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Wednesday, March 04 2015 @ 08:04 PM PST

The History Of Thunderhill According To David. Part One

General News

For those of you who remember the “Fractured Fairy Tales” segment of the Bullwinkle Show I now offer a similar version of the conception, birth and growth of Thunderhill Park, [the Hill] our now adult road race track just about to celebrate its 20th year. Wow, time flies when you are having fun!


One of the best parts of the story of the Hill is that it came about as a solution to a problem confronting  the then board of directors of the San Francisco Region of the Sports Car Club of American [Incorporated April 15th, 1953] that included Tom McCarthy, Roger Eandi, Gary Meeker, Lynn Hunting, Jon Norman, Tom Piantanida and Clint DeWitt. What they decided to do as a result of feeling poorly treated by the management of the tracks serving the area, specifically Laguna Seca and Sears Point, was to build their own road course. Why not?

They practically built Laguna Seca and Sears Point singlehandedly. They were responsible for Vacaville except for its failure. How do I know? They told me.  Distressed by not being given their proper respect and the dates they wanted on the calendar they formed a committee and set out to build their own track. Wow, what a solution. There had not been a race track built in California since Ontario Motor Speedway and it was already closed. Riverside Raceway, the core track for the next largest region in the SCCA, Cal Club,  was closing and in its last death-rattle. Laguna Seca had been given over to the county of Monterey by the Federal Government and a guy named Skip Berg, a developer,] was the new owner of Sears Point. Jack Williams, the prior owner, had been aced out of his ownership role over various financial dealings that ended up with him looking at the track from outside the gate. 


So why was building their own track regarded among the best moments in the development of the Hill? Because it was impossible to build a race track in California. The California Environmental Quality Act [CEQA] could be used in any number of ways to prove, without a doubt, that a race track for racing cars and motorcycles was injurious to the environment. Period. The good news is this same act could be used to approve a race track but the people doing the approving had to want the race track in their back yards. That was the second problem. Not many people did.


Absent the knowledge that it was impossible to build a race track in California in the late 80’s the Club trudged on. At first there were many club members involved. Committees were formed. Prospecting for land was a weekend adventure for committee members and others who just did so. Site number one came in Stanislaus County near the farming community of La Grange. It was a good site a bit south-east of Stockton in pure agricultural land. Enter Steve Crawford. Steve worked for CH2M-Hill as an engineer and planner. He was a formula car racer and volunteered to design the track based on input from the committee and the natural terrain. He designed a track that was pretty sexy for the LaGrange property.  The process began and the committee held a town-hall meeting in La Grange while other members drew up a business plan for the project and issued a press release to the local Stockton paper. As per usual, the folks who came to the town hall meeting were those who felt that they would be adversely impacted by the race track. They asked lots of questions. Committee members present went on the defensive and tried to mitigate the concerns of the sometimes excited audience. They said the track would be relatively small, hold only small club events and not be a nuisance. They may have even used the term non-spectator. The problems was that the business plan and the story that it generated for the Stockton paper were 180 degrees off. Someone was not telling the truth. Even though the effort continued through preliminary planning review the project was doomed. Resistance met Supervisor and the key moment came when the supervisors were asked individually if they had to vote on the approval of the race track for the SCCA today what would they vote. You’ve heard the word unanimous. It was unanimous but not in  favor of the project. The folks in charge correctly withdrew from that site and the process of finding another site began. At the same time Geoff Provo mentioned the idea of getting some expertise to help with the project to avoid what happened in La Grange. He mentioned one fellow who was General Manager of Baylands Raceway Park in Fremont.  Roger Eandi and Jon Norman interviewed the demure sprint car racer and liked what they saw and heard. Enter David Vodden.  [To be continued]