Looking ahead, looking back

Looking ahead, looking back

The gentleman who will replace me at the track when I retire at the end of the year 2023 has accepted the position of General Manager and will arrive in Glenn County with his wife and ten-year-old son in early October. Matt Busby will be around for all to meet at the SCCA season finale at the end of October. He has previous experience at the NOLA Race Park in Louisiana and the Kentucky Motorsports Park where he worked with the talented Mitch Wright before accepting his position at Thunderhill.  

With my departure, Thunderhill embarks on a new chapter as one of the top recreational motorsport’s venues in the nation. I will miss Thunderhill when that time comes, but I will be available to help as needed in my new role as a motorsports consultant.

Jennifer Hook is the soon- to-be accounting person at Thunderhill Park. She will replace Terry Taylor who is retiring at the end of the year following over twenty-seven years of keeping track of the money.  Jennifer started on September first and has been in training with Terry since that time. Jennifer is married and has a ten-year old son. She lives in nearby Hamilton City and brings a wide diversity of bookkeeping and accounting background to her new position. “I am excited to join the Thunderhill Park team and look forward to getting my son and husband involved in motorsports,” she said.  Welcome Jennifer!

Contemplating leaving my baby brings up volumes of funny and sometimes amazing stories about how Thunderhill Park got to Glenn County and how it grew all these past thirty years. To begin with I could say that Thunderhill Park is 35 years old because that is when I was hired for the job by Roger Eandi and Jon Norman. Actually, they interviewed me and the Board headed by Tom McCarthy hired me. The adventures in Stanislaus, Fresno, Solano, and Yuba Counties are a story onto themselves. Then came Glenn County and meeting Dick Mudd who, after encountering my salesmanship, helped us make a club-owned track a reality.  I could not say this back then, but Dick Mudd actually told the planning commission and the county staff that he wanted this track to be built. To say that he helped would be a gross understatement.

I recall that when I was hired, I knew almost nothing about the SCCA including how it was structured into regions and that the San Francisco Region was the largest and, in some peoples view, the best on many fronts. I did not know what a Formula Vee was or why anyone would call a class of race cars, Improved Touring.

t was all Greek to me, but I quickly learned when Don Wixcel, then current and very dedicated Region Manager of the Club, got sick and I was called in to “watch the office”. Wow. What a world. I met Vince Burgess and college student Ali Arsham in the office located over a glass cutting office just off Polk Street in San Francisco. With little help from me they had to prepare the mountains of material that was needed for the next Club event. You would be amazed if you knew how hard it was to process entries, assign numbers, print race groups and schedules, and create the “disc” for timing and scoring. It took days and almost always had one or more mistakes. But that is another story.

My exposure to the SCCA as a driver began at the next driving school. I was asked if I wanted to get a license to race. My response was I had a license and showed it to them. It said California DMV. Not good. I asked why I need a license to race, adding that in sprint car racing if you make it through the first turn on your qualifying run you pass. If not, we visit you in the hospital. No one laughed. I went to the school. At the school I was told by my instructor that I was not following “the line”. When I figured out what he was saying I asked, how I was going to pass any one if we all drive the same line?” Long looks followed. From there I was fortunate to have a long and serious road racing adventure.

I raced Datsun 510’s, Mazda RX7’s and Mazda Miata’s. I became known as an aggressive driver and won my fair share. I crashed too. It was tremendously rewarding to be considered a threat to win. I always enjoyed being part of a group of racers who played what I called “hard ball” in competition. There were also some tense moments along the way. The first several years of SCCA racing I also raced winged sprint cars at various tracks. One season I ran over sixty races. It does not get any better than that at the amateur level. I was lucky.

Last year was the first year I did not race anything, but the year is not over yet? There comes a time when the “On Kill” switch flips off. I know that I no longer race “on kill’. That may seem harsh or foolish, but to me racing is about winning and to win you have to play hard ball. Otherwise it is not real racing. This was not the SCCA culture, but I survived and became a favorite friend of the stewards along the way. I wonder why?

I enjoy recalling the times I lived with the Mudd family. Dick and Reita Mudd are gone now as are Tom McCarthy and Roger Eandi. To them and many others I owe an insurmountable debt of gratitude for letting me make a racetrack that they could be proud of, one that I hope everyone is proud of. In the months ahead I will look back at stories and special people who I met along the way like Art Siri, Richard Siri, Steve Crawford, Terry Taylor, Vince Minto, Mike Smith and a host of others whose role in making today’s Thunderhill what it is today. Remember, building a racetrack in California was and continues to be impossible, but we did it and it is there for all to see. More to come.