The BMW Performance Center in Thermal, California is a driver’s paradise.

Because the driving school in Riverside County basically lets you go nuts in real fast, real performance vehicles.  Plus you can take your skills (or lack of) off-road too.

So when the offer to experience the track arrived the answer was simple; when should we arrive? :0)

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BMW Performance Center West Clinton & Tom

The Professor & Me – COVID-Style

BMW Performance Center West At The Thermal Club

Unless you’re very lost and/or off-roading in the desert you’re unlikely to find The Thermal Club.

Well, there’s one other exception, and that’s if you’re a very rich auto enthusiast.

Because The Thermal Club is tucked away in Southern California near pretty much nothing.  And that’s exactly what makes this car-guy country club perfect!

At this club, you can hop in your car and drive it as loud as you want all day long.  In fact, that’s what you’re supposed to do!

And BMW is the biggest club member.  So if you don’t have the $1.5M to drop on club membership, no worries.

Because you can still get a taste through the BMW Performance Center West.

In case you’re wondering, yes, there is a BMW Performance Center East.  And that one’s been around for 20-years.

While The Thermal Club location isn’t quite 5-years old.

Professional Instruction At The BWM Performance Center

On the day Professor Quan and I went the Center was thankfully quiet.  It was just us and a couple of women from San Francisco.

Plus our instructor, Dave McMillan.  He’s the professional racecar driver who masterfully ushered us through the entire experience.

Line Up of BMW X7s Ready For Off-Road

Pro racer, Dave McMillan guided our class.

And while we were driving solo almost the whole time, Dave stayed in touch via radios in each of our vehicles.

Dave was great throughout the experience.  He was eager to share his passion for driving and his expertise behind the wheel.  Moreover, he was an encouraging and patient instructor.

And I would know.  Because I was probably the worst on-road performance driver in our group – by a longshot.  Yes, even the girls were faster than me.  (Sigh!)

Your Ultimate Driving Experience Options

So, the BMW Performance Center offers a number of driving experience options.  You can head out solo or, you can bring up to 600 of your closest pals.

We were given the introductory course which costs just $299.  But a single driver can drop thousands on multi-day experiences.

While there’s not much nearby the BMW Performance Center, we stayed in Indian Wells at the Hyatt Regency.

That’s only about a 30-minute drive to and from.  And the hotel was perfect. Because while I hit the track my wife and son enjoyed the lazy river and waterslides at the resort.  (Everybody wins!)

Our Day At The Track

The package Professor Quan and I received is called ‘Performance Drive’.  And it’s a sampling of the various experiences that are available.

It’s an entry-level course but a blast nonetheless. We started with classroom instruction – COVID-style outdoors.

Dave laid out how the session would proceed and covered some basics.

BMW Performance Center off-road course

Sure-footed X7


Then we hopped in BMW X7s and headed through The Thermal Club to the off-road course.  That part of the session was slow in actual speed.

But it was also cool because it was technical driving.  And, I can state my performance was quite good with this part of the session!


But then came the on-road track driving.  And my lack of speed skills was displayed in all full splendor.

Because I was barrelling into corners way too fast.  Then trying to muscle my way out of the terrible position I put myself in.

I was literally sweating and grunting and grunting during my first lap.  But I was having a blast!

Cars Lined-Up BMW Performance Center track

Our launch site.

BMW Performance Center Hot Lap!

Finally, it was time for our hot lap!  That’s where you get in the car with a professional driver and they show you how it’s done.

And wow, Dave did not disappoint!

So the below pic shows Dave sliding sideways around the track with the San Francisco ladies in our class.  Clinton and I were next.

Green BMW M5 Competition

Hot lap: by Dave McMillan

As part of the hot lap experience, Dave turns off all traction controls and driver assistance features.  Allowing him to own the car.

And what a car!  A BMW M5 Competition retails for around $130k.  And it’s basically a racecar with leather seats.

But, The Professor and I had our hot lap cut in half.  Because Dave literally burned the rubber off the wheels!

M5 BMW burned rubber

Tread = gone!

However, half a hot lap was all we needed.  The ride was incredible.  Better than any amusement park ride I’d ever been on.

And Dave controlled the car in a way that I’ve never experienced.  It was incredible, I was literally howling with laughter!

Midway through a sideways slide he’d slap the gear shifter or tweak the wheel and the car would respond sending us in another direction.  So cool!

We’ll Be Back!

All in our experience was less than 2-hours of driving.  And while it went by quickly I felt spent at the end.

My adrenaline had pumped plenty.  Plus, being such a terrible on-road performance driver didn’t have helped my fatigue factor.

But without a doubt, we’ll be back to the BMW Performance Center West.  It’s a killer venue and experience.  If you haven’t been – go!