The Thermal Club: If You Have The Means, We Highly Recommend It
Photography by Shayan Bokaie, Thermal Club
At the time of writing this, I will turn 26 years old in a couple weeks. The most pressing matters on my mind are sorting out “Phase 2” of my 20s; a minor quarter-life crisis, so to speak. I’ve just recently (barely) added a second car to the stable, and am now trying to figure out how the hell to buy a home (duplex).
Far from my immediate reality is a Tuscan villa in a desert oasis sitting above a 5.1-mile race circuit with a full track support team, tuning shop, and clubhouse. The key word there is “reality”; that scenario is actually quite easy to daydream about. As it turns out, there is a place, and my goodness is it special—and I was lucky enough to get a taste of what it’s like on the big-kids playground.
If you have just sold your billion-dollar app (and/or your wife and kids) and racing is your true, unrelenting passion, this is the place to be. Just outside of Palm Springs, membership to this place, called the Thermal Club, requires the purchase of real estate on the grounds, with lots available in various configurations, but generally offered in two capacities: villas and garages (for those of you that have only sold your wife and kids). The garage lots still provide access to the facility and services, just without the on-track villa (shame, I know).
The first thing that stands out is the attention to detail; every inch of this place has been built with a strong adherence to the original vision, and the passion for perfection is present in everything you come across. From the ambiance in the bathrooms (no joke), to the racing-inspired napkins at the bar—to say nothing of the track itself—it’s all fastidiously presented and thought-through.
Quick aside. Thermal founder Tim Rogers has a killer Nissan 240Z, which was one of the few restored by the factory back in the 1990s as a part of their Vintage Z-Car program.
EAT. SLEEP. RACE. REPEAT.
Make no mistake, Thermal is a serious members-only facility: various track configurations, race-prep services, replenishing all variety of fuel and tires, the list goes on and on. If you are looking to literally live at the racetrack, they make it quite easy to do so with resort-like amenities for you, your family, clients, etc.
To get a true sense of what the racing support is like, I did hot lap sessions in two cars: the 2017 BMW M3 (did I mention BMW has an Experience Center at the facility as well?) and a track-prepped Porsche Cayman. This was my first time in the drivers seat at a racing circuit, so naturally I was a bit tense. The instructor did a few laps as the pace car transmitted audio instructions through the speakers of all the cars on the track, which, aside from being a very efficient way of to communicate, immediately inspired some confidence in the limits of the cars and best practices on the track.
I quickly learned I am far (extremely far) from the racing driver I hoped I might be, but regardless found the circuit to be quite addicting after seeing the lap times dropping throughout the session. Fast straightaways, long sweepers, challenging hairpins, and a bit of elevation change make for phenomenal variety, but the layout is also quite forgiving and safe for the over-confident (I may have overcooked it into a few corners, whoops!). I couldn’t quite figure out the double-“S” section of the North Palm Circuit, but after speaking about this tricky section with the race staff—who are all seasoned racing vets with the latest telemetry equipment—they coached me into getting the approach and turn-in right, and after I felt like Senna at Suzuka (in my mind).
IN GOOD COMPANY
It warrants repetition: Thermal is a serious track (aside from my amateur shenanigans). During our session we were sharing apexes with the Turner Motorsport BMW team and a Ferrari Challenge 458 team who were doing some in-season testing. Some of the industry elites have already committed to Thermal as well, making the membership as much of a social club as a racing one.
The trackside villas are the Palm Springs equivalent to a hotel balcony at the Monaco Grand Prix, with garage space that can fit about a dozen cars. A tour of the existing properties confirms members are here to drive, with tasty track cars waiting patiently for their arrival.
Thermal is unquestionably a manifestation of the enthusiast’s imagination, but as you’ve likely assumed by now, also eye-wateringly expensive. The annual membership is in the neighborhood of $80,000/year in addition to plots starting in the $400,000 range. Factor in your travel costs to and from the facility along with the track cars you’ll likely want to add to your collection, and you’re looking at a serious financial commitment.
That said, if you have the means, as they say, to fulfill your daydreams about perfecting your lap times and socializing with those chasing the same, there is no better place in the United States. It’s not your fault you have this passion right? Some people have knitting or rock climbing, and you have this.
So, while my starter home (duplex) unfortunately will not be situated above Turn 3 at the Thermal Club, it is inspiring to know that if the right moves are made in life, there’s a chance I can get my foot in the door. In the meantime, a message to my well-endowed friends: I may or may not be hassling you into signing up so I can visit this sacred place in the desert again.