I won’t name the magazine, but many of its stories used to begin something like this: “I know you probably won’t believe this, but I swear it’s all true. … “ and they went on from there. If you’re familiar with that kind of lead, you know the magazine. If not, all I can tell you is that it was about the size of a Reader’s Digest. This story could begin in similar fashion, but in this story, I’ll give you the ending first:
The 2023 25 Hours of Thunderhill Presented by Hawk Performance will move from its traditional dates on the first weekend of December to November 11-12, 2023.
You read that right. Mark your calendars. The 25 Hours of Thunderhill will take place when we’re still filching those last few pieces of Halloween candy, not microwaving the last turkey leftovers, and I think it’s a great idea, and by the end of this story you’ll know why.
To anyone who has been paying attention, it’s no secret that attendance diminished in 2021 and 2022 after the event was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID restrictions. As someone who has covered all of the 25-hour races since 2013, when I started as editor of Speed News, I have a soft spot in my heart for this race. It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced. It’s other-worldly.
For starters, it’s arguably the gutsiest thing an amateur racing team can do. It requires so much effort that the event grew to attract pro teams and drivers from across the country and teams of all kinds from around the world. The level of prep is intense enough to serve as practice for the IMSA enduros at Daytona in February and Sebring in March. I’d argue the 25 Hours of Thunderhill makes Sebring seem easy, but that’s another story.
Just off the top of my head, I can think of pro drivers like Al Unser Jr., Patrick Dempsey, Kurt Busch, Randy Pobst, Elliott Skeer, Colin Braun, Mike Skeen and others who all have come to “The 25.” In 2018, the race drew probably more professional women drivers than any amateur endurance race you can name. That year, we had Shea Holbrook, Cristina Nielsen, Ashton Harrison, Aurora Strauss, Pippa Mann, Ashley Freiberg and Sarah Montgomery driving, and that wasn’t even all the NASA women who drove that year.
It’s also pretty brazen from the perspective of a sanctioning body. Sure, it takes place from Friday through Sunday, just like many NASA events, but the ‘round-the-clock-plus-one-hour nature of the race requires a level of organization that stretches everyone to perform at their best. I love the audacity of it all.
At the national office, which is essentially seven people who live all over the country and lose a lot of sleep to ensure NASA members have an incredible experience, we have been brainstorming ways to boost attendance.
Off the top of my head, I can recall suggestions to push the pro-am nature of the event, or conversely, return it to its roots, with lots of grassroots teams in converted production chassis. I remember one idea was to let people drive it virtually while the race was going on, which is probably a million dollar idea because it would cost a million dollars in software coding.
There were others, but one last idea that comes to mind was to invite all manufacturers who have a factory racecar based on one of their production cars. As of right now, if I recall correctly, that includes, Mazda, Toyota, Audi, Porsche, Chevrolet, Ford and Honda. Classing them against one another would be a fool’s errand, due to the disparities in the cars, but there is no better place to prove a car’s mettle than the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. I’m sure there were other ideas I’m forgetting, but it’s been the subject of much debate.
While I was at the event this year, I overheard a NASA NorCal staffer mention moving the 2023 event to November, which caught my attention in a big way. “Wait, what was that you just said?” I asked. He confirmed what I heard, so I checked with NASA Executive Director Jerry Kunzman about how soon we could publicize the news. Now seems like a good time.
Moving The 25 makes a lot of sense, and I think it will go a long way toward boosting attendance. If you’re reading this, I hope you’ll help spread the word and join us next November at Thunderhill.
Suffice it to say I fully support the idea, and it has a lot to do with a text message I sent to NASA Chief Operating Officer Jeremy Croiset before I pulled out of the driveway to head up to Thunderhill.
“You know, part of me wonders whether simply changing the date of the 25 hours of Thunderhill to something more convenient might be helpful. …”
I know you might find that hard to believe, but I swear it’s all true.