Located deep in the desert of Riverside County’s Coachella Valley, in the city of Thermal, CA, stands a country club that is the epitome of car enthusiasts around the world. It is also the result of a dream of one couple who met over 40 years ago in graduate school.
The Thermal Club is an exclusive country club whose community revolves around its three racing tracks. The houses are trackside villas with 16 car garages, a tower that stands at the center of the track gives the best view of the racing action, two five-star restaurants provide food as exciting as the flavor of the competition on the tarmac, and almost everywhere—no matter where you are—the spirit of racing surrounds you. It is no wonder why BMW chose this as the place to build their West Performance Driving School.
The words “country club” used to only be synonymous with golf courses, golf carts, and sand traps, but today it is beginning to describe the sound of a racing car’s exhaust and squealing tires. These new clubs cater to racing aficionados whose idea of a great weekend is experiencing racing around complex tracks. These clubs offer exclusive amenities, a members’ only track experience, and luxuries that normal track days do not offer.
Usually, a day at the track is an arduous affair. The racing might be great, but the off-track experience leaves a lot to be desired. There’s little to no food other than what you brought. Lodging is off-site, and you share the restrooms with flies. The roads around the track may be cracked and in need of paving, this is to all say that: it’s fun to race, but it’s exhausting spending the entire day at a race track.
The Thermal Club opened six years ago. Owners Tim and Twanna Rogers looked into what it would take to build a facility that centered around automobiles and racing. “Not everyone plays golf,” says Tim Rogers, “We’ve spent a lot of research in trying to figure out what would attract car-centric people, both the collectors and the racers.” The couple invested 150 million dollars into the facility which now includes a fitness center, spa, 48 casitas, two restaurants, tennis, pickleball and basketball court, karting, racing instruction, and car sales.
The love from cars stems from Tim’s background. As a young man, he was a mechanic on outboard boat engines. He says that he always liked cars, but could not afford them. “Now we’re able to afford the cars, and we’re building a racetrack for the whole family—it’s an experience.”
Tim and Twanna met in graduate school at Pepperdine University. They have been married for 42 years. They “always wanted their own business,” says Tim. The two started a gasoline marketing company that supplied 7-Eleven. They invested in their community, building gas stations, grocery stores, agricultural date palm groves, and medical office buildings throughout the communities of Torrance and now Thermal, CA.
They chose Thermal, as the place to build their racing country club because “it’s adjacent to Los Angeles and not too far from Phoenix and San Diego. We have over 30 million people within a 4-hour drive that can come here,” says Tim. The weather is also great for racing, as its constant sunny days allow the club to be open year-round. He mentions that although it does get hot, and sometimes it rains, they always offer their members the ability to drive on the track, “We always promise that there is always a track to drive at any time.”
Being located deep in the desert of Riverside is not by accident, “Not everyone wants a racetrack in their backyard,” says Rogers, who worked with the County of Riverside to open the facility next to the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport. The airport has been a good partner to The Thermal Club, and “they actually make more noise than we do,” says Tim.
To address noise concerns the entire track is surrounded by a sound wall that keeps the radiant noise level to a minimum. It is also future-proof so that if the city of Thermal grows and starts to encroach, “The Great Wall of Thermal” will prevent any noise nuisance problems.
What differentiates Thermal’s membership from other racing country clubs is that its membership is tied to real estate. “It’s a vertical membership for the entire family which makes it nice,” says Tim. So, if your parents become members then you also become a member. It trickles down to include everyone in the family.
Members have five years to build their property. Villas that are constructed by the Great Wall need to be three stories tall. They have the option of having the second-floor windows built directly into the wall. Villas that are not adjacent to the wall can be two stories tall. All villas have to meet the architectural requirements of the club; however, the interior is left to the owner’s discretion.
“We just want to make it a wonderful environment for friends and car-centric people to be here with their families,” says Tim.
Steve Moorehouse, The Thermal Club’s real estate and membership sales manager, showed us around Villa 45, a 7200 square foot, 3-bedroom, 12-car garage home.
The second floor is designed for guests and extended family. The villa has two bedrooms with windows that look directly through the sound barrier. He says, speaking of the bedroom windows, “[It’s a] very unique” feature that offers “one of the best views on the track.”
The top floor of the villa is a large open space, with a kitchen that would make any top chef blush. Featuring the top cooking appliances, the upper living room also includes the master bedroom, but the entire room is designed to focus your eyes towards the track.
There are large glass doors, and with a push of a button, Moorehouse opens the sliding glass doors and as they begin to part, they reveal the patio and Thermals amazing scenery. As the doors continue to open, Moorehouse says his favorite line of the villa tour: “Welcome to Thermal”, as he invites you outside. It’s an amazing moment as you are quickly in awe of the iconic views that The Thermal Club has to offer.
At three stories in the air, the patio shows not only the immediate corner but you can also see most of the red track. The layout of the trackside villas, which are on the perimeter of the racing courses, means that there is no obstruction by another neighbor’s home that blocks your sight.
“This is trackside living at its best,” says Moorehouse, “No other club has this feature, [a] patio right on the track.”
If the villa’s garages cannot fit your storage needs, The Thermal Club has an onsite storage facility.
“We designed the track so we could have an Indy race here or a Formula 1 race,” says Tim. Track architect, Alan Wilson, consulted IRL and Penske Racing to make sure that both IndyCar and Formula 1 could use the tracks for races, and Roger Penske, himself, ran it through his simulator, recommending changes so the Thermal’s tracks can accommodate those racing series.
According to Moorehouse, The Thermal Club’s three tracks include a red (South Palm), blue (North Palm), and green (Desert) racetrack, “We can run three individual races, 20 different combinations or we can put them all together for 5.1 miles.”
Looking at bringing major racing back to Riverside, CA, Rogers said that “In the future, once we’re more developed we’re looking at having some major races here where our members can have 40 of their friends on their private balcony and we’ll have areas for the public where they can see quite a bit of the track as well.”
Although the major races need to wait until the villa community is more developed, there is racing happening at Thermal today. SRO Pirelli’s World Championship held its Winter Racing Series at The Thermal Club this year. Three races with GT4, GT3, and TCR/TCA class cars running around a track in Riverside County, CA is a welcome return of racing that has long been missed since the iconic Riverside International Raceway closed in 1988.
The Clubhouse’s tower, located at the center of the track, by the restaurant, offers the best in spectating. You can see every corner of every track on its viewing deck. A floor above that deck, is Thermal’s race control center.
The restaurant is a five-star dining facility that has a French flair. Executive chef, Fredric Nail, heads Thermals restaurants and says he says they are California Bristol, where “The food ranges [from a] little bit of pacific rim, little bit of French, and a lot of California, but the main goal is to give to the guest what they like.”
Back on the track, Dominik Cicero, the Chief Instructor at The Thermal Club, teaches members how to navigate the road courses, as he says “[he] gets everyone up to speed safely.” Being that the membership is vertical, he is able to introduce performance driving to “kids, grandkids—everybody”, teaching them in learning the car and the track, in a safe environment.
The track team has a timing stand that provides members and their guests with data and lap times. A cold drink and a comfy couch are only steps away in the pit’s shaded hospitality area. They even offer massages and intravenous fluids on race days to keep dehydration and cramps at bay. Some may think this is extreme, but this is because the entire experience of The Thermal Club is supposed to be fun for the entire family. It offers thrills in luxury akin to the top hotels in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York.
If your family doesn’t want to stay at the track, they have the newly opened Member’s Club to keep them entertained. Tim Rogers says that “The members’ clubs consist of 48 casitas for overnight stays for members and their guests. In addition to that, we have a fitness center, a spa, another additional restaurant, a kid’s room, two pools (kids and adult), [a] tennis court, pickleball court, basketball court and all kinds of amenities for our members and guests.”
The casitas give members a place to stay during a trip to the club if their villas are still under construction. It also allows a place for business parties, weddings, and birthday parties.
The Fitness Center has state of the art equipment aimed at aiding in “drivers training in addition to regular physical fitness,” says Rogers.
The members club is more removed from the racetrack experience than the other facilities at The Thermal Club. You don’t have the cars flying by you in earshot as it’s not trackside.
The whole goal of The Thermal Club is about celebrating and enjoying time with your family.
One of the most interesting things about the club is that beyond members’ services, it has also become a home for industrial businesses. There is a substantial benefit for a business that revolves around racing to have their building located on an active racing track. Businesses like TruSpeed Motorwerks, whose owner Tyler Tadevic recently moved his company to The Thermal Club last year says, “Having a race shop located at a race track is—pinch me—it’s the best situation that I could ask for.” It’s great for the members too who have an expert facility that can help them either repair or tune their car without having to take their vehicle to an outside shop.
The entire experience at The Thermal Club is concierge. There are members services staff who will pick members up from the airport and transport them to the track facility. They will also stock their villa with food and make sure that it is ready for their arrival—they really do it all to make sure that the members and their guests have the most enjoyable experience possible. It reminds me of Carroll Shelby, in that he said that his favorite car was “the next one.” At Thermal, they strive to exceed their member’s expectations every time, and then they want the next visit to be even better. Like someone washing a new car so that every drive is as good as the first drive, Tim and Twanna’s are focused on offering a motorsport “dream experience”.
Rogers says that he still has about another 30 million to invest in completing The Thermal Club, but there are no banks involved and there is no debt, so it is a safe investment for members as the community will continue to grow in the future.
With “California banning gas cars in 25 years, this will be a place where we can keep the gasoline-powered cars, and have a facility to keep the heritage of the muscle cars and the race cars going forward”, says Tim Rogers.
It’s obvious that The Thermal Club and its membership requires a lot of money, and for most of us, that will remain a thing only of our dreams. But in the time that I’ve spent there, I have learned that there is very little that separates most of its members from the guy building his car piece-by-piece, part-by-part on a meager or modest budget. The stories of the people are the same, and in most situations, the people like Tim, his wife, Twanna, Steve Moorehouse, and Tyler Tadevic are very similar. They started out not from wealth, but as people from a working-class background who had a dream—a wild dream, some might say, that almost seemed unobtainable.
I love stories of people who came up from nothing to become something. One of my favorite stories is Ken Block, a guy who came from humble beginings, co-founded DC Shoes to become a millionaire and then became the famous race car driver that most of us know him for today. Like Block, most of the members of The Thermal Club grew up as we did. They attended the same schools and lived in the same communities that most of us came from, and maybe still live today. But they took a chance to build a dream. They reached for the stars and whether a matter of luck and fate, mixed with lots of hard work, they achieved the success that we all one day aspire to also achieve.
Their toybox of cars may be different than ours, but the love of family and the passion of the automobile remains the same.
I hope you get a chance to come to The Thermal Club on the public days when they are hosting a race. Like Charlie, coming to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, you will be filled with dreams, and hopefully, you will leave feeling inspired and like I have, feel embraced by the community and dreaming of how I too can accomplish my wildest dreams.