By now you might have heard that there was a horrific accident at the Nürburgring Nordschleife. That a man was run over while running along the track. Well, let me put that somewhat ludicrous statement into perspective.
You’re going to need some patience, and I don’t apologise for that. Because this story starts back before facebook, before forums, back when us fledgling internet-enabled Nürburgring fans would arrange our trips and meet-ups with Yahoo Mail lists. Basically, they were very big ‘reply-all’ emails.
Brendan Keirle was on that list, the proprietor of the the new Sliders Guesthouse was my kind of person. He loved cars, he loved beer but he really loved bikes. Fast, lean-it-all-the-way-until-it-sparked kinda bikes. He was the fastest bloke I knew around the ‘Ring touristenfahrten session, doing 7m45s BTG back when a water-cooled Porsche was a novelty.
One day, roughly 15-years ago, I finally book a room with him and come over to the ‘Ring for a typical weekend of grinding kneesliders and drinking Oettinger weisbier. A few days later, he’s driving me up to the Rotterdam ferry with the predictably smashed up Kawasaki press-bike in the back of his Transit. Why? Because I needed help, and Bren helped people. He had a yellow vest, and an official piece of paper to show he was a trained-up Nürburgring marshall, getting a discounted season-ticket in return for helping the small team in the Nordschleife office to keep our beloved track safe.
Bren was no mug. This is important. We’ve both crashed there, but only he’d been airlifted off the track from hitting oil on his legendary Yamaha R1.
I’d done some racing, plenty of trackdays, but just hanging around with Bren was making me faster. More visits. The B258 from Dollendorf to Nürburg was like our own IOM TT course. Trackdays at Hockenheim were like WSB, and racing BMW Z8s on the autobahn was a blast. But those mid-week evening TF sessions, oh shit. They were crazy.
Back then life was bikes-only. (True story: I only got a car license so I could drive a van to the Nürburgring containing more bikes). Bren was proper fast, and the ‘Ring was very quiet.
Now I’m handing him the keys to four new superbikes every couple of weeks, and pushing a datalogger into his bumbag (fannypack). Bren was “The Baron”, a motorcycle Stig, and we were datalogging and laptiming bikes around the Nürburgring Nordschleife for the magazine I wrote for. Most of them were fast, some of them were fun and one even had Guy Martin in it.
It was a fun era, but Top Gear had changed the Nürburgring. And the Nürburgring had changed us. We lost friends on track and off it. We both did more cars, and plenty of bikes. One big accident pushed me out of the bikes almost completely, and the next season I focussed 100% on getting a job here and trying to drive a car fast. As I went my new direction, helping to re-invent 75 Experience as RSR Nürburg, Bren and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on stuff. Normal.
This actual website, BridgeToGantry.com was registered from his breakfast room one bleary-eyed morning after a massive New Year’s celebration at Slider’s. I took the simple html spreadsheet of bridge to gantry laptimes publically online using Joomla, and embedded the all-important Google-Videos (no YouTube back then).
In the early days it was mostly fast laps, but thanks to Bren’s experience as a Nürburgring marshal, it still had plenty of safety tips. But the internet evolved, and as manufacturers published more videos and laptimes on the internet, BTG found it’s place as the de facto source of Nürburgring gossip, crashes and videos.
Fast forward to today. Bren had just sold his beloved Sliders Guesthouse, and was set to leave tomorrow morning. Off to Spain. Him and me still not speaking, I didn’t even say goodbye at his leaving do last night. I had the excuse that he hadn’t told me, but secretly I of course knew it was on. Such is small town politics. It was a fair distance from my house though, all of 50mtrs. He joked with several mutual friends that he’d never see them again, because we were all such Nürburgring diehards, and he was going to retire in the Spanish sunshine.
But the Nürburgring had other plans for Bren.
This afternoon he’s in a car that’s burning oil, maybe even dropping it. Reports are fairly consistent, the affected car pulled over the other side from Mutkurve(Angstkurve) at the top of Klostertal. This is a fast, blind left-hander with more than its fair share of fatalities.
Bren knew this. And he knew bikes were behind, maybe going fast. Maybe even riding as fast as he did.
So on Monday morning when you read a regurgitated story from some internet hack about a crazy guy running down the track and being hit by a car, think of the Bren I just described above.
Nürburgring fan, fastest guy around it for many years, but most of all, a biker trying to help other bikers enjoy the old Nordschleife as much as he did. Even if that meant risking his own life to save others.
I don’t want to weaponise the death of a once-good-friend, but the lack of yellow lights on Kesselchen was surely a factor in his fateful decision to run on the track (and not next to it) and try to slow the traffic himself. How many more people will die there before the management installs some warning lights?
Addendum: I wrote the above piece last night after a couple of beers and a few tears, and I don’t think there’s enough emphasis on the FIRST RULE of marshalling. It’s simple: you can’t help people if you’re a casualty. I know that, because Bren and me spoke about it often enough. Why he didn’t jump over the guardrail and proceed in the gap between the FIA fence and the barrier, I can only speculate. And speculation is not helpful right now. If you take only ONE THING from this story, let it be that you NEVER set foot on a live racetrack without slowing the traffic first.