My first reaction was that I surely must have misheard what the comely, dark-haired, leather-clad woman was offering.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“Would you like to take one of Vaughn’s cars for a drive around the track?” Gillian Marshall smiled knowingly, awaiting an answer to the most stunningly generous question anyone has ever asked me.
There’s something about roaring around Nürburgring’s 20.8-kilometer, 100-turn course that seems to put people in absurdly good moods. Near rapture, I’d say. Every driver and motorcyclist coming off the track was all smiles, even stoic Germans.
Marshall was tempting me to choose between her partner’s rare 1960s vintage A.C. Cobra, worth roughly five times my annual salary, or his slightly less valuable Lotus 7 roadster for a dash around the Nürburgring racetrack.
“And he also brought his motorcycles,” Marshall said.
I was stunned.
“Vaughn,” I said, “you lend your cars to people to drive around a racetrack?”
“You only have one life, Terry,” said British attorney Vaughn Fullagar. “You’ve wasted it if you can’t bring a little happiness to others.”
Much as I would have liked, I couldn’t accept their kind offer without jeopardizing my children’s college funds.
The Nordschleife course at Nürburgring in Germany is the only place where you can pull up in your car — any street-legal car that will do more than 60 kilometers per hour — fork over 16 euros per lap, then blast around one of the most historic auto racing venues on the planet.
The most famous names in auto racing, from Fangio to Andretti, came to the Nürburgring — with a certain amount of dread. It was so long, so beautiful and so dangerous that Jackie Stewart dubbed it the “green hell.” The Formula One race is no longer held here, but the course has been open since 1927 for touristenfahrten, allowing anyone to take a lap.
“There’s nothing like this in England,” Marshall said. “We have all these restrictions on noise, safety. If we had something like this, it would be super. But England is too stuffy.”
This is an American liability lawyer’s worst nightmare. After all, “died at Nürburg- ring” is the final line in a lot of famous racers’ biographies, as well as the end of the road for more than a few people who get on the track.
Everyone vows they’ll do a couple of careful warm-up laps, but few ever do, said Ken Towery, an American working in England. “You get on the track, and the red curtain descends!” he said, using a euphemism for the irresistible urge to pass everything in sight.
Sue Smyth was hanging on for dear life behind Stephen Petria as Petria jinxed his Aprilia RSV through swarms of vehicles at speeds reaching 120 miles per hour.
“It was scary!” Smyth said afterward.
“It’s scary for everyone,” added Petria. “That’s why they do it. The adrenaline rush! If I could afford it, I’d do it every weekend.”
And there’s the rub. Most come having already spent beaucoup bucks (euros or pounds) on their rides, fishing lap fees out of their Ricardo racing seats. Everywhere you look, there are not just cars, but millions of dollars’ worth of super cars.
Porsche Cayman Ss, which cost about $70,000 each and will reach 170 mph, were everywhere. Super-bikes such as $25,000 Ducati 999Rs were on display by the dozens.
Still, there’s nothing to stop you from showing up in your 12-year-old beater and letting ’er rip.
The better you know the track, the faster you go, said Dave Robley, an amateur British motorcycle racer.
The catch is, Nürburgring is too long to memorize, Robley said: “It’s so long, you’ll never get your head around it!”
On the QT ...GETTING THERE: Getting to the Nürburgring is half the fun; it’s one of the most scenic drives in Germany no matter which route you take. But the track’s remote location in the Eifel area west of Koblenz makes getting there a challenge. From the Kaiserslautern/Ramstein/Baumholder area, take Autobahn 62 toward Trier, then follow the signs for Autobahn 48 toward Koblenz. At the Ulmen exit, follow B-259 toward Kelberg, then follow the signs to Nürburg. Once you get to the main track area, ask for directions to the touristenfahrten area, which is toward Adenau.
From Frankfurt, take Autobahn 61 to Koblenz, then look for signs to Mayen. From Mayen, there are signs to Nürburgring. Coming out of Dottlingen, the last town before Nürburg, you’ll drive about one kilometer (less than a mile) before you see a yellow sign on your right that reads “Adenau, 6 KM.” Turn there, go under the viaduct, then take the next left and drive 1.5 kilometers. That will put you right in the traffic circle for the touristenfahrten entrance.
TIMES: Public track sessions typically are from 10 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
But there are often events and races that close the track, so consult the track Web site.
COST: Drivers buy lap tickets at a vending machine. The more you buy, the cheaper the cost per lap, which is the same for cars and motorcycles:
1 lap costs 16 euros4 laps cost 56 euros8 laps cost 108 euros15 laps cost 195 euros25 laps cost 305 eurosA one-year pass is 798 eurosFOOD: There’s a cafe at the touristenfahrten compound, and the food and drink are reasonable. There is a variety of restaurants in the towns around Nürburgring, including Nürburg. The best variety of restaurants is in Kelberg, about 10 kilometers down B-259.
CONTACT: For detailed instructions and contact numbers, see Nürburgring’s official Web site at: http://www.nuerburgring.de