Go to a track day of Mini's tearing around the rolling hills of California's central valley? What a great opportunity for Mini Mania to attend MINI Thunder III. Once a year Minis from all over descend on Willows, CA. They converge and meet at one place.. Thunderhill Raceway.
We caught a ride in the Mini Mania Green 07 Cooper S. This car's track oriented mods to the exhaust and suspension result in a ride that can hardly be called plush. "Punishing" is more descriptive on certain sections of road, but that keep you from resting your eyelids for extended periods, and the hum of the exhaust just being a precursor to what we were about to see. We rolled into line at the track by 7:00 as the sun was coming up.
The cattle residents of the green hills watched us check our collision coverage at the gate, and acknowledge that we were there to engage in speed contests. All around us were enthusiastic people in all kinds of Minis, all giving up a chance to sleep-in on a chilly Sunday morning in February. What a great community!
That theme continued to resonate throughout the day. Everything from the pre-track briefings to the cooperative and courteous behavior of people from all walks of life- all there to improve and push their own skills, and experience the capabilities of their Minis in ways that most owners seldom do.
All day people stopped by the Mini Mania prep area to look at the famous Green-machine #969, and yellow John Unsbee #061. It was surprising at how many people found their way to the track just to see what all the Mini Enthusiasm was about. There was one gentleman who had been a drag racing national champion with Pontiac in the late '60s who just drove out to see if getting into a Mini would be a fun and accessible way to get back on the track. Others thought a Classic Mini would be a good choice for something that a reasonably skilled person could actually work on.
The skill and professionalism of the instructors and coaches is exemplary. Their enthusiasm is contagious and most have their own cars providing a chance for a ride in some different flavored horsepower. There certainly were some on the track, several Corvettes, Mustangs, a beautiful '69 Camaro Z-28, Lotus, Ferrari, Lamborghini, BMW, Mazda... all represented. It was like living an episode of Top Gear! Yes, these people are serious, some of these cars were brand new with dealer plates- Test-drive anyone? Just how long WILL they let you take it?
This event can be an eye-opener to the capability of your Mini, and your own, to improve your driving skills. You are guaranteed to learn life-saving skills, and enhance your confidence and overall enjoyment of driving. All of us that have Minis or want one have that "driving gene" to some extent. We encourage everyone to consider participating in an event like this. It may help you discover a new priority for your spare time!