Jeff Jefferson (42) and Jim Inglebright (1) line up for a restart during the Camping World
Thunderhill Raceway in Kyle, Texas, may owe its survival to one woman's passion for racing. Mary Ann Naumann rescued the track when it was in danger of closing so that her race series, Texas Super Racing Series (TSRS), would have a track to race on.
"I didn't want racing to go away from my local area," Naumann says. "The TSRS series is my baby. It's my goal and reason for running the track."
Naumann has been involved with Thunderhill on and off almost from the beginning. The 3/8-mile D-shaped oval in central Texas, about 15 miles south of Austin, opened for the first time April 18, 1998, under the management of Brian Calloway and Jim Lynch. They hired Naumann as General Manager in 1999, a position she held for three seasons.
Both of Naumann's parents were racers. Her dad had been a race promoter, and she has done it all, from serving as trophy girl to actually racing. She first won a championship in a ladies' class and then took Sixth and Third in Street Stock championships, so she had a good idea what racing was all about. She felt it was important to develop a strong relationship between drivers, crews, race officials, and staff, and she worked to build solid classes for weekly shows. She also worked with some of the touring series in central Texas. Family matters caused her to leave track management but she was still in the pits cheering for family members who raced there.
The only wall at Thunderhill is along the front straight. Embankments deal with wayward ra
In 2002 she learned that San Antonio Speedway wasn't going to run its Limited Late Model class in 2003. It seemed like a good opportunity to put together a touring series. Meetings with drivers in Houston, San Antonio, and Austin resulted in the creation of MAN Promotions Enterprises and the Texas Super Racing Series. Car counts in the first year ranged between 27 and 32 cars. "We started off with the focus on the return of the family style racing that was there back in the '80s," Naumann says. The last three races of that season, called the Texas Triple Crown, played to near capacity crowds.
Meanwhile, things weren't going quite so well at Thunderhill Raceway. Lynch wanted to either lease the track out, or close it, and eventually bought Calloway out. In 2005 Naumann became a partner with Lynch in running the track and eventually bought his stake. But Lynch sold the land to the local concrete company whose land abutted the track, and retired.
"This year (2008) is my second year running the track by myself," Naumann says. "I have a three year lease and the owner has no plans to do anything with the land."
Naumann directs pre-race placement of Texas Super Racing Series cars.
Subleasing has also helped with expenses, as Naumann leases to America's Auto Auction, which operates Monday through Friday on the grounds.
"You can tell a woman runs this racetrack," she says proudly. "Things like Lysol and antibacterial soap in the bathrooms and we've 'fluffed up' the grounds. It's 100 percent better."
The grounds are kept up on a regular basis now. "Before they waited until just before an event to mow," says Naumann. "The perception was that the track was out of business."
In addition to sprucing up the grounds, the track now has a drive-through tech shed/driver's lounge. With the help of River City Drywall, what was once just a metal shed now has sheetrock walls and ceiling, four garage doors, and dedicated office space. The remodeled building was shown off for the first time at a meeting for drivers and car owners in December 2007. A separate media center in the VIP suite area has been created. Later improvements to the VIP area will include a suite for use for private birthday parties.
Allen Alexander (01) pursues Robert Walton (49). They finished 11th and 13th in the TSRS r
The JRA Kids club, established for the promotion of children's involvement in motorsports, sponsors events at the track, including a swap meet, bicycle races during intermissions, a Fantasy Auto Racing League and kids doing broadcasting online. In conjunction with a swap meet in March, Naumann instituted the First Annual El Zorro Enduro 200. One of the cars entered in the Enduro was built by FFA students at Midlothian High School with $500 donated by the JRA Kids club. The grandstands at the track include a JRA Clubhouse.
Another change in 2007 was affiliation as an American Speed Association (ASA) member track. "We were a Level II track last year," Naumann says. "We'd never been nationally sanctioned before. It's prestigious. The A-Line Super Stocks this year are Level I and can run for a national championship."
A former trophy girl and racer, Naumann's philosphy is "when it stops being fun, it is tim
Carey Stapp, the track's 2007 Super Stock champion, moved up to TSRS this year and feels management of the track has improved with Naumann in charge. "She cares about the racers and does everything she can to make it right for them," says Stapp. "She makes the racers want to put in the extra effort to come out every week."
What is the track like to race on? "A lot of people say there's only one groove at Thunderhill," Stapp says. "There is an outside groove, but if it rains the week before, the outside groove is gone. It was better when we raced every week, but if the track sits for a while it gets finicky."
"It's not a two-lane racetrack," Naumann admits. "Although about four times (in the last race) I noticed them three wide. It's not an easy track to learn but once they learn it, they love it. I never would have built it like that."
The track, in some ways, may be more forgiving than a lot of tracks since the only wall is on the front straight. Embankments surround the rest of the track. A driver losing it in three out of four turns won't hit any walls.
TSRS cars wait on pre-grid. The owner of the cement plant in the background owns the land
While the All State Texas Racefest in April featuring the NASCAR Camping World Series West and TSRS almost filled the grandstands to capacity of around 3,500, attendance at most weekly shows is only about a quarter of that.
"My goal is to put butts in the grandstand," Naumann says. "Once I get them there, they'll come back. Those drivers put on a heck of a show."
She lowered general admission prices at the track this year, as the price of an adult ticket went from $15 to $10 and for teens ages 13 to 18 the price dropped from $10 to $8.
Regular Saturday Races
ASA A-Line Super Stocks, Thunder Stocks, and Grand Stocks
Series And Special Events
Camping World Series West, Texas Pro Modifieds, Texas Pro Trucks, Texas Super Racing Series, Texas Pro Sedans, Texas Dwarfs, Lone Star Legends and Bandoleros, Allison Legacys, NASKARTS