At members-only Thermal Club, IndyCar holds $1 million demonstration race.    

THERMAL, Calif.— It's worth noting that IndyCar is trying something new during this weekend's $1 million exhibition at the Thermal Club in the California desert. The made-for-TV all-star race has heat races and a main event for the fastest 12 of 27 cars.

The Sunday “A Main” features 20 laps broken into two 10-lap halves. There will be few onlookers because the Thermal Club is a private course with 180 members. The payout structure collapsed, reducing the race winner's payout to $500,000. That's a lot of money for a race worth nothing in the championship picture, and most importantly, it allows IndyCar to fill a gap in its early-season calendar with something new.

“We'll put on a show, that's what it is,” said Team Penske driver Scott McLaughlin. It's strange when you dangle a carrot in front of a group of race drivers with egos—we want to win. Whether it's for a million, $4 million, or 50 cents, we'll compete for that win.

Doing it excites me. Not often has IndyCar tried something new. To participate is exciting.” IndyCar tested Thermal in early 2023 to investigate its race-hosting feasibility. The 17-turn, 3.067-mile circuit became Grade 2 FIA-approved after safety modifications.

Tire barriers, runoff areas, and “a few changes to some of the apexes in the turns that made it a little more friendly, I think, for the cars to race on” have been the main upgrades, according to Thermal member Don Cusick, who enters two cars in the Indianapolis 500. According to member input, thus far.”

Members drive their huge collection of luxury cars on the circuit near Coachella and Palm Springs. A regular Thermal membership costs $85,000 and requires club property ownership. The goal was to connect a member with an IndyCar driver and stage an amateur race. The total result would determine the $1 million winner.

But not enough Thermal Club members bought into the program, thus the purse is only $500,000. At the club's Thursday night welcome celebration, members were blindly picked and matched with an IndyCar driver, which has become an ingrained experience with the driver and team.

“Ultimately, we have a lot of amateur racers but few professional racers. Cusick said individuals weren't sure they could compete for that type of reward money. “We’re discussing that as a club and members. Will see what happens.

However, this year it may have been overwhelming and they didn't know what to expect.” The Sunday morning event would have few onlookers because teams and members were allowed only a few guests into the Thermal Club, which has guards at every gate and requires a QR code to access.

“We never thought of it as let's see how many people we can sell tickets to be there for this,” said Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles. The facility is usually private. It was intended as high-end hospitality. So it's costly. Pricing changed, but it's still expensive. However, we believe this is the best method to get a good but reasonable number of people to the track.”

stay turned for development