Posted (11/22/2007) -
-By Sahar Hassani
It was a spectacular season for Jep Thornton and his Automatic Racing team. At the season finale, Thornton clinched the KONI Challenge Grand Sport Drivers' title with teammate Jeff Segal in their No. 09 BMW M3. Automatic Racing's four BMW M3 brigade clinched the GS team championship and earned BMW another manufacturer's crown. "I'm so excited and thrilled," smiled Thornton. "I'm honored to win the championship. There are so many great drivers such as Bill Auberlen who have won so many races and make the series very competitive. It's been an amazing season." Jep and his team look forward to defending their titles for 2008 and developing the M6 for the Rolex GT Series. The M6 will make its debut at the 24 Hours of Daytona and will run a partial season. During the off-season, Jep took a few days to unwind at his recording studio, Engine Music Studios, located in Chicago. I stopped by to listen to his music and learn more about this multi-faceted individual.
SH: You seem to juggle many hats. Besides racing and owning Automatic Racing, what are your other full time jobs?
JT: I buy, sell and lease commercial jet aircrafts. The company is called "Automatic" and based in Orlando. I buy used commercial airplanes that are 10-15 years old and lease them to airlines. I also partnered with a friend and bought two motorcycle dealerships in Vermont where we sell Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha bikes. Vermont is a spectacular place to ride bikes, especially in the fall.
I own a commercial real estate investment company and a recording studio here called Engine Music Studios. It opened in 1999. I visit the studio quarterly and record music and give them to friends and family.
SH: Did you take any formal music lessons as a child? What instruments do you play?
JT: I started playing drums when I was nine years old. I play drums, piano and guitar. I have a really bad band that I play with a few times a year. We suck, but we have a blast. One of my favorite things to do is to go to the recording studio in the middle of the night and record stuff, very soothing.
SH: With so many interests to keep you busy, how did you get started in racing?
JP: After 9/11 the aviation business went into the tank for several years and I had nothing to do. I was invited to a corporate track day and did pretty good. I ended up doing all of the Skip Barber schools, racing with them and then hired David Russell as a coach. We bought a Grand Am BMW M3 E36 and went racing in June of 2002. We have not missed a race since.
SH: It has been an amazing season for you and your team. Why do you think your team won the championship?
JP: There are three key elements on why we won the championship. First is Joe Varde. When Dave found that he was available, we jumped at the chance to get him. Joe preps the cars better than anybody, he has a clear vision for strategy, and he has the most amazing talent. When he first told me that we could win a championship in two years, I thought he was overly optimistic, but he was right.
Second element is Jeff Segal. He is a great driver who is very consistent and can get the car to top speed. The third element is consistency. It was never our goal to win races but finish in the top 10. Our goal was to always score points, not crash, and don't disqualify. Anders Hainer, who won the 2006 GS Championship, inspired me. He is a talented gentlemen driver who was fast and consistent. I studied his season and looked at his lap times, where he finished, when Boris took the wheel, etc.
SH: One of your best racing moments was winning the championship at VIR, can you share other favorite racing moments?
JP: I raced a Star Mazda formula car last year at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve during the F1 weekend and had a blast. Our race was just after the final F1 qualifying session, so there were a ton of people in the stands. The coolest ca