Jack of All, Master of Motorsports (Video)

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Does it get any better than being the manager of an exclusive California race club? Probably not, but give us the money, and the cars, and we’ll let you know.

The Car Stories series from the Petersen Automotive Museum always gets the most interesting people on the show. This time, Brad Speers catches up with Jeff Rodrigues, the Track Operations Manager at The Thermal Club. They’re lapping the track at the club in Rodrigues’ 2004 Lotus Esprit Final Edition. Not a bad backdrop for a man who’s made the rounds at many of the big names in racing schools.

Jeff Rodrigues Thermal Club

When asked how he got his start in motorsports, Rodrigues described an opportunity he had to work as a mechanic at Laguna Seca. The opportunity also let him race in the mechanics series each week. After finishing the “race mechanics school” he was offered a job. Rodrigues describes his choices saying, “my options were: stay in Monterey California, at Laguna Seca raceway teaching people how to drive race cars or probably going back to Texas in the middle of summer and roofing houses. So that decision, it happened rapidly.” Anyone who’s done roofing, or been in Texas in the summer, knows that decision was made for him.

Jeff Rodrigues Thermal Club

Rodrigues explains that he spent some time at Jim Russell Racing School, Skip Barber, AMG Driving Academy, Ferrari Challenge Series, and finally to the Thermal Club. How did that all come together? Rodrigues said, “As they say in motorsports: I accrued 20 years of unmarketable skills and found a home. So, here I am.”

ALSO SEE: Drive Thermal with 360 Degree Camera View

Speers then invites Rodrigues to talk about where he hopes the club will go next. He says, “my passion for motorsports has never wavered.” Rodrigues describes the clientele of the Thermal Club, and how they often have people driving these hypercars, new and old. Eventually, he says, they see or end up driving a real race car and they’re hooked. He thinks the goal should be, “to help them to move into those cars [Ferrari Challenge, Super Trofeo, etc] or whatever cars they like and do it safely, and learn along the way.”

Rodrigues mentions that the arms race is alive and well at the Thermal Club. After all, an Aston Martin Valkyrie would be getting some track time with a member before long. “For these guys, it’s not necessarily the money, it’s the time. But once they get to that point where they can get the time, and they have the money, then they’re going to come out and enjoy themselves while they do.” This is basically the best-case scenario for supercars. Being used to the fullest of their capabilities, under the watchful eye of a professional driving instructor. Far better than sitting in LA traffic, catching fire, and altogether being mere eye candy.

Speers then asks Rodrigues a defining question: money no object, what car do you buy today? Ferrari F40. “That is a pure, raw, racecar.” That and the F50. He then tells a story about an LA art dealer who owned one, scared himself silly with it, and then went to driving school at Laguna Seca. Rodrigues drove it and said that in third gear, at 100 mph, it would spin the tires if you stomped the throttle. Spooky. Maybe that reputation wasn’t unearned after all.

Has anyone else gotten some track time recently? Tell us about it in the Forums.

Austin Lott is a longtime professional automotive journalist who learned the ropes after landing a stint writing for the iconic magazine MotorTrend after earning a bachelor's degree in English from Vanguard University in Southern California.

Lott is a regular contributor to popular Internet Brands Auto Group websites, including Rennlist and Ford Truck Enthusiasts. Austin is published regularly in Super Street and is a frequent contributor to Honda-Tech and 6SpeedOnline. Although he's partial to Japanese imports, he'll give anything cool a shot.

Austin can be reached at [email protected].

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