Let’s be real: I know automotive journalism is not the kind of job where I’ll earn a million dollars and I am perfectly ok with that. My job allows me to drive most any car, travel to exotic locations, and participate in glamorous races. That being said, I have never been more motivated to be a millionaire then after I paid a visit to the Thermal Club.
Located near Palm Springs, along some desolate California roads, the Thermal Club is a desert oasis for motorsport enthusiasts. It encompasses a 5.1-mile race circuit complete with full track support team, tuning shop, and clubhouse. It also served as the host to Nitto Tire’s Mustang Mania track day, which saw every generation of Ford Mustang on the road course - including my very own S197.
Top: My car staged with the others on track. Below: Thermal Club grounds and Mustangs participating in Nitto driving event. | Photography by Nicole Ellan James
This ultra-exclusive hideaway is adjacent to a private airport and perfect for super wealthy car collectors who are building their dream villas, capable of housing 20 cars in their massive garages, it’s easy to see why the Thermal Club has quickly become the ultimate dream for car enthusiasts.
The trackside villas are the Palm Springs equivalent to a hotel balcony at the Monaco Grand Prix and the attention to detail throughout the facility is striking. As mesmerizing and beautiful as it is, make no mistake — the Thermal Club is a serious facility.
Drivers meeting with Vaughn Gittin Jr., Chelsea Denofa, and other Mustang drivers.
Before heading onto the track, a Thermal Club Instructor conducted a “track talk” and explained the lines of the track, safety regulations, and other various disclosures. Each Mustang, with the exception of my own, was fitted with a set of Nitto tires.
My 2014 Mustang was joined on track by a Pro-Touring 1966 Shelby GT350CR, classic 1967 Shelby GT500CR, 1970 Mach 1, 1973 Mach 1, 1978 Mustang II, 1987 LX Fox Body, 2001 GT Bullitt, and a 2013 Boss 302. Formula Drift drivers and professional fun-havers Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Chelsea Denofa piloted 2018 Mustangs, one decked out in RTR badging.
2018 RTR Mustang driven by Vaughn Gittin Jr., Thermal Club helmet atop my S197.
Each car was given a walky-talky and groups of three played lead and follow with an instructor-driven BMW. The instructor communicated through the walky-talky throughout the session, instructing when to brake, when to accelerate, and where to look as we aimed for the apex.
Thermal offers three racing circuits, with varying degrees of difficulty, and the club accommodates every aspect of storing, maintaining, and tuning vehicles so members can simply arrive and drive. The track also offers Aston Martin GT4s, Porsche Caymans, and BMW M cars for members, their families, and their guests to enjoy. Other features include an on-site skid pad — both wet and dry — and training that informs on-track-driving behavior, in addition to a short autocross course with high-speed go-karts.
Riding shotgun and chasing the Fox and S197
Thermal is a serious track, aside from my amateur shenanigans. It has fast straightaways, long sweepers, challenging hairpins, and a bit of elevation change making for phenomenal variety. The layout is also quite forgiving and safe for the over-confident.
After a few laps with Gittin Jr. on my heels, I decided it was time for a ride-along to see how the Nittos performed. Nitto is known for their DOT- compliant competition tires that are designed for consistent performance on the track. To keep them consistent, Nitto uses a specialized race compound to create the tires, and has engineered the sidewalls and tread patterns for maximum traction and stability.
Top: Mustangs on road course, Bottom: View from track side villa
The ride-along provided an excellent on-track view of the Thermal Villas. Each Villa ranges in size from 8,000 to 15,000 square-feet and comes with three-to-five bedrooms. Additionally, each comes with a huge garage space — high enough for a trailer or the possibility to stack cars — and elevators. Some of the trackside villas have carved out windows in the racetrack wall offering views from guest bedrooms and bathrooms.
Owners have several layout options with big garages
For the Thermal Club, it’s about building a community of car enthusiasts and giving them the ideal private playground. 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.
To join the Thermal Club, membership requires the purchase of real estate on the grounds, a plot of land ranges between $600,000 and $900,000 with options to be trackside or not. Prospective homeowners pay a one time $85,000 membership fee and annual dues paid per month come to $1,400. Add that to the cost of lots and building their dream villas, quite a few buyers are looking at $2.5-4.5 million dollars as their investment.
Thermal Club grounds, storage space for cars and shop where maintenance can be done
Thermal offers members and guests a luxurious Clubhouse with on-site gourmet chefs, a full bar, a Tuning Shop for repairs, a Fuel Island available 24/7, and personal concierges who handle everything from loading up your villa prior to your arrival, to organizing charter on private jets.
While I may never own a home at the Thermal Club, it is inspiring to know that if the right moves are made in life, there’s a chance I could get my foot in the door. Until then, I’ll enjoy shredding tires with Gittin Jr. and Denofa.