Thermal doesn’t seem to be an obvious location for one of the world’s most exclusive member’s clubs. The desertscape of the Coachella Valley is as harsh as it gets in this part of California. Surrounding mountain ranges hold back the clouds, turning this one-time settlement for railroad workers into an unforgiving oven, with temperatures known to exceed 50deg C. The locals say it becomes so overbearing that during the summer people seek work for two or three months in more hospitable towns and cities around the US.
Driving from Palm Springs to Thermal, the mood changes. The immaculately presented properties and grand, gated private estates give way to nondescript, modest homes that look poorly maintained. A resident of the region tells me that Thermal is known for having a methamphetamine problem.
Rolling off the freeway, Thermal Raceway appears like a mirage in the desert, yet this luxury residential resort for petrolheads is no trick of the light. The site, walled off to the outside world, covers around 400 acres. Across the road is a private airport. The majority of those coming to Thermal don’t travel by car; they land their private jet or helicopter next door. Which is why the owners behind the Thermal Club are right now deciding which private jet to buy.
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.”