Letter from Nürburg
by Brian Dunning
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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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
perhaps five seconds longer, and gotten perhaps another five
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
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
Yes, there may be more practical uses for FileMaker Mobile. But
sometimes the most utterly pointless is the most fun.