Fear and Laughing Like an Idiot on the Nurburgring

How does one write about something that left them speechless? How do you write about a track that you have dreamed of driving on for years when it far exceed expectations?

I first learned of The Nurburgring in the late 90s thanks to the classic game Grand Prix Legends by Papyrus. Being the rudimentary simulation it was, it still blew my mind that races were held there; that people could have the courage to race there. Thanks to the internet I was able to gain even more knowledge of this place and was surprised it was still open. Then I was surprised that races are still held there, then I was surprised that the public can drive there, and then I was surprised that there is a whole industry dedicated to letting everyone enjoy the Ring in rental cars intended for track use only!

Driving on “The Ring” instantly became number one on my list of things I had to do. So after a while of pinching pennies and saving as much as I could, I committed. Research, email, research, email, reminding myself to keep my feet on the ground with my budget, research, and more emails were what it took to get me from the US to Germany. Getting the flights, track car rentals, regular car rental, and hotel all sorted out was a total relief just because of the all the moving parts of this trip that left a lot of room for things to go wrong. I now know that I don’t want to dedicate my life to career in logistics because of it. It was set in stone; I was going to drive on the Nurburgring.

Benefiting from having a place to stay in New York City I flew direct from JFK all the way to the Frankfurt Airport. During the sticky and humid ride on the 3 train from Brooklyn to JFK it hit me. “What the hell am I doing?” I was too excited to sleep on the plane. Also, having six hours of a small child’s cries to keep me awake didn’t help much. I was worried I was too drained to drive all the way to the place I was staying, but time wasn’t on my side since I had to check in a couple of hours later. I hit the road with coffee in hand and jumped onto the Autobahn. If I had only gone to Germany to drive on the Autobahn, it would have been worth it. Stretching the legs of a Volvo V70 Diesel was a challenge. The tiny Diesel did it’s best, but it quickly ran out of steam on longer stretches of German highway.

Quick tip: Blasting down the Autobahn is a great cure for jet lag.

I stayed at a B&B in Meuspath which is just a small jaunt to the entrance to the Nordschleife. On top of being a well-priced B&B; Ring Speed Motorsport also serves as a track car rental and race prep shop as well. All of the bases were well covered there.

The first evening was spent exploring the various spectator points and letting everything sink in. I was here, it was happening. This is on the Personal Legend level that I read about in The Alchemist.

Brunnchen late in the evening.

Day 1:

Since the track doesn’t open for tourist laps until 5:30 in the evening I had time to waste. I slowly drove around wasting diesel checking out the small village of Nurburg. Exploring everything the GP circuit had to offer and watching numerous test cars drive during the Industry-Pool. It was fascinating watching everything from a Kia to a Mercedes AMG GT get thrown through the Eifel Forest. Total envy for the Industry Pool drivers led to numerous internet searches on how one becomes an IP driver. It has to be the best job on the planet.

4:30 finally rolled around and it was time to get back to Ring Speed to pick up my car for the evening. A blue Ford Fiesta ST with stronger brakes and stiffer suspension than what came from the factory. Fun, but able to keep me out of trouble on track. That my friends, is the name of the game here. Staying out of trouble. There is no reason to go 10/10ths at this place, especially if it is your first time. If your wreck here you pay and very, very heavily. If you look it up you will see paying for the guardrail, the tow truck, and the time the track loses money because it is closed. It gets expensive and I haven’t even mentioned the car.

As I drove to the track I noticed my hands were shaking and for the life of me I couldn’t tell if it was fear or pure excitement. Probably a strong mix of both.

At 5:30 PM the horn blared and over the loud speaker it is announced that the track is open. I let everyone waiting who had more experience and less fear go first. As the line thinned for the eager few I hopped in the car and headed for the gate. The lap card was scanned, the arm for the gate went up, I slowly drove through the cones to the end of the speed limited area, and accelerated towards the bridge. It’s happening, I’m driving on the Nurburgring.

I thought I would have the time to think about the courage Grand Prix drivers had when they raced here up until the 1970s. Maybe I would have time to think about Niki Lauda’s courage after his life-changing accident when I went through the corner where he had his accident. Maybe I would wonder how the hell Stefan Bellof could pull off a time of 6 minutes and 11 seconds in the 80s (a record that still stands today). I couldn’t though, I couldn’t because even if you are playing it safe you are still on your toes on every part of this track.

This place is particularly challenging because of its climbs, descents, off camber corners, and surface changes are constantly changing the balance of a car. On some parts of the track you have to get one corner right to be set up properly for the turns following it. While you are worrying about this you also have to look in your mirrors and let the random GT3RS or The Ring Taxi go by. They come quickly and often out of nowhere.

My first lap totally cemented how serious this place is. At Wehrseifen someone had low-sided their bike and went into the guardrail. Thankfully they were okay but unfortunately the bike wasn’t.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom on my first lap. I didn’t think it was possible to laugh like an idiot for 20 kilometers but I proved otherwise.

Into the Karussel. Photo courtesy of mynospicture.de

Once you hit the Audi billboard (or gantry as it often called) you have to slow down. On track days you can go flat out if you like but not on Tourist days.

I had done it; I had driven on the Nurburgring. It was everything I wanted it to be and then some and it wasn’t over. I had my car from Ring Speed for three more laps. The perfect day wasn’t over yet.

I pulled into the pit area to cool down for a second (I was shaking from excitement) and get a drink of water. But time was wasting and I was back out for lap two. The process started all over again. Pushing a bit more, but playing it safe at the same time and laughing like a total idiot a little less.

Brake here, turn in here, lift here, make sure to brake in a straight line before the crest leading to Aremberg or I’ll end up on YouTube and have a large bill to pay. Look ahead then look behind because out of nowhere the Ring Taxi or a well versed local in a hatchback will appear and I have to let them by. Miles of keeping your head on a swivel, getting ready for the next incredible corner, and keeping the car balanced. Complete and absolute driving heaven.

At the end of my second lap I stopped to let the car cool down and take a moment to think about everything I just did. It was 6:15 and during the tourist laps the last car is let out on track a 7:15. It gave me plenty of time to check out the mixture of cars which ranged from Ferrari 458 to E36 track special to VW van. As long as it is road legal everything and anything is welcomed here.

6:30 PM and I back in the car to start lap three. As I was driving to the gate the PA speaker sounded an alarm and it was announced that the track was closed. I sat in the parking lot and watched the clock tick by to 7:15 and at that point everyone knew the day was done. Frustrating, but all part of the experience at the Nordschleife. The very next day I found out a 911 got it wrong somewhere on the course.

DAY 2:

The best showroom I have set foot in.

The hours leading up to the 5:30 were the same as the previous day, taking in the sights and more exploring.

At 4 PM I headed to pick up my new car for the evening. A BMW E46 325i set up to VLN Class 4 regulations by a small shop called Jaco’s Paddock. It was shaping up to be the perfect day. Ominously over the mountains some dark clouds were saying otherwise. It began to rain but it looked hopeful since both the radar and the sky said it would clear out soon. At 4:30 I was on the road towards the track, the radar lied and now it was raining harder. I thought to myself, “This is going to be interesting.”
Just after the wonderful Wipperman section. This was taken a couple hours before I picked up the BMW.

At the lot I waited for the track to open. I took the time to chat with other people that had the same sick obsession as me. We all talked about our cars, the track, and life in general. The rain had stopped and it started to look hopeful; at this point I knew the track would be slick, but at least it could be enjoyable. Enjoyable to a point since my car had road legal slicks.

5:20 and the rain is coming down again. It went from a light sprinkle to a hard downpour and back again. At 5:30 the horn blared and it was announced the track was open. It wasn’t a big crowd today for obvious reason but it’s clear that many people here are dedicated to this place. The keywords to the day were slow and safe. There was no point in trying to be a hero today.
Sloshing through Stielstrecke. Photo courtesy of tourifotos.de

Going into the Foxhole on my first lap, all I could I could see was spray from the cars in front, their taillights, and a close proximity to the guardrail. I realized how dumb this was, but decided to keep going anyway. Since the Nurburgring is so big it could be pouring in one place and fine in the next. On this day it was pouring rain everywhere. Surprisingly the weather stayed like this for the rest of the time the track was open. Thankfully my mother passed on ironing out my stubbornness, so calling it a day never crossed my mind. I flew across the Atlantic, played games with my actual job about the time I could take off, and spent a good amount of money. I ended up spending five laps going through standing water and getting out of the way for people with tires better suited for the weather. There were very few places I felt I could get on the power and a few places where I thought I could, but had to catch a slide. The whole evening was incredibly frustrating.

I took the car back to Jaco’s and after a beer at his shop I headed to find some dinner. The sun was out and I was downright angry about that.

The steam was also coming from my ears.

Day 3:

It was my final day in Germany. I timed my trip perfectly since it meant I would be able to catch the practice for the WEC. It was only 10 Euro to get in on Friday which also included paddock access. Cheap and a great way to end my trip on a high note. Between admiring the mesmerizingly small distance an LMP1 car requires to slow down before a corner and watching the support races do their practice (classic DTM was by far the best) it made up for the rainy shitshow from the day prior.

I don't know if I want a Lego set of the real car or if I want to drive the real one.

What made my trip special was that it far beyond what I thought it would be. While I would say the highlight of my trip was the actual act of driving on the Nordschleife, the distant second, but just as special, was the people. People here celebrating the love of driving an automobile quickly and precisely. It was people who shared the same love of what you are doing on this insane 20-kilometer ribbon through the Eifel Forest. It was Dale Lomas from Bridge to Gantry and Rob Holland from Rotek Racing chatting with me for a few minutes about what I thought about the Nurburgring. It was Ben from the UK driving there with his Honda Integra telling about what it is like to drive at Brands Hatch, Goodwood, and Donington Park. It was John Hindhaugh from Radio LeMans chatting with me for 10 or 15 minutes about motorsports and the reason we love it. It was Eugene and Dennis from my hometown of Atlanta who I ran into during multiple times during my stay. We talked about all the exciting things we had seen since the last time we had run into each other.

The list of people can go on and on. The car fanatic world is full of some of the nicest people regardless of their place in the world or where they are from.

If you have ever wanted to go to the Nurburgring, do it. Do it now. Save every penny, work an extra job, just do whatever it takes. Go and go now. Outside of the Isle of Man TT, this place is the last bastion for people with fuel in their veins that want to test themselves. The best part is that everyone can come and enjoy it. Frankly, I could write a whole book on this experience. I hope this serves as an inspiration to someone who wants to make this trip or a trip like it. If you want to drive on the Nordschleife, do it. Your wallet will be mad, you’ll kick yourself over how much you spent, but you will never forget this place.