Losing Track Of Time At The Nürburgring 24 Hours
Despite the display of mastery over modern technology, the whirring gizmos, the angry engines, the carefully configured atoms created to slingshot humans around a track at unnatural speeds, there was something wonderfully pagan and ancient about 24 hour endurance racing at the greatest racetrack in the world.
The weekend marked the 50th anniversary of Mercedes-Benz AMG, and to celebrate, AMG looked back over their racing heritage at the Nürburgring with a small and carefully crafted exhibition displaying some choice cars, announced a run of five track-only AMG GTs, and a limited run of AMG x IWC (International Watch Company) timepieces.
Buyers of the special AMG GTs will get a personalized souvenir of their purchases to wear on their wrists; because I am not one such lucky individual, I had to sign a piece of paper to say I wouldn’t steal the watch that was carefully secured to my wrist for the weekend before heading off to dinner. Rather than being able to pretend that I had a brand-spanking new AMG GT in my vault, I was given an Ingenieur. Its design has all of of the simplicity of a sundial, but behind its simple face lies the awesome majesty of the same laws that apply to the celestial bodies.
I don’t want to speak to you about the anniversary of AMG today. You can probably remember their greatest achievements and can merrily debate their best cars and racing triumphs over a beer with your friend. I want to talk to you about time and mankind and how we, and it, never really change.
The next day at the crack of dawn, we left for the Green Hell. The garages were crammed with crews racing against the clock to get their cars ready for the starting grid. Held up above the crowd on the shoulders of their fathers, children stared wide-eyed at the creations before them. People who had once worked on the same team and found themselves now on opposing crews greeted each other warmly, looking forward to a tough fight. BMW mocked Mercedes-Benz’s big 5-0 with an enormous sign facing their enclosure that said “You ordered cake, we made donuts” while hidden behind BMW’s building, the sound of screeching tires filled the air. I wanted to go and see the commotion’s source, but I felt too loyal to my elected German tribe to go watch. Competition and loyalty couldn’t exist without each other after all.
Around the track, families, friends, and couples had pitched their tents well before the weekend to get the best spots. They were ready to be entertained by the mechanical gladiators well into the deep of night. But until then, life was happening. People chatted to each other about this year’s race and what they expected. Men flirted with women wearing short shorts, friendships were forged and strengthened. Despite the focus on cars, everyone’s little dramas both good and bad continued regardless.
The crowds swarmed around the pits. Somewhere in those throngs of bodies were the cars themselves though, just as somewhere in the hive there’s honey. As the minute hand of my watch edged closer to the starting time, the atmosphere at the grid swelled with every spectator vying for a view like a growing cumulonimbus that broke into the thunderous screams of the engines. Countering the simile, the literal weather remained glorious, as evidenced by the heat’s haze hanging above the the sweltering tarmac.
As sunset fell over Eifel, a small party was gathering on top of the Nurburg Castle to toast Mercedes-Benz’s racing history and its partnership with IWC. Set inside the ‘Ring’s south eastern corner by the GP circuit, the castle is without its own particularly interesting history, having had no significant owner or purpose at any time. I suppose the funnest fact besides its location comes from a decree in the 16th century that allowed local farmers to plunder its walls for its rocks. That’s how insignificant it was. But, it looks just how a castle from a Wagnerian opera should.
I’d only seen a handful of classic cars over the weekend, and certainly hadn’t heard any of them exercising, but the spirit of what everyone was here for transcended whatever was out on the track. New or old, this was the timelessness of competition and our compulsion to admire it. Here was a festival to celebrate the arrival of spring, the passing of time, and man’s accomplishments.
As I leaned on the wall of the top of the Nurburg Castle to catch glimpses of headlights flashing through the Green Hell in the gloaming, I was so glad to think that some times never change.