Sabine Schmitz, Queen of the Nürburgring And Fastest Taxi Driver Of All Time, Has Passed Away
Sabine Schmitz, Queen of the Nürburgring, the best taxi driver of all time, and effortlessly lovable, passed away earlier today at the age of 51 after a years-long battle with cancer.
Before Schmitz became a household name in every household that knew the correct pronunciation of the track that she all but literally grew up on, she was planning for a time to join her parents in the hospitality business. Growing up in Adenau—one of the many cozy villages that the formidable Nordschleife passes directly through—Schmitz’s family ran one of the more popular ‘Ring restaurants inside the circuit, Pistenklause, a meeting place in the Am Tiergarten Hotel basement where enthusiasts recounted the day’s laps over food and drink, surrounded by walls thick with framed memories.
Many of which belonged to Sabine. More than any other driver, then or now, she was the Nürburgring’s perfect ambassador. Her enthusiasm, mixed with her mastery, earned her a wholly deserved reputation as one of the most talented, and by far the most fun, disciples of a circuit with a great many of them. She was more than just a ‘Ring Taxi driver gleefully scaring her passengers, but also the first woman to win the 24-hour race on the massive circuit—and one of the few racers of any gender to accomplish that feat twice in a row. Her first win came in 1996 with a BMW M3, driving with Hans Widmann and another local legend, Johannes Scheid. She won the race again the following year, again with an M3 shared with Scheid, joined by fellow Germans Hans-Jürgen Tiemann and Peter Zakowski. The next year, 1998, she and Scheid won the VLN championship, which consists of a season of races held exclusively on the ‘Ring.
It’s said that Schmitz lapped the Nordschleife over 1000 times each year as the resident ‘Ring Taxi driver in the 2000s, which paved the way for her media career after her debut on Top Gear in 2004. Showing Hammond what a diesel Ford van could achieve in the Green Hell, Schmitz’s easily triggered laughter and frustration with slower drivers with faster vehicles earned her an international fanbase, and she later joined the program as a full-time host in 2016. Even for the most jaded racers and journalists, Schmitz was a source of perpetual inspiration, for her talents as a driver, but more so for the way she lived—zestful, playful, but she lived with no nonsense when it came to motorsport.
Schmitz and her husband Klaus Abellen founded the Frikadelli Racing team together not long after sharing driving duties in the 2006 VLN season, and oftentimes shared the driving duties in their team’s front-running Porsche GT3s until her illness precluded that level of participation. It’s estimated that between her racing and ‘Ring Taxiing, Schmitz went around the full circuit more than 20,000 times. Even if she’s somehow not the person with the most miles logged on the Nordschleife, it would be hard to argue that she isn’t perfect representative of all that’s good and worthwhile about the circuit—if would be criminal not to name a corner after her.
Gone too soon, Sabine Schmitz will be missed like few others, and continue to inspire even more with the example she set of how to live.