Thunder On The Hill #2
The sun is setting in the west over a beautiful day at Thunderhill Park. The carvings of the new track to be called Thunderhill West are clearly evident on the ridge shadowed by the sunset. SCCA members, including racers, workers and officials, are telling stories about the action on the track, there personal adventures since their last gathering and family tales of sons and daughters and others in their daily life. Beer, wine and snacks collect everyone under the canopy. This is the SCCA family doing what they enjoy at the track their leadership inspired. It is an October evening in 70 degree weather surrounded by the agricultural back drop of walnut trees, almond trees, olives, cotton fields’, and dry grass. It is a great scene to experience and an awesome experience to remember. It is Thunderhill Park, October 19, 2013.
One subject on everyone’s mind this evening is the new track. We are here to celebrate twenty years of Thunderhill and yet the focus is on the new track or track extension depending on your perspective. One of the questions beyond when will it be ready [Second quarter of 2014] and can we run the five mile track [Yes, if your leaders desire to do so] is why did we build a new track? A reasonable question to be sure. What do you think is the reason for building Thunderhill West? No doubt if we asked a focus group we would get a plethora of responses, none the same. The answer lies in the reasons that inspired the decision makers. Here is a synopsis.
Thunderhill West was built to insure the long term success of Thunderhill Park. Period. How will it do that? It will add revenue beyond the 365 day annual limit in the number of days in a year. Thunderhill Park currently rents about 325 days each year. Demand remains good but Thunderhill West is not about now but the future. What is changing? The number of men and women who seek recreational motorsports opportunities on a road track is not guaranteed. There are signs that this demand may shrink as baby boomers with automotive and motorcycle passions move aside for their children and their children’s children. The supply in our market is also changing. While Sonoma Raceway has a successful NASCAR race and an NHRA National, Laguna Seca is moving more aggressively towards our market, recreational users who rent the track. Sonoma Raceway has recreational users as well and continues to fill their dates despite rental rates that are double that of Thunderhill. What do we do about these changing conditions and the potential for even more drastic shifts in the demand for what we do? We build Thunderhill West, a second track that is very different from our original three-mile road course. Thunderhill West will give us fifty two more Saturdays, fifty two more Sundays and fifty two more Fridays and fifty two more Mondays. These are all high-demand days in our business and we believe that we can rent at least 125 more days beyond the current 325 rental days by having Thunderhill West as part of our offering to our current and future customers. 325 + 125 = 450 days of rentals, services, fuel sales and food business. This means more revenue for Thunderhill Park moving forward. But do not fear we did not dream this up.
Willow Springs built the Streets of Willows to accommodate different users many years ago and it worked. Veteran track owner Bill Huth told me that he made more revenue off of the Streets of Willows than he did renting the Big Track. And he confirmed, based on years of experience, that the Streets of Willows did NOT draw business away from the bigger track. “They are different,” he said. “They serve different customers and the Streets of Willows adds significantly to the bottom line of my fifty six year old road track in Rosemond California,” Bill beamed.
And there is more. With Thunderhill West we intend to seek a tenant partner much like the Skip Barber, Jim Russell or Bob Bondurant driving schools to be a major renter of that track and to join us in our mission for the next twenty years. In fact I do not expect a driving school of this old design but a tenant partner that needs a road track to conduct their business. A partner that is serving a new audience. Wyotech comes to mind as does Stanford University or the BMW High Performance Experience in Florida. I do not know who will be our future partner using Thunderhill West but we will have a partner and they will be good for Thunderhill. They will help us get to a rental volume that insures that long-term success of this track. They will get us to as many as 600 days on our 530 acre property using two tracks built by racers for racers.
To seal this message please consider that not doing Thunderhill West means that all we have to offer in the changing world is what we have now and what we have had for a great many years. Sure we could build a go-kart track but we researched that. Kart tracks tend to only be good for go-karts – too limiting and no guarantee of success. Many of these have failed or perform at marginal levels. We could add more garages and we will. But this was the right time to take on a new-extended track while I am still here and able to help build the business. That business will be just like what we have seen so far, successful beyond expectations. Guaranteed? No. Probable? Yes. Stay tuned and buy more fuel when you are here.
There is also a plan for a cottage industry complex like the one at Sonoma Raceway. I believe that this will work but I am experienced in developing track revenue. It will take a different entrepreneurial expertise to create the park in the south end of the property. This is why we currently offer this option to the industry as a “land-lease option” hoping that a developer will come forward and make it happen. This complex will house the AIM Tires and McGee Motor Sports companies of the future. I’ll leave this one for my replacement.
We have also looked at non-racing events such as Tough Mudder and The Strawberry Music Festival. These types of activates require special talents and skill. They loom on the horizon as activities we would consider only if the demand for track rentals was not sufficient to carry the load. That said we have always been profitable and we did not become profitable by accident or dumb-luck. We run a tight ship and we are good at creating revenue. For some of you that skill involved those agonizing tee-shirt commercials over the PA. I cannot apologize for that air time. It works. It sells merchandise, food and fuel and it works. If the SCCA used its PA time to promote itself there would be more of everything for the Club. It’s easy and it works. As long as it works we will continue to do whatever it takes to make Thunderhill Park the best and most successful recreational road course in the nation. That’s our mission. That’s our job and that is what we will do.
Finally, if you have any doubts about our business acumen please remember, Thunderhill Park has no debt. We do not owe a dime to anyone for anything and we are funding Thunderhill West ourselves – no banks – no loans. We will, however, take donations like we received from the awesome Shelby Club and the Porsche Club and others who wanted to help because they could. You can help if you want. Call me. There are many ways we can turn your passion for what we do into a value you will cherish and which will provide a legacy for you. Your legacy – “Helping racers create their own future to infinity and beyond.” Buzz Light-year to the rescue!