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January 2001

Letter from Nürburg
by Brian Dunning

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Not long ago, the advent of FileMaker Mobile made possible a trip to the world's premier racing circuit, Germany's Nürburgring.

Yes, the trip could have been made without FileMaker Mobile. I could have toted along a laptop and had full access to my dizzying array of FileMaker calendar, contact, note taking and log keeping files, disturbing QuickTime movie databases, and sundry other FileMaker based diversions. Or I could have gone naked (Silicon Valley speak for "without a laptop"). Instead I chose FileMaker Mobile, on my trusty Palm handheld.

A fan of road racing, I had long wanted to visit the Nürburgring. Shortly before our trip, I happened to see a guy in a thrasher BMW 2002 with a Nürburgring sticker on the bumper. I pulled him over and asked him if he'd actually driven there. "Yeah," he said, "every summer. It's really easy. You just drive up to the track, there's an old guy standing there, you give him 13 marks, and off you go." I immediately rung up my old friend and fellow racing enthusiast Dan Bocek, and a dozen phone calls later to German answering machines and people who don't speak English, we had a day planned and a car reserved. Confirmation numbers were duly entered into FileMaker Mobile.

Our promised steed was to be a Porsche (a two-syllable word) Roadster, which turned out to be a base narrow-body 911 with the short Speedster windshield, but when we got there to pick it up, we were told that it was unavailable. Oh no! The Nürburgring in a Fiat Tipo? No; happily, they had an alternative: a bright red Carrera 2 coupe, to which we promptly turned our noses up. However, fate was wiser than we in providing a hardtop, since - although we didn't know it yet - we were about to spend much of the day at well over 100mph.

Anyway, this car had 18 kilometers on the odo. It had not only never been rented, but never driven at all, since the 18 kilometer factory test drive that all Porsches receive. Anxious that the $30,000 engine be broken in with proper gentleness, Dan and I punched it to the redline and spent the rest of the day, totaling some 350 miles, bouncing off the rev limiter. Apologies to all other Porsche aficionados; but some things just have to be done.

The north loop of the Nürburgring, which is only a part of the complete circuit, is 20.8 kilometers long (according to my mobile Racetracks.fp5 database) and encompasses so much forest that there are four complete and separate villages enclosed entirely within the track. Nürburg is one of these, and includes a hilltop castle that is braced by one of the world's mightiest straightaways. The track has only one gravel trap, elsewhere just a thin metal guardrail stands between you and the trees that have claimed more racing drivers' lives than any other circuit in the world. There are two places where the cars catch air and actually jump. There are overpasses, underpasses, off-camber banking and decreasing radii that can instantly snap the most experienced driver into oblivion. The late five time world champion Juan Manuel Fangio once said that no driver ever had a perfect lap on the Nürburgring. Its 180 turns are so tangled and varied that it cannot be memorized. FileMaker Mobile was not available in those days.

Despite all that time spent on the plane creating the TrackTimes.fp5 database, Dan and I decided not to time our laps against each other. Our romantic sides wanted to keep it a test of ourselves against the formidable Nürburgring, while our practical sides worried that if we pushed too hard, we risked buying a Porsche.

The track is open every day there's no event, and any Joe Blow can drive up and take a lap or two. The only requirements are that the car be street legal and fully registered, and motorcyclists must wear full body protection (as is their habit throughout Europe). There had been a German Touring Car event the prior weekend, and the fans had written all over the track in brightly colored chalk.

Arrived in the Carrera, we turned into what appeared to be the facility's main entrance, drove up a narrow, winding driveway and suddenly found ourselves not in a parking lot, but on a pit exit. Not just any pit exit, but the Nürburgring's pit exit. And just as I'd been told, there was an old German guy standing there with a bag of money and lap tickets. We bought 12 laps for 135DM, logged the expense in FileMaker Mobile, and before we knew it, we were accelerating toward the first corner. As the revs screamed higher and higher, we realized that this was the moment we went from being ordinary dorks to having Studly Bragging Rights.

Suddenly we were swooping down and around, exploring the concept that it's a racetrack and there won't be any Volvos coming the opposite direction. The first complexes were tight and narrow, chopping around on the natural terrain slopes, but soon opened up into broad straights and sweepers that blasted from forest to clearing to forest, and from hilltop to valley.

At the end of the first straight was that lone gravel trap. It's a ballzout braking zone followed by an immediate hair-pin, and launching out of that hairpin truly taxes any red-line. It was logged in FileMaker Mobile as "Rev Limiter Corner."

Another favorite complex was a loopy left right left right chicane on the summit of a rise, featuring (for fun) both negative g's and negative camber. Another record was created and named The Bocek Complex, because of the extra excitement of Dan's first few attempts to dial it in.

I particularly enjoyed The Corner Brian Hates. It was a long, long uphill decreasing radius sweeper that I always entered too fast and a gear too high, drifting us dangerously close to the outer edge. Let off to decelerate and I'd have spun off. Punch it and the 911's power would have pushed the front wheels straight off. That corner always made me want to crawl under my bed and curl up into a ball.

Ah, the Karussell. What words have been wasted by poets through the centuries on trivialities like love and war, when exists the Karussell. On the approach it looks like an innocent left hander, but suddenly the road drops away and the car is sucked into a harshly banked Maelstrom designed to centrifuge the driver into his native elements. Those hundred and eighty degrees of arc seem like about a thousand as you are progressively crushed straight down into your seat. Around and around, harder and harder, more and more pain; and when at last the banking ends and the car is launched as if from a slingshot, the spine springs out like a Jack-in-the-Box, the lungs gasp, the eyeballs bulge, and the lifeless foot limply mashes the accelerator to the floor; the car shudders as clutch and tires slip and bite and semi-conscious bodies tumble to the rear of the cabin to be pressed against the back window like suction cup Garfields.

Record 5 in the database was entered as The Embarrassing Place. For some reason, there were always people watching from a bluff over this very difficult section. You have to drop down into a valley right in front of the spectators and then climb right back out, all on tough corners. I don't think Dan or I ever made it through there once without sliding, missing a gear, hitting the limiter, or bailing out of the car in fear. There was a red Carrera RS who was much better than we were, and we considered going up there with the spectators, taking pictures of this guy doing it properly, and claiming it was us.

Near the end of the lap is the gnarliest straight in history. This is a BIG straight. It ain't short, it ain't narrow, and it ain't slow. Eight cars could easily race abreast, and if you ever watch German Touring Car events, you've seen it happen. Imagine a dozen top fuel dragsters launching side by side, front tires skipping, rears digging and swinging, fishtailing and drifting all over the place, people running screaming, five times the length of a drag strip; and that's the Nürburgring's back straight.

The Porsche was immensely powerful. There was an old guy circulating in a black BMW 850i, exhibiting technique that even God can only dream about. But when we got to the back straight, the big boxer six pulled him in along with everyone else. Maybe Dan and I couldn't power slide through chicanes like Hans Stuck, but we were kings of the straightaway that day. At least it gratifies us to so imagine. We felt justified in giving ourselves high marks in FileMaker Mobile.

We let off the gas right after the bridge near the end of the straight (impressively marked "Der Nürburgring"), just as the speedo ticked past 270 km/h. That's 170 mph, as fast as I've ever driven, and as fast as I care to. With more familiarity, we could have anticipated the straight better, stayed on the gas perhaps five seconds longer, and gotten perhaps another five hundred revs.

The lap ends back at the pits, where we usually took the opportunity to administer CPR to one another, again storing our pulse rates and blood pressure in FileMaker Mobile. There were a couple trucks full of tires; someone told us that the hotter drivers will go through a set every four laps. Everyone was surprisingly friendly to the visiting gringos. One guy came up to our 911 as we pulled in, examined our wheels, and said "I see by your tires that your car is understeering." Indeed, we'd already peeled a quarter inch of Continental rubber. He invited us over to his old 308 Quattrovalvole, checked our tire temperatures, and gave each of our wheels a shot of air. He said it would help, and offered "Come, we take a lap. You follow me; I show you the line." And what a line it was. Turned out he owns a company that manufactures replacement wheels for Ferraris.

Other track users we observed included a large number of motorcycles, all of whom are far faster than any car; a racing school of guys playing follow-the-leader in thrasher sedans about an inch apart; a historic racing car or two, refugees from the vintage car race happening on another part of the track; and a huge tour bus, which Dan encountered to his great surprise as he was about to cut an apex and found it already occupied. Of course, there were plenty of regular guys with their snazzy cars, mainly BMW's and Porsches. Brave people, all of them: it's not hard to rapidly depreciate your car here. We saw one guy plow into the tire barrier and a couple of hairy spins, one right in front of the pits. There was one local kid in an old Bug, and considering the risks, I think he was the only guy there with the right idea. Overall we collected more than forty records in Cars.fp5, taking care to reserve the best comments for our own record.

We were fortunate enough to videotape our final two laps. If you think it's hard work tossing a beast of a Porsche through the most difficult corners in racingdom, try sitting in the back seat (and if that's not hard enough in a 911) trying to hold a camcorder steady. The reader is advised not to attempt logging shot records in his Palm with the other hand.

And so ended one heck of a day. We weren't sorry to leave, as the stress had nearly killed us both (particularly the one whose Amex had rented the car), but it's a day we wouldn't trade for anything.

Yes, there may be more practical uses for FileMaker Mobile. But sometimes the most utterly pointless is the most fun.

Browse Mode
Jan 10 Solving Performance Emergencies with FileMaker Server
Aug 06 Top Ten Sessions Cut from the 2006 FileMaker Developer Conference
Jul 06 Who's Driving This Thing, Anyway? Or, How Marketing and Engineering Buried the Hatchet (Warning: Contains a Curse Word)
Nov 05 Shingle Grandiloquence
Oct 05 In Celebration of Geek Magnetism
Aug 05 A Rogues' Gallery of Devcon Attendees
Mar 05 Lies, Damned Lies, and Project Specifications
Feb 05 Pick the Right Tool for the Job
Oct 04 Home Media Server Requirements
Jul 04 Leveraging Your FileMaker Lingo
Apr 04 Technical Support Redux
Mar 04 Enforce Seats in FileMaker 7/8/9 Commercial Solutions
Feb 04 Reinventing the Wheel
Oct 03 WAP: The Technology That Wasn't
Aug 03 Brian Dunning's California Governor Election Platform
Jul 03 Sex and the Single Software Developer
May 03 XSLT: Creeping Out of the Closet?
Feb 03 A Consultant's Guide to Traveling
Nov 02 Adventures of Bat Magnum, FileMaker Consultant
Sep 02 FileMaker at Area 51
Aug 02 FileMaker Terminology
Feb 02 Computer Shunts
Dec 01 Aquabase Alpha & the Consultant's Challenge
Aug 01 It IS the Size That Counts
Jun 01 On the Trail of Sasquatch
May 01 Spring Cleaning
Feb 01 FileMaker Mobile Survivor Challenge
Jan 01 Letter from Nürburg
Dec 00 Performance Anxiety
Nov 00 Objection, Your Honor
Oct 00 Leveraging Convergence: Jargon for the 21st Century
Sep 00 Top Ten Things to Do at Devcon
Aug 00 Aesop's FileMaker Fables
Jul 00 Ten Commandments of FileMaker Pro
Jun 00 Explats Cross Examined
May 00 iMac, Therefore iServe
Mar 00 Valley of the Dollars
Jan 00 Are You Up for a Review?
Nov 99 Tales from the Script
Sep 99 Tech Support Revisited
Jul 99 Moderns vs. Classicals
Mar 99 Nashoba, We Hardly Knew Ye