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At the time, I was working for an American arm of a Dutch company with headquarters in Venlo, quite near the German border and Dusseldorf. My trip happened to coincide with the German Grand Prix, which that year (2011) was at the Nurburgring, so I booked my flight to arrive early enough to make the race. This was actually my second time seeing F1 at the Nurburgring, the first being the 2004 Grand Prix of Europe – man the V10 era was truly something to behold in person! But still, a chance to see F1 on European soil is something everyone who likes such things should do at least once in their life. Lewis Hamilton won that day, and I enjoyed a pint or two with some rather celebratory Brits I ran into. All in all, a great way to kick off an otherwise mundane work trip.

I traveled over to our Dutch offices somewhat regularly, and had been to Europe many times, so I was quite comfortable exploring on my own. Due to some rescheduled meetings, I found myself with an almost completely open day and wondered what I might do with my unplanned time off. It dawned on me that while I’d been to the Nurburgring GP circuit twice to watch F1, I’d never driven a lap of the Nordschleife! A quick look online, and sure enough it was a public day, set to open at 2:00p!

I hopped in my rental car, a Ford Mondeo diesel liftback – at least it was a manual! – and headed southward. It’s about an hour and a half from my offices, and it was shortly before noon. Perfect. I hopped on the A61 autobahn and made a beeline. Stopped to fuel up and grab a bite on the way, and arrived at about 1:20p local time. Went up to the ticket counter and asked if any tickets remained (they limit the number of laps), and was pleased to find they had plenty left. I bought the three pack, because, well, why not?

Still had a half hour or so that it was closed to a private session (which we would discover was a private track day for some sort of Jaguar XK-RS event), so I wandered about the parking lot. Oh man, was it a car show! Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches a plenty… even some very rare birds like a Spoon S2000 and a KTM X-Bow. But this is no time to be distracted, as I noticed the first few cars were lining up. I scooted over to my car quickly and got in line. A little intimidating to have all these supercars in line with you, but hey, it’s not like the rental agency had much faster options, and I’m certainly not going to pass up the opportunity!

I ended up fourth in line behind some seriously fast hardware, but of more concern was the XK-RS and Skyline immediately behind me. Gonna need to stay right and keep an eye on my mirrors, I’m quite sure. Years of autocross and several track days, plus I had probably driven this track a thousand times on simulators, but I’ll admit, my first lap was full of trepidation. I managed to drive reasonably aggressively and enjoy it, but as I suspected, I was getting overtaken pretty regularly. It’s a little unsettling at first, but eventually you realize spending too much time in your mirrors isn’t the safest or fastest way around a track, so I pushed a little harder and by about Bergwerk I was comfortable.

Lap 1 was fairly uneventful, but now my comfort level had grown such that I was ready to jump right back in line! I did take a minute to check my tires and brakes and open the hood to check for any leaks, funny smells or whatever. Nothing too out of the ordinary, so off we go.

Second lap, I could tell my confidence had grown and I was really driving the car now. They say it’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slowly, and this is very true. On those all-season tires, the poor little Mondeo slid around like Michelle Mouton’s Audi and I was grinning ear to ear. Only got passed a few times, and I surprised some drivers of much more capable hardware, including an M5 and a sport bike. I think they may have had a bit of an ego bruise to see a brown liftback drive around them in a corner!

I come back in and the whole car smells of hot fluids, pinging exhaust, blue shoulders on the tires and a sweaty driver. Yep, I need to give everything, me included, a few minutes to recover. Let the car idle for about ten minutes and then parked. I was walking around admiring the absolute abundance of cool cars, when I heard a distinctly American accent over my shoulder: “Dad, that’s a Lancer Evolution X!” I turned to see three boys, probably 8, 10 and 13 excitedly looking over the selection with their Dad. I smiled, knowing this was something these guys would cherish forever. A little small talk with Dad, and I found out they were on vacation from Virginia, and that their mother had dragged them to every castle, cathedral and museum in Germany (which, admittedly is great to see, maybe less so when you’re ten?) and this was the “boys side trip” while Mom visited a spa. The oldest was telling me how he’d driven the Nordschleife on Gran Turismo “a million times” and that his favorite car there was the Ferrari 458. We talked cars and racing for probably a half hour. I saw myself in their eyes. I was that kid. I didn’t come to the Nurburgring as a kid, but wow would I have loved it!

Perhaps I was fazed by nostalgia, or who-knows-what, but against all reasonable judgement and knowing my insurance agent would probably die of a heart attack, I just kinda blurted out “I’ve got one more lap, you guys wanna come with me?”

Immediately thought, uh oh, this might be a bad idea. But to my surprise, Dad said “Would you take the boys? I’ll pay for the lap.” I was a little stunned, but I think Dad trusted me not to be an idiot with his kids in the car. I said to him “You and I can ride up front, and we’ll belt the boys in the back. You can tell me to slow down at any time.” To my amazement, and if I’m being completely honest, a bit of shock, he responded “No, no. You take the boys out. I trust you, and I know they’ll get a lot more out of it than I would.”

Whoa, okay. So, here I am with a stranger’s kids in my car wondering if this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done, but also knowing that 13-year-old me would’ve killed for such an opportunity, and I’m not sure I could face disappointing them now! So, everyone buckle in and here we go!

While in line, I gave them a few rules: seat belts on at all times, windows down (to keep us from going too fast, the wind makes it feel a bunch faster than you’re actually going), eyes outside at all times and if at any point, any fella gets nervous, scared or sick, you let me know immediately and we’ll go into slow, right-hand-hugging tourist mode.

Okay, deep breath. We’re next. The gate arm opens and we’re off. No sight of the 911 Turbo that took off before us, but we’re not even to the Quiddelbacher before we get passed. I’m pushing it just a smidge, driving on the curbs, but not exactly going ten tenths. Call it more like 60%, if we’re being honest. And the kids are absolutely loving every minute of it!

We get a little farther down the track, and I notice we are no longer being passed by anyone. In fact, I realize we haven’t seen another car in probably three or four minutes. While I have no idea why this is happening, this makes it very appealing to drive. We’re taking the actual line through every turn, and while we are keeping the speeds down to quite sane, it’s still gobs of fun. The boys are laughing and yelling with excitement – just too much fun!

We hit the Karussell and I dive into the banking, downshift and pull a few Gs through the turn. The kids went nuts! The oldest boy said “wow, just like in videogames!!!”

A quick trip through the Schwalbenschwantz curves, and we’re dumped out onto the Dottinger Hohe straight. I did run it up to about 120kph (which is only about 75mph) but the boys were absolutely stoked to be going “more than 100!” and with the windows down, it still felt quite fast down that long straight.

We pull into the trackout and glide into a waiting parking spot. Dad comes over with a huge grin: “how was it guys?” And all three boys were going nuts! They were so excited, you couldn’t understand a thing with all three of them going full tilt all at once. Truly an amazing experience.

So why didn’t we see any more cars? Well, apparently a couple cars behind us was a Nissan GTR that got it very wrong and balled it up completely. The track went red flag behind us (we were fine, but they held everyone else at the start line) which meant we were virtually on a private track. A few minutes after we got in, a flatbed arrived with a pile of largely unrecognizable Nissan parts covered in muddy grass. It was a mess, but we were told the driver was shaken up but otherwise would bounce back fine.

Was it crazy? Yes. Was it potentially a liability nightmare? Probably. Would I do it again?

You betcha!


1 comment
  • BlackM5
    BlackM5  · February 6, 2019
    Love the Ring. I was amazed at how different it is on track than what you seen in video games and videos. It's one thing to be a Ring star on Gran Turismo, it's much different to be one at the track itself.