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History of the Nürburgring - part one

A layperson's guide to the world’s greatest racetrack – the Nürburgring

The Nürburgring, a world-famous racetrack

The Nürburgring, a world-famous racetrack

Our guide to the Nürburgring features everything you need to know before a trip, including safety tips, the best time to visit, insurance details - and where to find expert advice on tackling the Green Hell.

The Nürburgring holds a special place in the hearts of many car enthusiasts, and rightly so. It epitomises the thrill, skill, and passion that defines the racing scene. Known for being one of the longest and most dangerous racing tracks, the Nürburgring offers something completely unique in the driving world.

It also holds a special place as the bar to judge car capabilities. Becoming ‘Nürburgring approved’ is an industry mark of excellence; if your car can survive the Green Hell, as it is affectionately called, then it can survive anything.

This fusion of industry reputation and car enthusiast reverence is a special cocktail of exhaust fumes and revving engines that elevates the Ring above all other tracks. It is only here that you can find a state-of-the-art super car blasting full throttle, just to see it overtaken in the corners by a Nurburg local in a hatchback skidding along on three wheels.

It’s a magical place.

But it can also be a complete nightmare.

So, to help those wishing to experience the Ring for themselves first-hand, here’s a layperson’s guide to the Ring, full of useful tips, what to expect when you visit, and a little bit of history of the world’s greatest racetrack.

‘The Ring’

First things first, before we get into the nitty gritty of Nürburgring rules and lore, it’s probably best to have a quick run through of what the Nürburgring is, why it exists in the first place, and when’s best to visit (as in, when is the Ring actually open to the public).

The Nürburgring is a German racetrack turned public toll road located next to the Eifel Mountain range; famous for being the longest racetrack in the world (at 14.2 miles and 154 corners depending on how you count them) and infamous for being monstrously difficult and dangerous.

Construction was originally planned for 1907 for a track that would provide the perfect testing ground and bring vital employment to the area. However, it was only started in 1925 thanks to the First World War. Finally completed in 1927, the Ring would be host to some of the most daring races in the world, going through a series of construction updates to try and moderate some of its more extreme features, before finally retiring from the prestigious Grand Prix circuit in 1976 after the Nikki Lauda crash.

The track with a thousand faces

Well, maybe not a thousand, but it certainly has at least three, and that’s more than most. When talking to someone familiar with the Ring, you may hear them refer to it as ‘the Nordschleife’, literally translating to the Northern Loop. This is because when the Ring was originally built, it was split into two sections, the longer Northern Loop (Nordschleife), and the now abandoned Southern Loop (Südschleife).

While both tracks were excellent in their own rights, the Nordschleife remained popular both in the race world and with the public, while the Südschleife fell into disrepair. The Südschleife now no longer exists, though you can walk it’s remains if you fancy (and manage to find it).

Many years, and crashes, later, it was decided that the Nordschleife was too dangerous for Grand Prix, and so construction began on the Nürburgring Grand Prix track which officially opened in 1984. It was mostly completely original but did incorporate some of the old Südschleife into its design. While this new track drew criticism at the time for being ‘too bland’ (namely, it was sane), it is still used to this day, most recently for the Eifel Grand Prix in 2020.

Nordschleife also remains open, though now it is mostly used for public track days, the Nürburgring 24-hour race, and, of course, testing new and exciting cars.

When’s the best time to visit?

One of the most important features of the Nürburgring to remember is: the Ring is not open all the time, so make sure to check the calendar for tourist days!

There have been more than a few occasions where even those in the industry have shown up to the Nordschleife, hoping to get some laps in, only to discover that that it was, of course, closed.

The thing is, the Ring is expensive to maintain, it’s a beautiful magical place, but it is damn expensive to sustain that much track. Also, considering where the Ring is located, the weather can play a big factor on opening times, so make sure to check the forecast. If its foggy or snowing (possible in late May!) it will probably be closed.

Effectively, the Ring is open for the following reasons: tourist days, Industry Pool days, private track days and races.

Tourist days

Tourist days, or Touristenfahrten, are open days for everyone with a driver’s license and a car or bike which meets the minimum road legal standards for Germany. These are the big days for the Ring and are often its busiest time as the track is officially open to the public; this doesn’t mean it’s free to use though. You will need to buy a lap ticket, either online or at the ticket stand, before you will be allowed on. Luckily these tickets come in a range of different variations, allowing you to buy a single lap all the way up to a season ticket.

Private track days

Private track days are often touted as ‘the best way to experience the Ring’. These are when private organisations, such as Destination Nürburgring, rent out the Ring for a number of days. If you want to drive it during this time, you will need to register with the organisation in question.

Often these days involves smaller numbers of visitors, will give the organisers a chance to deliver a safety briefing before the start of the day, and, due to a higher price tag, will normally involve more experienced drivers.

For more information regarding track days, check out the Nürburgring Calendar.

Industry Pool days

I mentioned earlier that the Ring is the standard for car manufacturers and was, in fact, created to give the German automotive industry a suitable place to put new cars through their paces. This is still the case, nearly 100 years on. However, testing cars and pushing them to their very limits while fighting off tourists is one step too far. That’s why there are Industry Pool days.

This is effectively private track time for car manufacturers; they have access to the track and can test their cars to their hearts content. This is a large source of income for the Nürburgring, and it gives a certain credibility to the cars that are being tested, so really a win-win for everyone.

While you can’t drive during Industry Pool days, you can watch the cars blasting around, and in some ways, that’s even better!


The Nurburgring may not be used for Grand Prix races anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s never used for racing. There are a number of prestigious races that occur every year, not least the ‘Nurburgring 24’. Styled on the famous Le-Mans 24 hour, this is the pinnacle of endurance and skill and helped cement the Ring’s legacy as the ultimate racetrack. For more information about this legendary race, click here.

Of course, the Ring isn’t just for car racing, there are also some less petrol-based races that occur as well, including a 24-hour bicycle race, and even a foot race!

On a side note, the Scottish Music parade will be playing at the Nürburgring on November 9th, so it’s nice to see Scotland making its own unique mark on the Nürburgring.

Staying safe

How dangerous is the Nürburgring really?

It might be easy to dismiss the infamous reputation of death and injury surrounding the Nürburgring as simple hyperbole; exaggerations to help bolster the track’s reputation as the hardest driving experience. This could not be further from the case.

Well then, you might say those accidents must have only involved inexperienced peons, nothing like me, a sensible, good driver. Again, this is the wrong way to approach the track. Having spoken to Nürburgring experts, it’s the drivers who rate themselves as ‘good’ and are overconfident who are most likely to crash.

Keep in mind, world class drivers crash on the Ring. People who are so far past just ‘good’ that they may as well be part car themselves. Three time Le Mans 24-hour winner Allan McNish, racing royalty, described his experience with the Ring as ‘a raw track that has a real bite to it…you don’t dictate to the Nürburgring, it dictates to you.’

Good isn’t going to impress anyone here.

The fact of the matter is: the Nürburgring is dangerous. Very, very dangerous and with little margin for error. And if there is nothing else you take away from reading this article, please remember that one fact. It is a long, difficult course, with blind corners, insane variations in altitude, some very patchy tarmac and often filled with people who do not always know what they are doing.

Even if you are the best driver in the world, this track can be a struggle – Nikki Lauda, quite literally the best driver of his generation, crashed and nearly died on it.

But enough scaremongering, it’s a dangerous course, so what are the best ways to stay safe on it?

Take it slow

It’s damn tempting, when you first make it on to the Ring, to try and gun it round, find your personal best (sub 8 minutes?) and tame the beast that is the Nürburgring.

Don’t do that.

Even veteran ring goers take a few laps to warm up before attempting anything strenuous, and some of them can trace every corner in their sleep. If it’s your first time on the Ring, be prepared to take some time to get to learn the track. I promise, just driving a lap is plenty exciting already, there’s no need to add extra drama… and probably extra expense.

You can even book yourself a few laps with the one of the local businesses offering an official Ring Taxi service before attempting anything yourself. This offers a thrilling experience while also showing you the ropes and what to expect when you go out yourself (though do keep in mind that these are popular, so book early to avoid disappointment.)

Whatever you do, just be sensible – no one wants to end up like these poor guys.


Not the flashiest part to this list, but arguably the most important. If you fancy a visit to the Ring, it is always best to be prepared for anything, especially when it comes to your insurance. There is often some confusion around this, stemming from the fact that the Ring is, officially, a public toll road. That means that if you are insured to drive, you should be fine on the Ring, right?

Well, not quite. While it is indeed a public road and German road rules and regulations apply, meaning that as long as your car is road legal it’s fine to go, most insurance policies will explicitly include provisions excluding the Ring.

The general situation for insurance companies from a UK perspective is (at the time of writing): they will pay out for the damages, but they will then seek reimbursement from you via the courts. Do keep in mind that this will also include the cost to repair the track itself and getting the remains of your car back home, making this a potentially very expensive holiday.

Therefore, if you drive your car during a tourist session, you will be driving at your own risk.

Listen to the experts

There is a host of resources available to help newcomers visiting the Ring. The Nürburgring YouTube channel has a fantastic series breaking down each of the 154 corners and how best to tackle them. There is the wonderful website, hosted by Nürburgring expert Dale Lomas, which offers a cornucopia of tips, news, and updates for everything Ring related.

And if you want some more comprehensive information about the Ring, tips on what to do, and live updates about Ring conditions, you can’t go wrong with; hands down one of the most useful websites you can browse.

Finally, once you make it to the Ring, you can actually hire a race instructor to accompany you during your laps. These experts will be beside you as you drive, letting you know what is coming up and explaining the best ways to tackle each and every corner.

The information is out there, so make sure to arm yourself with as much Ring knowledge as possible.

Remain vigilant

Another excellent piece of advice from veteran Ring goers is to remember that you always need to respect the Nürburgring, no matter how many laps you’ve done. Most people are pretty cautious during their first couple of laps, which is why it’s usually not total beginners who end up in the armco.

It turns out that those at most risk are those who have a couple of laps under their belts and think they know it all. Just remember, no matter how experienced you are, crashing is a real possibility. Take for example Roland Asch: Roland is a legendary Nürburgring 24-hour driver for Porsche with years and years of experience. In 2004 (when he was nearly 54 years old), he made one mistake and was thrown off the track.

Thankfully, he wasn’t hurt, but it goes to show you can never let your guard down.

Make sure your car is up to code

The Nürburgring is a taxing course by anyone’s standards. It was quite literally designed to be so. It has dips and hills, tight corners and long straights. It is wildly uneven at points and for some of the chicanes, you will feel like you are at a 90° angle.

What I’m saying is, even one or two laps will put a car through its paces. With that in mind, please make sure your car is in top form!

Disregarding the fact that, legally speaking, your car must at least be MOT worthy, it really is only common sense to double check and prevent anything from going wrong at the wrong time. Check your brakes, are they still in good condition? Are your tyres going to last your entire trip or are they going to give out halfway through a corner? Is there any chance you might leak oil or coolant, which could literally kill someone?

Before tackling the Ring, give yourself some peace of mind; make sure your equipment is as good as it can get and have it checked by experts.

While on that subject, Arnold Clark has garages all across the UK, ideal if you want to have a quick check up before making the pilgrimage to Germany.

The motorbike dilemma

Everything said here has been aimed at car drivers, but the fact of the matter is that statistically, car drivers are reasonably safe on the Ring, at least in comparison to motorbikes.

This should surprise exactly no-one.

The odds of being hurt, either from getting a corner wrong or by other drivers on the track, are exponentially higher for motorbikes, and the fact the Ring is so popular with bikers only compounds the problem. So, if you’re a biker, please take extra care, and if you’re a car driver, please keep your two wheeled brethren in mind and give them space.

Wear a helmet

Just do it, seriously. These things are a must.

So, there are a few helpful tips to help keep you and others safe on the Nürburgring. There is of course more, the history of the Nürburgring itself is steeped in mystery and rumours, and each of the 154 corners has its own story behind it.

But we can save those for next time!

Images courtesy of Nürburgring Media.

About the Author

John McCallum