Those owners are Tim Rogers and his wife, Twanna. Thermal Raceway wasn’t their idea; they were early investors but thought the project wasn’t going in the right direction and the permit from the Riverside County authorities was taking too long to materialise. So they pulled out, waited for the permit and then bought out the project, buying back property that had been given away to raise funds and paying off loans with interest. They have now sunk £135 million of their own money into it. Tim says it has been profitable for the past six years and doesn’t have a dime of debt. But why risk so much on an unproven concept?
“The main reason is we belonged to several country clubs, and they’re beautiful, with a golf course around you, nice homes, and a common interest with the people near you,” says Rogers. “But we have maybe 125 of those in the Coachella Valley, and not everyone golfs. We love cars and thought there are many other people who do too.”
The pair made their first fortune buying and supplying fuel to 7-Eleven convenience stores and gas stations around the US. The trick was to buy cheap, sell high, much like a trader, and then ensure that the logistics of covering an area the size of America went smoothly.
After that, they bought up the stores and gas stations. Then came the cars. The pair are what’s known in these parts as gearheads. “We always kept a collection of around 12 cars,” says Rogers. “Now, we have a lot more…”
Thermal Club’s profitability has come from changing the concept to one that’s altogether more ambitious. Originally it was envisaged as a private race track for members, much like the Ascari Race Resort, in Málaga, Spain, Monticello Motor Club near New York or Apex Motor Club in Arizona. For an annual fee you’d turn up, drive your cars, be fed and watered, hang with like-minded gearheads and then head home.
Rogers changed the business plan, supplementing the membership model with a focus on building luxury villas. Some viewed it as a risky strategy, others reasoned that in Fortune 500 territory and only hours away from Los Angeles – a city where a mansion can cost up to £75m – money wouldn’t be a problem if the experience was special enough.
You can’t be a member without a villa, or vice versa. The club takes care of everything, supplying an architect and contractors. Properties can even be provided move-in ready, with food in the fridge, coffee brewing and sun loungers on the terrace.
Two types of membership are available: family or corporate. The former is $85,000 (£65,000) and, as the title suggests, allows the member to have as many of the family as they please present. Alternatively, a $200,000 (£150,000) corporate membership can be divided among four unrelated individuals, a bit like a timeshare. Both include a 70% refundable deposit should you leave the Thermal Club. A $1200 (£920) monthly fee applies to family membership, and each individual who is part of the corporate membership must also pay $1200 a month.