Even today, the Nürburgring’s public Touristenfahrten sessions feel like a particularly welcoming space for me to be the biggest car nerd in the world without too much of the patronizing you-must-be-the-girlfriend attitude I get all too often. I have no doubt that the Nürburgring’s most famous local being a woman helped with that. The more women are out there in the car world, the less shocking it is for everybody else to see us in that space.
In writing this story, I wondered if I would be here—doing the job I am doing now—if groundbreaking women like Sabine Schmitz hadn’t come before me. I’m not so sure. I was enough of a fan of the Clarkson, Hammond and May era of Top Gear that I ended up being a regular on a forum for the show. There, I met another friend with a take-no-BS attitude very much like Sabine’s who was also involved in grassroots motorsports and track days. That led to me being a constant presence at my local track, which led to my first writing job at Jalopnik. I am by no means the only non-“car guy” out there with a similar story.
Schmitz’s impact clearly goes beyond the slow driver writing this blog. Tributes have been pouring in from around the world. Racing driver Sophia Floersch said that it was “inspiration and motivating” to see Schmitz race. Ford CEO Jim Farley called her an “ICON.”
“She was a bundle of energy, one of those people whose resting facial expression was a huge grin, and she was so much fun to be around and to work alongside,” wrote Schmitz’s fellow Top Gear host Chris Harris.
Another former Ring Taxi driver and longtime head of the ‘Ring-focused Bridge to Gantry blog, Dale Lomas, even started up a petition to name a corner of the Nordschleife after Schmitz. That would be extremely fitting.
Schmitz’s appearances on Top Gear and beyond no doubt helped catapult the Nürburgring to international infamy as a bucket-list item for car nuts around the world. She was a constant advocate for racers and automotive enthusiasts at the ‘Ring, rather vocally as part of the Save the Ring campaign when pricey additions put the track into dire financial straits. Schmitz had been driving the track ever since she’d taken the family BMW around for an underage lap, and cared for it and the people who went there like no other.
I’ve caught myself describing Schmitz as the first and only woman with an overall win of the 24 Hours Nürburgring so far several times today, and that “so far” all boils down to her legacy. Thanks to the glass ceilings Sabine shattered at triple-digit speeds, I don’t think it will be too long until there’s a second woman on that list—and a third, and a fourth, and a fifth, and many more after that.
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