Posted on June 08 2016
Ninety miles north of Sacramento, nestled in the rolling hills of Northern California, lies nearly five miles of twisting, diving and difficult track. This is Thunderhill. Sometimes dubbed, “Thunderschleife” in the tradition of the great German road courses, Thunderhill is an adaptable course which can be driven in two separate parts or as a whole. When combined, it forms the longest road course in the US.
A modern track through and through, Thunderhill has only been open since 1993, with it’s most recent addition having been completed in the summer of 2014. But the track isn’t just modern in age, it’s modern in spirit too. Thunderhill’s proximity to Silicon Valley has made it a haven for self-driving car tests. Not only is it the laboratory of Stanford University’s Auto Engineering PHD program and their autonomous Audi TT, “Shelly”, it also recently became the “official autonomous test track for Audi of Germany.” Silicon Valley entrepreneur Joshua Schacter has even made Thunderhill the home of the first autonomous car racing series.
Thunderhill isn’t just helping to innovate self-driving cars, it’s very own existence was an innovation. Born out of frustration over securing race dates at other tracks in the region during the 1980s, Thunderhill was created to represent something better, particularly for the Sports Car Club of America (the SCCA), which was instrumental in the track’s plans getting approved in the community.
Ever since then, Thunderhill has been innovating and pushing boundaries. Yes, it’s the longest track in the US, but it’s also home to the NASA’s (National Auto Sport Association - not the space guys) 25 Hours of Thunderhill, the longest auto endurance race in the country - for a time it was even the longest in the world.
Thunderhill even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records in 2014 for the “Most Participants in a Car Race” when 228 teams participated in the 24 Hours of LeMons race. Which, yes, is a jalopy-powered parody of 24 Hours of LeMans. (LeMons? Lemons? Get it?)