June 22, 2015
On March 28th of this year, Jann Mardenborough experienced the worst feeling in motor sport when his car went airborne on the mythical Nürburgring. Because of that fateful day, the motoring world lost legendary land. The issue is not that he lost control, or the race, that happens, it is part of the territory. That day, he lost a fan. Someone, who came to show their support left horizontally. That has to be the worst feeling ever, he had little to no control over the situation. He could have slowed down, but why would he, he is in the middle of a race, that is the exact opposite of his job description. Four years prior, Mardenborough was proving himself on Nürburgring Nordschleife’s hallowed grounds by proxy, if not for the GT Academy he would have never gotten a chance to actually drive atop it. Before you race, I am sure you sign a waiver: in case you forgot, this is a dangerous sport, you could die at any moment. It might even say: you could kill or injure another racer. Chances are it does not say you could take someone-who-idolizes-you’s life. Had Mardenborough lost his own life at Nürburgring, it would not have been as bad. A tragedy still, but that is what he signed up for, 2 in 25 (that was the 70s, the odds are much lower now, but you get the idea). There are two types of racers: those who live chasing death, and the ones who die avoiding it. Rush is a good example of both mindsets. There is nothing wrong with either, two sides a coin. One tends to live longer while the other leaves a deeper impression, (no one will ever forget Ayrton Senna). For regular people, an apt analogy might be: those who plan ahead, or those who play away. Those who live for tomorrow, those or who live for today. Traditionally racers have been part of the latter category, but humans will never fall neatly in predestined boxes. Shades of grey are inescapable. A racetrack will always be a perilous place. By definition, they are dangerous. But life should be scary at times, you are playing for keeps. Any decision you make could be your last. However, being close to death is not necessarily a deterrent. Walking the edge is thrilling, it often means life cannot offer much more. Those who go to the Nürburgring, are there because they have something to prove, either to themselves or to the world: they are warriors willing to die on racing’s Holy grounds, if not here, wherever races are held. Visitors who drive there have (or should) always known, The Green Hell is not a euphemism. Sir Jackie Stewart coined that nickname for Nordschleife because to drive there flat out; is to stare at your own mortality, and not falter. Oil, blood, sweat, gas, tears, and likely bodily waste have leaked on those curves. It is not a rare global tradition that should be taken lightly. To say, that it should never be used again as a test track for automakers is a travesty, possibly as much so as Mardenborough's accident. There are countless who paid the ultimate consequence (even that fan was there because of the track's legacy), who would not have it any other way. Just the fact that there are speed limits likely has them rolling in their graves. If safety is the concern, impose a policy of no liability for the track, leave all the consequences up to the drivers and/or automakers. In the unlikely event no one else is willing, I volunteer as tribute. Charge a premium to test and/or race, then use the money to upgrade the infrastructure. With time ensure there are cameras covering every inch of the track, and install Saflex® clear blast barriers for the die-hard fans to feel free from a hard death. The Nürburgring has built a prestige as automotive sacred ground for almost 100 years now; if not there, racers will not stop driving along that line, a lesser track will be where modern day gladiators prove themselves.