Almost three years ago, I wrote an opinion on Catchfence.com titled, "IT WAS JUST FUN" re-telling an enjoyable evening I spent at a local dirt track. While I love 'dirt trackin', my real passion for racing as on the Asphalt, but unfortunately for me, where I live, the availability of non dirt surfaced tracks is very limited.
The closest track that I was aware of was 5 plus hours away in Houston, and every time I made plans to attend a race there, the weather would not co-operate and the race night would be rained out. But little did I know even after a few years of searching, that there was a nice track just a little over 3 hours away.
Enter Thunderhill Raceway in Kyle, Texas (just minutes south of Austin) and what a great facility it is. I thought this past weekend was 'opening' weekend, and while I was technically correct, it was the opening weekend for the racing season, it was a 'special event' weekend and not a regular weekend show. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Friday, aprox 6:00 pm
The trusty RV pulled into the track late Friday afternoon and although it had rained most the day, there was plenty of 'high ground' area to park the RV along with a few other race fans who had done the same. The track parking staff were very helpful and tried to make our stay as pleasant as possible, even to the point of 'fetching' us some potable water to fill our empty water tanks (oops).
Friday 7:15 pm
I should have realized something up this race weekend, as even Friday evening the sounds of cars on the track could be heard but still I was oblivious to the actual weekend's race schedule. I knew that a touring late model series was going to run that weekend, but still I was thinking it was simply 'another regular' race weekend.
Saturday 10:00 am
My ignorance all changed the Next morning when I took my first view if this wonderful racing facility from inside the track. It was then that I noticed 'Nextel West' officials wandering around the facility and some familiar looking cars. These were not Late Models, these were what I fondly call 'Winston West' cars tweaking during pre-qualifying practice.
One of my favorite things to do if the opportunity arises, is to see as many different race series as possible and I have never attended a Nascar Grand National Touring Division series to date. That would change that Saturday night.
The Nextel West Series in a nutshell uses older Busch and Cup chassis and have either 105 or 110 wheel base. This year, the series is using a spec engine as well. But other than that, the car looks very much like any Cup/Busch car seen at any Nextel track.
Saturday 4:10 pm
As the grandstand gates open some 3 or so hours before the dropping of the first race's green flag, the line had already formed at the ticket window. Once we received our tickets, the track staff once again seemed to go out of their way to make the race fans feel welcomed and appreciated. A genuine sense of 'we are glad that you are here', was the over-all impression I got when encountering any track employee/volunteer.
Saturday 4:25 pm
Upon entering the track, we almost immediately flowed into the pit area and what a treat that was. The Nextel West teams were more than willing to answer questions, be it if they were some of the most elementary onces. For example, I would be the first to admit my ignorance of this racing series, and the first thing I noticed were the Goodyear tires being used. After questioning one very nice gentleman of my observation, he informed me that not only are the teams issued just two full sets of tires for the whole race weekend, but the tires were not Radials that are used in Cup.
Saturday 6:05 pm
We also got an up close and personal view of the 'preliminary race' teams on the card that night which was the Texas Super Racing Series. This Late Model series also had their season opening race and just to see the pride these teams took with their cars was really a joy to experience.
this TSRS late model team had thier 'game face' on before the race, this team finished a respectable 3rd
Saturday 6:55 pm
The grandstands were filling up so it was on to find some seats, and while I don't know just what the capacity of Thunderhill is, there were very few seats left just 15 or so minutes before before the first scheduled race. We were able to find some very nice seats with a great view (really there is not a bad seat anywhere) coming out of turn 4.
Saturday 7:10 pm
One of my pet peeves for almost any event is starting the event at the publicized schedule time (unless weather does not allow), and like clock work the Late Models rolled out on the track with ample time to meet the 7:15 start.
Saturday 7:15 pm
Like clock work, the green flag flies and what a show did these guys put on. Very few cautions and very clean racing was the theme of this 50 lap race. I cannot wait to return to a TSRS race in the near future.
Saturday 7:40 pm
A quick trip to the restroom (very clean facilities) and a jog by the concession stand. It was very clear that the track owner had the 'common race fan' in mind when looking over the prices of the ' good eats' and drinks. A family of four could come to a full race season at Thunderhill, and have refreshments each time, and spend less money then a full race weekend at a Cup track.
Saturday 7:45 pm
Main event pre-race festivities begin highlighted by introducing Terry Labonte . There was a bit a humor involved with this however, as it seemed that Terry was to give a 'ride along' to a lucky fan. After what seemed to be a couple of minutes of repeated 'here is Terry!' over the P.A. system, and the race fans not only looking at the pit area, but the grand stands and even towards the sky in anticipation of seeing just how Texas Terry might enter the track. (after all this is Texas, and you never know) A car appears from the pit area, and makes a few laps around the track, then stopping at the start/finish line. 'Lucky fan' exits car, and claims she would 'never do that again', and the car drives off back into the pit area. (Was it really Terry driven or just a scene from 'The Electric Horseman'?)
Terry Labonte does his best 'Robert Redford Electric Horseman' impression. (it really was Texas Terry, no impostor here)
Saturday 7:55 pm
Nextel West cars are pushed onto the track via the pit entrance and are lined up, diagonal along the front stretch and the front grandstands are now pretty much completely full.
Saturday 8:15 pm
Driver intros commence, and like the 'big boys' the drivers are driven into the track on the back of pick-up trucks. Gotta give a little credit to the race promoter here in trying to make this event as '1st class' as possible. I am sure it is not everyday these guys get introduced in this manner.
Saturday 8:27 pm
A short pre-race prayer, a very nice National Anthem, a few fireworks, and then 'confirmation' that Texas Terry is truly in attendance as a quick interview with him at the start/finish line before he gives the command to fire the engines.
Saturday 8:35 pm
'Gentleman, start your engines!'
Saturday 8:40 pm
Green flag, green flag....go go go!!!!
Saturday 8:40 -- 10:05 pm
150 laps of some great 'bullring' racing. Not really being familiar with the drivers I chose to program my scanner to 'race control' and listen to the Race Director. I don't know this gentleman's name, but this Nascar Official is a no nonsense type of guy. After repeated warnings to the whole field about showing on track patience, midway through the race he was not afraid to move even some front runners to the rear of the field for 'rough driving'. He used the sound philosophy that 'anyone can punt and pass in a bullring, but it takes skill to move the car ahead of you, without wrecking them'.
Saturday 10:15 pm
Back into the pit area to catch some of the post race inspection action. Many of these inspectors also double up when Cup events or on the west coast as while, so their insight was invaluable.
very nice Nextel West Official checks carburetor intakes and answers the countless questions from yours truly
Even while performing their jobs they were very happy to answer any questions directed to them by race fans. Again this was a common theme for the whole night. While I am not the biggest 'tech head', it did give me more appreciation for the due diligence of pre and post race inspections.
even though it doesn't take long to get a car all the way through post race tech, there are very few components that are not looked at
Over all, if I was going to give a grade to the Thunderhill Raceway, the Nextel West Series, and the TSRS for their race night presentation, it would be a solid 'A'. How this track has not been in my cross hairs over the past 5 or so years is beyond me. Even though the track is a little over a 3 and half hour drive, I plan on making at the very least a few more race weekends there this season. The track owner, promoter, employees and volunteers should be proud of the product they are putting out. I for one, will be spreading the word in two weeks at TMS among some of the other DFW area race fans who are starved for some good asphalt racing, as I think many of them would be willing to make the trek down to the Austin area.
I am just glad this great facility wasn't a snake, if so it would have bit me for sure! Like the line that 'Arnold' has made famous......
I'LL BE BACK