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Tuesday, March 03 2015 @ 10:45 AM PST

Thunderhill West

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Photo Credit: Andrew Bohan

Story Below By David Ray Of Hooked On Driving


David Vodden has asked me to recount some of the involvement that I had, including some of our HOD team, and the re-recruitment of Steve Crawford, as we envisioned a “West Side” of Thunderhill.
The property to the west of the main road course that was owned by San Francisco Properties was a best kept secret….we actually owned almost 200 more acres over the ridge to the west that was being used for nothing but grazing Thor Oden’s cattle. Some had expressed dreams of something on the west side, but nothing had been done   As I spent more time at Thunderhill and committed to Hooked On Driving as a full-time enterprise, I gained an appreciation for the track’s success, and was intrigued about this “other side.” I asked Dave to stay late one night after an HOD track day and walk the property up by T9 and explain what the fence lines meant and for him to get me oriented on property lines between SF Properties land and Thor’s. It was illuminating, but daunting at the same time. The rock ridge – almost a “devil’s backbone” that delineates the main section of the current track from the west side is a clear geological break, and made it look tough. I then asked to borrow the mule from Shannon for an afternoon and wandered about on this area, and I got hooked on the idea. As one looks at the land from Highway 162, you can see a natural flow of a roller coaster type of track with a gently bending straight coming toward the south.

Not really knowing what to do, I immediately recruited professional help. I chased down Steve Crawford, the original track designer, after I had found him totally by happenstance as he was working up in Washington on a project with of all people, my nephew. I had several talks with Steve – went to the County offices at his bequest to round up any topo and/or contour maps and did get some “low res” maps that got things started. Steve did a bit of an analysis from the maps and said that we had a shot. HOD paid his expenses to fly him down, I picked him up in Sacto and we spent the day on the mule again – but this time Steve was “on the case.” He took over 100 photos from every which direction and we both got excited. We drove the mule in different directions, playing with the terrain and just being there, inspired a first generation layout. My goal was to maximize the use of the land and to me, this meant a 2.0 mile track. We got the idea that if we could get over 2 miles of track, it would be a competitive advantage for renting it. Steve and I went back and forth on some proposed layouts, passing them by David and, at some time along the way here, the SF Properties Board was made aware that there was research being done on the feasibility of another track on the land. We had a 1.8 mile track and at this point I brought my operations manager for HOD, Dev Clough, in to the discussion and asked for his doodles as well. He came up with a “peanut” off of the main straight that would make it an option to extend the track to 2.0 miles. It seemed that most folks would not want to interrupt the straight, but it also seemed that, from a marketing standpoint the 2.0 option would be a good thing.
Well, one thing led to another. We weren’t told no, so it seemed that the next step was to figure out how much a track like this would cost. I spoke with several people I knew in construction to no avail and then hit a gem in Buzz Carrade, a real estate developer from the central valley (Modesto area), who was a customer of HOD. He said that he had an engineering firm he did a lot of work with that might do him a favor. Well – this was the first engineering report and construction estimate provided to David and Michael. It was a well-done report.
The estimate, in my mind, validated that this project was feasible. And Steve Crawford was totally on board and in agreement.  I will add a huge note about Steve’s role here – he deserves a medal and he took personal time and used his ample expertise to guide along this path, with NO compensation. David and I talked about buildings and what we would need. We talked about Vern Vierra from Delta Buildings, who had been involved in the Clubhouse project. I recruited him to get involved to look at the facility-side of the West Side.  Vern jumped in and did some mockups of a tower, timing/scoring building and we found room on the southwest side for some garages. 
One additional memory. From the perspective of HOD, I was wondering about proposing a Country Club – school – didn’t know what on the property, as it had my creative juices flowing. I met with a very successful and respected friend and customer named Gary Bloom to discuss possible business opportunities. Well, he was not interested in investing, but as I showed him the layout, in the context of the larger property, he took a pencil and scratched two lines connecting the West Side with the original course. He related, “I don’t know about a school, and Willows may not be right for a Country Club, but if you could connect the two courses you’d really have something.” YIKES! This was another trip from Steve Crawford and we both worked hard to envision the current connection that has survived the major changes from the original layouts. We stood at the point where the driver would come over the ridge from the right turn at T9, and drop down in to the west side and I wanted to call this point “Snow Mountain” as the driver will see this frequently snow-covered mountain as he flies over the rise and down the equivalent of an Olympic ski jump ramp….spectacular. 
So we had this project all dreamed up, proven to be feasible, and we all kind of looked at one another and said, “Well, maybe someday.” From here, the momentum slowed, as it was obvious we were headed in to a nasty recession....
Fast forward to today, in a stronger economy, and Thunderhill having had success to have cash reserves. David Vodden and Steve Crawford have taken the ball and run with it all the way across the goal line. It is SUPER exciting to see the final layout, which is very different from the original. Having been on a wild ride in the mule on the West Side’s course, I am over the fact that it’s not 2 miles. This course is going to be SO MUCH FUN you won’t care how long it is. And the connections between the courses have survived the original “Crawford Connection” (Hey folks, let’s use that) that was envisioned by Gary Bloom and will provide what I firmly believe is THE BEST road course in North America, BAR NONE. 
Get excited folks. The West Side is going to be a blast, but the new combined course will blow your mind!