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Thunderhill - Thoughts from a Terrific Weekend!

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  • Thunderhill - Thoughts from a Terrific Weekend!

    I'm slowly recovering from an excellent, but long and busy weekend at Thunderhill Raceway Park. Friday morning at 3:15 AM, I left our home in Riverside to head North. The little Seven was packed tight with gear, food and water for the long trip. Somewhere around Glendora, the pre-dawn air got very chilly and I pulled off the freeway to erect the 'hood'. Ensconced in my little cocoon and warm again, we pressed ahead.

    At the Frazier Park, I stopped for gas and bio needs at the 'Flying J', and met a gentleman driving an MGB-GT. Don't see many of these anymore, do ya? He asked if I knew anything about SU carburetors, as his engine was misfiring under load. I told him to check his points, plugs and timing, and then fuel pressure from the pump. He was gone by the time I returned from inside the station, so I wish him the best!

    Traveling North on the 5 and passing the Lerdo Hwy. off ramp, brought a big smile to my face as I remembered the AROSC 2-1/2 hour enduro where I teamed with Tony Adamowicz and Doug Liedblad just a little over two months ago. But this trip was going a long way past Buttonwillow, so we kept on moving.

    This weekend was meant to be a gathering of West Coast Sevens and a chance to meet our Northern California counterparts. The plan was to meet at Woody's - a garage in Vacaville. As you know, Woody is a very real character! He's raced successfully in Europe and the U.S. in a number of classes, including Formula Atlantic. He's also got the drawl of a farm boy, and the wisdom of Mark Twain. For awhile, he was the Birkin (Seven replica from South Africa) distributor for the West coast. At any rate, I pulled into Woody's shop about 10:30 AM, a little tired from all the miles, a little hungry and thirsty. But the reception was worth it. Several Seveners had already arrived, including Doug Liedblad, Michael Murphey, (and later Gert and Rosie). These friends and Woody helped make me feel welcome and appreciated for making the trip. Over the next couple of hours, more arrived, and introductions made (and unfortunately names quickly misplaced in my brain!). We had a deli lunch, and then those of us driving our cars took a back-roads trek North to Willows.

    Woody had planned and described our route as passing through God's country. I think the emphasis should have been placed on "country" because at least 30 miles of our route was more suited to a WRC car than a Seven! Where there was pavement, it was 100% patches, in-between it was dirt and gravel - and don't get high-centered! My car had been spotless before this passage. But we made it through (the scenery and vistas were beautiful) and eventually found Thunderhill Raceway Park where we entered and found the garage one of the guys had rented. It felt good to put on some shorts and relax in good company with suitable and generous libations. Life was good, and only about 10 hours behind the wheel to get there.

    After sleeping very soundly overnight at the Blue Gum Motel and breakfast at the Willows Airport diner, Saturday morning we returned to Thunderhill for the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) event. First time on the track was a very real learning experience. It didn't do any good to follow other people's lines, as they were largely learning it too. So I tried to break it into sections, concentrating on each section in sequence. This worked pretty good, but I had lots of questions going into our first NASA download. For session II, I took my Australian friend, Michael Murphey with me. For those who don't know him, Mike is a Southern Californian transplant to Silicon Valley, and now has extensive experience at Thunderhill (and NASA instructor) Through his intercom, he talked me through the finer points of the track, and we quickly gained tremendous speed. By the end of that session, I was starting to find the Thunderhill rhythm. Each succeeding session on Saturday felt better than the last, and the little car was performing flawlessly. One fellow who followed me up over turn 5 (bypass), said he saw a little daylight under my wheels! Saturday evening, more generous portions of barbeque and friendship. (for track maps, videos, etc. go to: )

    If you're going to a Thunderhill event and looking for a place to stay, I highly recommend sticking with Pierre DeMartines recommendation of the Blue Gum Motel. Rarely have I ever slept so soundly away from home. It's kind of like going back in a time-warp to 50's America. But Sunday morning, it was time to check out and return to Thunderhill. Sunday's attendance was smaller than Saturday's, so more open track became available. I drove three sessions on Sunday, and each was better and more satisfying than the last. With greater track familiarity, I felt like Jon Stokes in his Seven, looking for holes and picking off the cars ahead at will. And to think, the head NASA instructor repeatedly referred to our cars as "FAKE - Sevens". He must be pissed-off because we were blowing everyone else away!

    For my Seven, turn 1 was taken in 4th from the 1-1/2 marker with a slight throttle lift. Turn 2 was a downshift to 3rd, and I hit a medium to late apex before unwinding for the outside. Turns 3, 4, 5 and 6 were all taken in 3rd, hugging the inside line through 3, turning into 4 at a break in the pavement, and entering the crest of turn 5 ~a car width from the left. Just a slight throttle lift there (some guys say they take it at full throttle?). What a roller-coaster! I had to be careful not to hold the car in too long in 6 for best acceleration around 7 and 8. Turn 9, what a thrill. Once Michael had told me his early apex line through there, it really came together. By Sunday afternoon, I was taking it with barely breathing the throttle. (Next time - flat out!) Turns 10 to 13 get you onto the back-straight, and are fun but probably not too important. I finally started getting 14 and 15 into a single smooth arc, and that felt good - and pretty quick.

    I hated to leave before my 4th session Sunday, but it didn't start until after 5:00 PM, and I had to start my return South. Eight hours later at 1:00 AM, I rolled into my garage in Riverside, very sleepy, but elated from a fantastic weekend enjoying my Seven in company with many other similarly afflicted individuals! Total mileage: 1,412. Average fuel consumption: 25 mpg. I may do this again. How about more So. Cal recruits for next year?? You're going to love this track!

    Best wishes,
    Last edited by Clark; August 16, 2006, 03:49 PM.

  • #2
    sounds like u had a blast. can't wait till i get the the time to put my 7 on real tarmac. I was away on holiday for the weekend and the seven saw some nice country roads :D unfortunately a few gravel rounds:(
    2002 SV zetec/sierra; yellow over green


    • #3
      Great write-up Clark!
      I wish now I had made the effort to go, but the distance and temperatures kept me away. Maybe next year I can follow you up and back in my Birkin. I guess it depends on which weekend it is held as the PNW tour will be starting mid-August. We'll see!


      • #4
        Stan, the distance is a good reason (really sucks) but the temperature was not. Well, it was reasonably hot but living in Victorville you would have laughed about it. I barely broke a sweat in the racing suit (now I am really joking....).



        • #5
          Great write up Clark! I agree it was a lot of fun. This was my first time at Thunderhill and I too spent a lot of time learning the line and what my car could and could not do! oops! At one point I said to my instructor over the intercom "I think I need to get more confident in my breaking." to which he quickly replied "OH NO YOU DON'T!!". ;-)))

          The temperatures were hot but it was not really too bad, especially with the garage and all of the folks taking care of us!!!

          Stan, cummon up. It's worth the trip!
          Last edited by Elv15; August 19, 2006, 09:43 AM.
          Tom "ELV15" Jones


          • #6
            Clark: Another fine effort behind the wheel and with the pen!!


            • #7
              Long Distance Commutes to Events

              Hi guys,

              Thank-you so much for the kind words! They mean a lot. Also, keep your eyes peeled for the next few issues of Lowflying. I just spoke with Tony Pashley (editor of Lowflying) on Friday, and he's working on getting our stories and photos into print.

              But on another topic, I've got to admit occasionally feeling a little vulnerable while driving my Seven to and from some of these events. I mean, you're really exposed (in more ways than one!) and it would be awfully nice to have some comraderie to lessen the risks and share the fun experiences. This past year, many of us have made solo commutes to Willow Springs, Buttonwillow, and now Thunderhill. At the events, we had a great time seeing our friends and enjoying our cars. Wouldn't it be even more fun to have someone familiar to talk with at the rest stops? It'll take some organizing and committment, but I'd like to try organizing some caravans next season, even if it's just two vehicles.

              Best wishes,


              • #8
                blat companions

                Hi Clark,

                I completely agree! It is very reassuring to have another sevener (or more) close by. I felt so much better after I arrived at Woodies and met up with you ane the rest of the guys (even if we did end up on some <ahem> interesting roads).

                The same thing happened to me while on the USA2005 tour. It was fun to drive to New Mexico to meet the tour, but there were a lot fewer "what if" thoughts going through my head after we met up with the tour. Having a few sevens around makes you more visible and also gives you some peace of mind incase of a mechanical breakdown. And best of all, you get to join in a shared experience!


                Tom "ELV15" Jones