BLOG: An American’s Trip Down the Nürburgring

Aug 16, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jhan Robert Dolphin, a regular contributor to THE SHOP, recently visited Nürburg, Germany with a group of Viper enthusiasts with the mission of re-setting the Nürburgring track record with the American-made car. While Dolphin attended the event in an official capacity as the marketing director of Prefix Corp., which led the record-setting attempt, he also got to have a little fun on his own. Here’s is Dolphin’s experience in his own words at the world-famous Nurburgring:

I’ve traveled to Germany on business before, and can even speak the language pretty well, making each visit quite enjoyable. During previous trips, the topic of visiting the RING had been discussed, but my schedule was either too busy or it seemed like a very long trip just to drive on a race track. Besides, I’ve got racing experience here in the U.S. right? I’ve already driven on tracks like Laguna SECA, Road America and others, so would driving the Ring really be that big of a deal? For those of you who have already made the pilgrimage to the Nüburgring, you’re now laughing at my last statement. I really didn’t have a clue!

The Nürburgring, or the RING as it is affectionally labeled by speed freaks and race fanatics around the globe, was my actual destination for this particular trip. I was fortunate to be part of the support team for a very passionate group of Viper enthusiasts taking the American Supercar back to the Nürburgring in hopes of re-capturing the production car single lap record. I wouldn’t be the one driving the beast, as that was left to the professionals. Instead, as the sales & marketing director for Prefix Corp., my duties for this trip would be getting photos and video, hanging out with the attending automotive media, and making sure we were keeping the fans back home updated on our progress.

Traveling with me for the trip was Prefix founder, former racer, and hardcore car guy, Kim Zeile.  Zeile had traveled here and driven the track numerous times. After picking up our ride for the week, a BMW 330d Turbo-Diesel, we made the swift trip on the autobahn from Frankfurt to Nürburg. After a brief stop to check-in on the Viper team, we headed directly toward our hotel.

The town of Nürburg, with its own medieval castle, is nestled within the beautiful rolling hills and thick lush forests of the Eifel Mountains. The 13-mile Ring-”I was surprised to learn-”was originally built back in 1927 as a work project to alleviate unemployment in the Eifel region of northwest Germany. From 1925 to 1927, some 25,000 individuals were hired to construct the racetrack, and during the past 80 years, the Nürburg Nordschleife (Northern Loop) has stood as the definitive one-lap ultimate performance driving challenge, testing both man and machine.

“Let’s do a lap!” Zeile yelled as we entered the town. “We can check-in at the hotel later, but now-¦” he pushed,  “the Ring is open and you’ve GOT to get on the track.” This is when the trip got strange, and almost surreal.

Parked at the gas station down the road was a selection of performance cars that would have just about anyone snapping photos. A group of M-series BMWs, a Ford Focus RS, three Porsches, a Nissan Skyline, and others. The entire area was like a high-performance car show, with everything imaginable stopped along the road, parked at restaurants, and driving to and from the track.

Except for the constant roar of performance engines powering down the main straight, you might not even know there was a famous race track here. The area is so thick with trees, and the track is so long that it is easily lost from sight among the forest and hills.

Once we arrived inside the track, I parked the car and walked into the small ticket office. As I requested a lap and paid my 30 Euros, I was surprised that no one asked to see my drivers license. I didn’t see a place to rent a helmet. They didn’t even ask me to sign a waiver. I was simply handed a key-card and was given directions to the track entrance. That’s when we drove onto the track and entered what looked like a typical parking garage toll gate. It scanned my card, the gate raised, and we were off!

As I firmly pressed the accelerator to the floor, Zeile yelled out, “Watch your mirrors!” He barely finished the word mirrors when a fully race prepped BMW M5 blasted by me just four or 5-feet off my door. “Holy $*#@%! This is the real deal!” I thought as I mashed the pedal and got serious about my drive line and set-up for the next corner.

There is no question that you need to have reasonable driving skills and some track experience if you are to fully appreciate your time on the Ring, and-¦ not become a hazard to others. It’s a challenging and dangerous track with over 70 turns that unfold through the thick forest with blind crest hills, steep down-hill sections through deep valleys, long curving straights, the infamous Wippermann section and the dramatically banked Karussell (Carousel).

The experts and driving instructors available at the local race car rental businesses in town will remind you that it isn’t a race, but instead “a drive to be experienced.” But-¦the satisfaction of over-taking cars on the Ring, throws the simply a drive idea out the window. I’m on a track.  No-¦one of the best tracks in the world! Let’s GO!

It is easy to see how some people end up having a very bad day at the Ring. Just during the Sunday afternoon we drove the Ring, we saw a motorcyclist taken away in a medical helicopter and two other accidents that involved excursions through the grass or impacts with the guardrail. Not only dangerous to your health, but if you crash here, it can get pretty expensive as well. Damage the guardrail, you’ll pay for that. Shut the track down for a period of time, you’ll pay for that. Not to mention the cost of a flat-bed truck to haul your wreck off the track, and if that helicopter is needed-¦Yikes!

This track is technical and fun! As we launched through the final turn and onto the last straight, I found myself thinking about how this would NEVER be allowed in the U.S. I honestly believe, as a whole, Germany likely has much better drivers than what we most often find here in the States. Maybe it’s due to the Autobahn? Traveling on the German highways I didn’t find anyone put-putting-along in the left lane. If you are in the left lane, you are passing. If not-¦ drivers stay the hell out of the left lane! Germans seem to get that. I also didn’t see the crazy amount of distracted drivers (texting, doing their make-up, or checking emails) that we see all too often on American roads. If you drift into the wrong lane on the autobahn, you’re not going to last very long.

Midway down the final straight of the 13-mile Ring, cars slow and exit off of the track, winding through a parking lot, and either back onto the track or to the exit. It is easy to imagine spending an entire weekend driving a few laps, watching others navigate the challenging track, and observing the variety of performance cars parked and driving all around the local area. I returned the very next day to drive the track in the rain, and enjoyed it just as much.

So, call it one of those bucket list items, or whatever. If you track your car, have taken a few instructional racing classes, or just drive and appreciate a performance car, I promise the Nürburgring is like nothing you’ve ever seen. The trip will be worth it, so put it on the list.