Since opening its doors in 2012, Thermal Club has largely catered to race teams and well-heeled gentlemen racers. Open year round, the 344-acre facility offers members a true automotive paradise in the form of not only world-class road courses but a full tuning shop, fine dining, and other luxury amenities.
Now the club is looking to broaden its clientele, expanding beyond professional teams and hosting the West Coast operations of the BMW Performance Driving School by offering plots of land for members to build living spaces within the facility, as well as pre-built, 10,000-square-foot homes replete with massive 15-car garages to store all of their track toys. Some of these villas are built directly into the sound wall surrounding the road courses, offering members a chance to soak in the on-track action from the luxury of their own private balcony or bedroom windows.
"Our goal is to have a country club that the entire family can be a part of and give our members a place that feels like home for a day at the track or a long weekend getaway," says Thermal Club founder Tim Rogers. "Each time I visit The Thermal Club, I am pleased to see the progress of our world-class motorsports facilities, amenities, landscape, and the membership making up our club." And despite being one of the newer private tracks in the country offering on-site living quarters and resort-style amenities, with 80 members already on board and BMW's substantial long-term commitment to the facility, Rogers says that Thermal Club is already turning a profit, several years ahead of their initial projections.
Unsurprisingly, it didn't take a whole lot of convincing to get us to head out to Thermal Club's facility just outside of Palm Springs, California, to experience this private automotive playground for ourselves and get a better sense of everything the club has to offer would-be members.
Along with a karting track and a large skidpad that can be used for at-limit handling exercises, Thermal Club boasts three distinct road courses, all of which can be tied together for a 5.1-mile lap. Designed by Alan Wilson, the man behind the track layouts for Barber Motorsports Park, Gingerman Raceway, and Autobahn Country Club among others, Thermal Club's courses were designed with flexibility in mind in terms of track configurations and the varying skill levels of their members. Even though it started out catering mostly to pros, it was always meant for a wide range of drivers so the tracks are able to cater to vehicles ranging from vintage sports cars to modern Formula 1 cars.
"The trick is to make it challenging for everyone while keeping all of our members safe," says track operations manager and former Ferrari Challenge driving coach Jeff Rodrigues. "When a member says the Desert Circuit is too difficult-which is the most technical one of our three courses-we know we designed it right." Thermal's roster of renowned instructors on staff also ensures that members can get training and tips with full telemetry analysis as their skills progress.
Our track time consisted of several stints on a track configuration, which combined the North Palm and South Palm circuits, switching off between 987-generation Porsche Caymans on Toyo R888 rubber and F80-generation BMW M3s outfitted with Pirelli PZero racing slicks. Clocking roughly three miles per lap, this configuration boasts long straights, fast sweepers, low-speed technical sections, and enough elevation change to keep us on our toes pushing harder lap after lap.
While the facility is happy to rent those Caymans to members, Rodrigues is quick to point out that they encourage members to run what they brung, whether that's a bone-stock production vehicle or an open-wheel single-seater. "We see a lot of members starting out with street cars and moving up to purpose-built race cars over time," he explains. "Radicals, Wolfs, and production-based GT4 cars are becoming increasingly popular here."
Beyond Track Days
Aside from the resort-style amenities of the facility, the living spaces offered on-site set Thermal Club apart from typical tracks. Eight pre-determined member villa floor plans are currently available ranging from 5,500 to 15,000 square feet for those looking for a turnkey solution. But members also have the option of designing their own version within specified guidelines, like architecture that's consistent with the contemporary designs found throughout the facility. Garage sizes start at 3,600 square feet and go up from there.
When I was there, 17 villas had been completed while another nine were under construction; eventually, 214 on-track villas are planned while an additional 54 units are available off-track. Members are allowed to stay in these residences for up to 90 consecutive days at a time, and the facility itself is gated and patrolled 24 hours a day.
Thermal Club also boasts a state-of-the-art tuning shop available to perform maintenance, repairs, modifications, and restoration on member vehicles. The Trackside Garage features a car wash and detail area as well as vehicle storage space.
The Tower Building provides a lounge, trackside viewing deck, dining, and also houses the timing and control center for the track itself. And in keeping with the resort theme, Thermal Club also has a fitness center, spa facilities, and a Kid's Club, the latter of which features a game room, movie theater, and other activities to keep the youngsters entertained when they're not tearing around the karting track.
Along with the year-round testing done by teams competing in Pirelli World Challenge, Ferrari 488 Challenge, and other series, Thermal Club also hosts a number of races throughout the year, including Lotus Cup and Pirelli GT3 events. The facility has also developed its own class-based racing events that pits cars that normally race in one-make series against one another, and a mixed-make sports racer class is currently in development as well.
As one might expect, this automotive paradise doesn't exactly come cheap. Membership has a one-time, up-front cost of $100,000 for individuals and $250,000 for corporate accounts, plus annual dues of $20,000. It's worth noting that individuals can share their membership privileges within their immediate family, while businesses can do so throughout their companies.
However, Thermal Club membership comes with another (not insignificant) stipulation-all members must be property owners within the Thermal Club, which adds the cost of a villa or the construction of a custom on-site home into the mix as well, and prices for the villas start at $2 million-and up.
Still, for those who can afford what this exclusive club has to offer, Thermal's facility proves to be a thoroughly thought-out and complete vision of automotive utopia for track rats, one that's particularly compelling for those who seek a turnkey experience away from it all that indulges its members in luxury when they're not going 10/10ths out on the road course.