Race drivers call it "The Green Hell" and it has taken dozens of drivers' lives, but Germany's Nuerburgring car-racing track offers unparalleled excitement for car racing fans.
Engines roar, car tires squeal, crowds cheer or hold their breath for the champions, all in the middle of dense woods in western Germany, amid the singing of unfazed birds.
Throngs fill the stands or crowd along the fenced track, beer in hand, their tents and mobile homes a few steps away, in the woods. The races become fiestas for German and foreign fans alike.
Nuerburgring, in the Eifel Mountains, opened in 1927. Although it has been adjusted and reshaped, it remains one of the most demanding and hazardous race tracks in the world, with its many chicanes, curves and traps. Britain's three-time Formula 1 world champion, Sir Jackie Stewart, called it "The Green Hell" for the unrelenting concentration and effort that it requires of the racers. The name stuck.
From March to October each year it hosts car, truck, cycling and motorbike events, including 24-hour and 1,000-kilometer (621-mile) races. It frequently opens to ordinary drivers eager to test — or discover — their racing skills. It is also a venue for rock concerts.
In 1975, Formula 1 driver Niki Lauda set the circuit's record, covering the 22.8-kilometer (13.7-mile) distance in under seven minutes, his average speed being some 196 kilometers (117.6 miles) per hour. The following year, in the midst of the season's pitched duel against Britain's James Hunt, he had a crash that sent his Ferrari into flames and left burn scars on his face.
Deemed too fast and dangerous, the track was shortened in early 1980s to just under 21 kilometers, called the Nordschleife, or the Northern Loop, and had the Grand Prix loop, a new track of some 5 kilometers added. By shortening the distance, it allows fans to see the racing cars more often than on the long track. It also helps cut fuel and maintenance costs. In 1983, German driver Stefan Beloff driving a Porsche 956 set the short loop's average speed record at 201.7 kilometers (125 miles) per hour.
Over 500 drivers in some 160 cars entered a recent spectacular 24-hour race on the long loop that winds around the foot of the ruins of a medieval castle, but only half of them crossed the finish line, in a show of endurance and determination.
The track and the adjacent tiny town of Nuerburg offer many other attractions, dedicated to entire families: a museum of the circuit's history, with some celebrated cars and trucks, a carting track, race simulators and exhibitions and shops related to motor sports. Sitting atop a hill, a stone tower of a medieval castle reveals a breathtaking panorama of the wooded mountains, the track center and the town.
If You Go...
NUERBURGRING: Car racing track in Nuerburg, Germany; http://www.nuerburgring.de/en/home.html . Check calendar on website for upcoming events. You can book tickets online or buy onsite. Nearby villages and the town of Adenau provide accommodation. There are camp sites by the track. Food can be bought at the track center's eateries, from restaurants in Nuerburg, or from kiosks by the track side.