Wednesday, March 04 2015 @ 10:45 AM PST

The NASA 25 Hour From Another Point of View

General News

Much is written about the incredible effort and adventures of those who race in America’s newest race- rage, the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. All of it is enjoyable and most of it is amazing. Here is another story about the “25”.

The 25 all began when NASA’s Jerry Kunzman, one of those people in the sport who has vision and sees a different world than the one in front of him, decided that there should be a 25 hour endurance automobile race and that NASA should put it on. At this point most people would start thinking of all the reasons why such a thing could not happen and even why it “should not “happen. Not Jerry. Where to hold such a race was relatively easy as well for Jerry because that guy who has been at the helm of Thunderhill Park since before there was a Thunderhill Park, David Vodden thinks the same way as he does. “Everything is possible,” Vodden says and, according to him, the one desperate need of the sport is to continue to change, to make the sport different, exciting and the talk of the entertainment industry.  Done. The vision thus became the “25 Hours of Thunderhill”.  And the plan is to keep this event at Thunderhill forever, no matter how big it becomes or how many entries it attracts or how many other tracks and sponsors come calling with money in hand. It is, and forever shall be, the “25 Hours of Thunderhill!”

To execute an event of this magnitude takes a lot of work. For Thunderhill it started with getting permission to run around the clock. The County of Glenn said yes but not until track management spent time with key neighbors and offered overnight accommodations away from the area along with other incentives. The event makes sound and at 2 am, even a sound that will not move the meter past 60 db on the sound meter, can be heard as a hum and can be troublesome, especially if you are not a race fan. Done.

Setting up for food and fuel is a big deal too. The track offers catering to teams with more and more of them skipping the heartburn of Costco, stacking, delivering, cooking on small BBQ’s and taking all the leftovers home.  Fuel requires the help of the good folks at Paul Oil and Mitch Hart of Sunoco. Estimates of usage are provided by teams through NASA and the system of assuring capacity is put into place. A tanker truck loaded to the top stands buy as inventories of fuel are burned off on Saturday. At just the right moment the above ground track storage tanks are re-filled and the second phase begins. There has never been a shortage but just in case, the track has a tertiary back up system in place with local fuel supplier Gandy and Staley. Most entrants comply with the NASA mandate to use track fuel but some find ways to beat the system. This impacts inventories and places the revenue from fuel sales outside the folks who have the investment in making the event happen. NASA is aware of those who fudge and has plans to address this game-playing at the 10th annual edition of the 25.

Staffing is a challenge. Imagine the overtime! The track adds local kids from the Willows High school, Butte College to everyone that has worked even one day in the year and calls them all to duty. The event manager Ray Mudd gets the day shift as supervisor with team members Bob Maybell taking the Saturday PM shift and Shannon Ell taking the midnight to 6am shift. There is always a senior manager at the track during the event.  The track CEO, David Vodden actually spends all the 25 + hours of the event at the track but at least 7 of those hours are on the track racing in the EO, E2 or some other class. Vodden has a different management perspective of the race. A three-podiums in nine starts perspective.

About 5000 people participate in the event with most of these folks coming along with the entrants in the form of family and friends, crew and sponsors and even car owners. They all get in FREE based on the entry fee paid to NASA. Another 250 attendees pay a single $10 admission to see the incredible spectacle that is the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. Between the F-15 USAF fly by, the ceremonies and incredible start and the awesome finish, fans get more for their $10 than any other motorsports event in the nation. [Price vs. value].

As one might expect there can be some major challenges that come along when you combine all this adventure, energy and people into a single but great venue. One year there was horizontal rain and the VIP tent became a kite. One year there was fog that only the drivers on the track can describe. Some went through therapy to recover. A major delay from the fog made this the only 25 hours that did not complete 25 hours. There was a brown out at 11pm one Saturday night of the race that only exceptional work by track staff and PG&E crew prevented from being a major concern. The track updated this transformer by more than double for the next year’s event. In 2011 there was a power failure off site just twenty minutes before the start of the race. While it did not affect the entire system it too could have been major but thanks again to PG&E and key staff energies the race started on time under full power! Some of this stuff comes under the miracle category.

The list of activities that the track goes through to make their part of the 25 happen is far more impressive than what has been shared here but it should be more obvious that the execution of the northern hemisphere’s longest and fastest growing underground endurance road racing event is a big deal. As the event continues to grow and catch on in more corners of the automobile and motorsports world, future 25’s will be even more impressive! The work that will be done to make it all look easy will get better and better.

Next year is the 10th anniversary of this most-talked about event. Plans are already in the works to make it an event that will be talked about forever. This started with moving the date one week closer to Christmas to get everyone who attends the PRI show in Orlando Florida to come calling. The 10th annual 25 Hours of Thunderhill will take place on December 8th and 9th with testing on the 6th and 7th. Mark you calendar and be a part of the longest endurance automobile race in the nation, but don’t tell anyone. We want to keep this event a “happening” for that special group of racers who convene for no other reason than the pure test of man and machine.

See you at the 10th annual 25 Hours of Thunderhill in 2012.