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High Speed on German Roads

In retrospect, that advice didn't constitute sufficient education to prepare me for the Nürburgring, 134 miles to the north. Looping through 13 miles of forested hills and valleys of the Rhineland, the track has earned a reputation as one of the most dangerous in the world. It was here that Onofre Marimon crashed his Maserati and died in 1954. Apparently the phrase "personal liability lawsuit" doesn't have a direct translation into German, because during the off-peak hours, the Nürburgring is open to any licensed driver with a roadworthy car and $19 to spare. You buy a ticket and insert it into an entry gate; the arm swings open, and you go. Fatal crashes are a weekly occurrence.

I found the entrance to the track near a small restaurant where drivers gather to steel themselves beforehand and decompress afterward. On a sunny summer afternoon the place was chockablock with all sorts of vehicles, from beat-up Subaru station wagons to gleaming Ferraris and racing bikes, a democracy of daredevilry. The mood was not exactly playful—more a blend of excitement and aggression, with a top note of dread. Some of us, it seemed, had come to play; others, to stare into the void.

My heart was pounding. I climbed into the car and rolled up to the entry gate. Black asphalt stretched ahead of me. My life was in my hands. I put my card into the slot and the gate went up.

I hit the gas. With a whiplash lurch, the Z4 screeched away from the line. I eased off the gas at the first turn, then added throttle on the straightaway. It felt good: I was completely in focus, intent on car and road. Ahead of me a VW Golf labored up a hill. I could take him, if I could find room on the outside. The tachometer surged as I sensed the weight of my body sinking into the seat as if I were merging with its material essence. One hundred miles per hour. The engine screamed. The greenery blurred. Man and machine. Fahrvergnügen.

When it was all over, I was so wrung out, so woozy in the afterglow of the experience, that when I turned into the parking lot I failed to notice a steel stanchion. Whang! Man and machine, oh yes. I parked and surveyed the two-foot-long scrape on the car's front bumper.

Martin would have to forgive me.

JEFF WISE is a T+L contributing editor.

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