As I write this, I’m sitting at the dining table in my bed and breakfast — Speedys Gästehaus — in the middle of beautiful and quiet German countryside just outside Nürburg.
I was up at 5:00am sharp local time this morning (Thursday), went for a walk to explore the town of Wanderath a bit, and came back to make some breakfast and give Sara a quick video call as she was about to go to sleep. Internal clock thoroughly confused, it’s just as well that I noticed a normal one since I’m due to check out of my room in 42 minutes.
From here I’ll head to Hotel Döttinger Höhe to pick up my credentials, but I’ve just lost my train of thought as a girl in what I assume are traditional dress clothes just walked by my window carrying a saxophone. I guess that’s a thing here at nine on a Thursday morning, but nevertheless, this trip really started about six weeks back when I received a message from Paddy McGrath in the middle of the night.
2:54am: “How would you like to visit the Nürburgring?” Then, 4:53am: “Because we need you to go to the Nürburgring.”
Did he think I was going to reply at three in the morning? [Yes. - PMcG] By 9:30am or so I had messaged back, and by 10:00 it was settled: “You’re going to LOVE jet lag. I wish I could be there.”
Although, there were a few roadblocks in my way. First off, being a proper American, the last time I traveled out of the country was when I was 16, meaning that my passport expired a few years back. With the DMV setting a fairly (awfully) poor precedent in terms of turnaround times with simple paperwork, I was initially pretty worried the passport office wouldn’t be much better.
Luckily it is better — not much of an accomplishment if we’re honest — and the following day I stopped by for some mug shots and sent the forms off from our local post office. With my flight booked for June 18th, I naturally included the mandatory $60 bribe for expedited service, which I can only assume is currency that will ultimately put to great use bettering the lives of all Americans.
Anyway, the passport actually came back in two weeks, so I was set there. Next, at the advice of the esteemed and honorable Ben Chandler, I went down to AAA to take the test for my International Driving Permit. Just kidding, there is no test, nor hardly any paperwork. Just pay $20, then get some more mug shots and a stamp. Apparently the three hour-long sessions through my hometown of Sunnyvale, California with a driving instructor 13 years ago are sufficient to unleash the fury of whatever rental car I’d end up with on the autobahn – perfect. (It turned out to be an Opel; I only know because it says so on the steering wheel.)
Actually, the IDP isn’t technically required in Germany anyway, it just sort of translates your existing license. But it’s good to have, or so I’m told.
Many other details needed to be taken care before the trip of in regard to my gear, but I think I’ll save that for another story dedicated to what’s required to shoot a 24-hour race, and just focus on my travels here. I will mention, though, that the unsung hero of this post is my ancient Canon EOS M that I picked up used with a 22mm f/2.0 lens and two batteries for $200 a few years back for Sara.
Most of the images in this post were taken with this pocket-sized mirrorless camera, and it really goes to show that less can often be more.
Eventually I was packed and off to the airport, ready for the long day full of long lines ahead.
Boarding went as usual, and after three lengthy movies and about 100 laps up and down the aisles of my Airbus A330, I found myself in Amsterdam. Here, I came upon an enormous line of people waiting to get their passports stamped. A certain amount of time passed and — boom — my first stamp in the new passport.
Final flight delayed, I eventually ended up at baggage claim in Frankfurt around noon. Now, off to find my rental car for the two-hour drive to Nürburg. Or, more specifically, Wanderath, where this story began.
The idea was to stay up as late as possible to beat jet lag, but immediately after receiving advice from Paddy to go for a walk and find coffee, I instead lay down for what turned into four hours.
Properly confused when I woke at 9:00pm, I finally did go for that walk, found some dinner and a GT2 RS, then proceeded to sleep at Speedys Gästehaus until 5:00am.Day One
Over at Hotel Döttinger Höhe for media credentials this morning (again, Thursday), I got my first taste of just how amazing this place is.
Miscellaneous performance cars — both full size and fun size — were scattered around as others blasted off down the highway adjacent to the credentials office. And running parallel to the highway was the legendary Nordschleife circuit, complete with cars racing down the straight into Antoniusbuche and on through Tiergarten.
The fastest point on the track is right here, literally within 15 meters of the B258. It’s just insane.
Once I embedded myself in the camps surrounding the Nordschleife, everything I thought I knew about racing was dumped on its head. Yes, it’s only Thursday, but I can safely say the Nürburgring 24 Hour is an experience like nothing else on earth.
Just wandering around with my camera I was quick to make a plethora of inebriated friends. I guess if you’re drunk enough you might not notice that I don’t speak German.
Seriously though, the people are what has made this experience so mind-blowing for me as an American, and this is specifically a topic I need to think on a while and share at some future date.
Besides, I need to do something with the 1,000-plus photos I took of people drinking and playing ‘hit the nail with the tricky hammer’, which I learned was called nägeln. Which I think just means ‘nail’…
As for the track, it’s every bit as bonkers as it seems. Actually, far, far more so once you’re standing next to it.
We think of ourselves as quite advanced in California. For example, we have approximately two tracks with real elevation change: Thunderhill Raceway and Laguna Seca. Even the Corkscrew, which is actually quite an easy corner to get just right behind the wheel, seems absolutely quaint compared to practically anywhere on the Nordschleife.
To keep your momentum through the hills here, the cars are pitching themselves into the corners at what always seems too fast a speed. And — in fear of beating a dead horse — I’ll mention again that this is only Thursday practice…
Beyond the action on the tarmac, the track is nestled into what has to be one of the most beautiful regions on the planet.
Stunning forests, rolling hills, and little towns scattered around the long-reaching curves of the circuit. It’s just fantastic.
Honestly, I feel quite lucky indeed to finally experience the Nürburgring 24 Hour. I only walked about two miles of the actual circuit today and, truly, it’s already too much for words to properly convey. And I logged another six miles — apparently just wandering around aimlessly — if you were wondering.Sleep Is Required
For the evening, the kind gents at BILSTEIN, who have arranged this trip with Ben, booked me a room at Natur und Wohlfühlhotel Kastenholtz in der Eifel. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but it seems to be the exact opposite of nägeln.
That’s just as well, because I’ve a splitting headache, need to find some food and coffee, and just stood inert in the elevator for approximately 45 seconds after pushing the button to the floor I was already on. Don’t worry, I figured it out eventually.
(Update: I found some food.)
Physically, I feel as if I’ve already covered the race, but we’re still a couple days away from the checkered flag. A bit of practice never hurt anyone, though — except my knees — and that’s what everyone here is up to in the days leading up to the monumental 24 hours of racing ahead.
The photographers are scouting for new locations, the fans are making sure there’s alcohol in their alcohol, the drivers are testing the boundaries of grip, and the teams are doing everything they can to hold their cars together. And the weather – it’s just doing its own thing, depending where you are on the nearly 21-kilometer-long Nürburgring Nordschleife.
Everything is hanging in the balance, just as it should be.