Oakdale has a rich agriculture heritage and is known as the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” But, that is not Oakdale’s only claim to fame. Oakdale is also a car enthusiast capital, laying claim to some of the best high performance car enthusiasts in northern California. Currently, there are at least eight different racers, living in and around Oakdale, that compete in various forms of racing. Some have spent their early lives in Oakdale, catching the “car bug” and then moving to outlaying areas. One of those is Brian Thiel.
Thiel’s mother, Carol (Heacock) Thiel, grew up and graduated high school in Oakdale in 1966. Thiel initially lived in Oakdale before his family moved to Modesto to be closer to one of the family businesses, the Northern Steel Rebar Company. He graduated from high school in Modesto, but never forgot his roots. He caught the “racing bug” from his father, Rick, after his father took him to his first drag race. As he grew up, he became more interested in pursuing this newfound passion. But, like his family, he was also heavily into farming. Farming would become his staple and his means of pursuing his racing dreams.
Thiel met his wife Randi while he was attending his junior year at Nicholas High School in Nicholas, not far from Pleasant Grove, where he currently resides. He was attending Nicholas High School that year while assisting his grandfather, who had become ill at the time. He graduated from Modesto High School in 1994. Randi’s family was involved in rice farming, so once he and Randi married, Thiel went into the rice farming business. He now owns and operates the highly successful 4400-acre R&B Farms in Pleasant Grove.
Thiel advanced through the drag racing ranks, with his first big race car being a Top Alcohol Funny Car (TA/FC). These cars traverse the quarter-mile drag strip in 5.5 to 6.0 seconds at speeds approaching 270 mph. Thiel was runner-up at two events, the NHRA national event in Brainerd, Minnesota and an NHRA Division 7 event in Woodburn, Oregon.
He also competed with a red 1969 Camaro Nostalgia Nitro Funny Car in the NHRA Heritage Racing Series. In 2009, he also started competing in the NHRA Full Throttle series with a “Big Show” Monte Carlo (nitro) fuel funny car. He competed at about three races per year in 2009 and 2010, running at the events in Sonoma (Infineon Raceway), Indianapolis, Pomona and Seattle. By running no more than three events in a season, he would maintain his eligibility for the NHRA “Rookie of the Year” award when he decided to step up and run the full professional tour.
Before taking that step, he was able to hire renowned crew chief, Johnny West, and get a shop in Brownsburg, Indiana. The Brownsburg shop serves as the “on the road shop” when he races east of Denver. He utilizes his farm as a west coast shop, while he is on the Western swing of the NHRA schedule.
With all the parts and pieces in place, the 2011 season is his first full-time effort, as he plans to run the entire NHRA Full Throttle season schedule. Unfortunately, the season has not gone as hoped so far, as the team has failed to qualify at six of the eight events they have attended. Professional drag racing is very a difficult sport, with a fine line between qualifying and not qualifying. The car generates around 8200 horsepower and getting all that power through the wheels and to the track is critical.
The team is now gearing up for the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series coming to Infineon Raceway in Sonoma this weekend, July 29-31, for the NHRA Fram/Autolite Nationals. The Sonoma track is a home track for Thiel and the team and they plan to utilize all the new information they have learned to put forth their best effort in front of the hometown crowd.
In addition to his current sponsors, Lucas Oil/Lucas Cattle, N&S Tractor/Case IH, National FFA Organization (formerly Future Farmers of America), Thiel will also be announcing another potential sponsor for his race team for the Sonoma event.
Thiel’s team is made up of family and friends, including his dad, Rick, who is the chase vehicle driver, who drives down the track to pick up Thiel and tow the racecar back to the pit area after each run. As an important part of the race team, his dad attends every event they race at, while his mother normally sticks to the events closer to home. Thiel said they both provide him with the inspiration and support that he needs to be successful.
“These cars are real beasts to drive, and you must stay ahead of them. You have to anticipate what the car is going to do, because if you wait for it to happen, it will happen too fast for you to react,” Thiel said of getting behind the wheel. “All you can do as a driver is the best you can with the car you are given. If the car is off in the setup, there is little you can do.”
He relies on his crew chief and crew to give him the best race car and set up possible, he said, and his job is to leave the starting line on time and keep the car in the center of the groove, where the most traction is and try to get to the finish line first.