Beat Schmitz (pronounced Bee-At) is not as wildly popular in racing and media as his well-known older sister, Sabine. Yet, he has a very similar history in the Schmitz family, a surname closely associated with Germany’s iconic Nürburgring. Born into the family that owns the “Hotel am Tiergarten” — a legendary hotel that throughout the modern history of “the Ring,” has had a guest list encompassing many of the greats who have ever turned a wheel in anger on the famed circuit. If his sister Sabine is “the Queen,” then certainly Beat resides amongst the Princes.
I not only know every corner, I know every tree and all the roads around the Nordschleife. — Beat Schmitz, SpeedBeat Racing
Just an hour and ten minutes drive south from the city of Cologne, and not far from the village of Kerpen (childhood home of seven-time Formula One World Champion Michael Schumacher), sits the town of Nürburg and it’s famous track. “The Green Hell” as it is known by so many, is 12 miles and 153 hair-raising corners of one of the most famous race tracks in the world. Many have come to conquer it — and others come just to drive on it, crossing off a high mark on the “bucket list.”
For Beat Schmitz, 29, life at the Ring was just a normal upbringing and a natural part of growing up. He currently runs the hotel, that has been in the family since its founding by his mother Ursula in 1969. All the Schmitz children have had an active role in its operation, including sister Sabine, who earned a degree in hospitality, actively drove the “Ring-Taxi,” and is now a TV presenter with the BBC’s Top Gear television show. Beat spends a substantial portion of the day running the day-to-day operation of the hotel — but the rest, like a fascinated resident of Nürburg, is dedicated to motor racing.
“I grew up in the hotel. All the famous race drivers lived in our hotel, and during the week the test drivers, chefs, and crews would stay with us. It was very easy to be interested in racing. When you are born in Nürburg, it is easy. I am most familiar with BMW as many of their test drivers — driving the new models on the Nordschleife — stayed with us frequently.”
Currently, Beat and his colleague Andre Sommerberg, drive, build, and prepare BMW 328 e93 race cars in his shop, SpeedBeat Racing. SpeedBeat dedicates its efforts towards the VLN series, a nine-race endurance championship that runs at the Nürburgring throughout the year. VLN, properly known as Veranstaltergemeinschaft Langstreckenpokal Nürburgring (Association of Endurance Cup Organizers), is amongst the oldest and most professional racing series in the world. Across nine classes, the four-hour races see upwards of 180 competing cars (including 20-plus work teams) start each race. It attracts huge crowds as the 14-mile combined Grand Prix and Nordschleife circuit is never empty from the spectator perspective.
He has a very strong bond to BMW. “I have only raced BMWs. They are most familiar to me. I know almost everyone who works for BMW — all who have stayed with us — and they are very good friends to me.” Of all the BMW personnel who had an influence on Beat, legendary high-performance engineer Paul Rosche, is high on his list.
Rosche, who passed away in 2016, was known for designing the powerplants for a number of BMW’s high-performance models including the M31, found in the BMW 2002 Turbo; the S14, for the E30 M3; the M12, for the 320i Turbo and the Brabham BT52; the M88 in the M1; and the S70/2 found in the V12 LMR and the McLaren F1. “Paul Rosche formed my BMW heart,” Schmitz fondly remembers of the regular family hotel resident.
“It’s not just about the big professional teams. It’s about the smaller teams like ourselves — it’s a whole different spirit. Andre and I have a perfect team,” Schmitz says of their Team Pascha Motorsport für Menschen. “(Andre) has a body and paint work shop in Kerpen, about an hour-and-a-half drive, and he is here every weekend. I do all the engine stuff, and he does the bodywork and paint work — and we both drive the hell out of the car. We are different from most teams, as most privateer teams build the cars then rent them to the drivers. We build and race the cars — it is great racing spirit!” Speedbeat does prepare a couple of customer cars, but mainly to fund his and Andre’s effort.
Schmitz spends most of his time racing at the ‘Ring, but travels a couple times per year to other races. One such circuit he enjoys is Zandvoort. The Dutch circuit, cut out of the sand dunes along the North Sea, was once one of the most grueling tracks on the Formula One circuit in the 1960s and 1970s. “Once a year, we go to Holland at Zandvoort on the Northern Sea,” Schmitz explains. “We go there for the whole week and there are small sprint races. It’s more like a vacation, as many of us in the racing community go race and have fun on the beach. We also go to Spa Francorchamps occasionally for endurance racing.”
When asked about his best time around the ‘Ring, Beat chuckles, “I have no idea. There have been so many different cars I have driven, and so many different layouts of the Nürburgring, that you can’t really say what your fastest lap time is.” On the big circuit though, he mentions an 8:20. Beat has a much more intimate relationship to the circuit than most of us who merely run it on simulators and video games. He reports the first time he drove around the circuit was when he was 12, but his understanding and memory of every corner of the circuit began when he was only 8 years old.
“I not only know every corner, I know every tree and all the roads around the Nordschleife,” says the German. “When I was 8 years old, I bought an ATV from my pocket money — a Suzuki Sport Quad — and from then on, I was driving around the Nordschleife to get an idea of the track. I got to drive the track when I was 12 — of course not in a race — but then built my first race car when I was 16 years old.” He began racing at age 18. “You can race Formula Junior, and some endurance cars at 16, but to race on the Nordschleife, you must be 18.”
“When the races are not happening, and there is no industry tests going on, the track is open to the public.” Beat notes that as we speak, both Mercedes and BMW are using the track for testing and queries whether I can hear them in the background during our call. “Later in the day they open the Nordschleife for the public until it gets dark, then they close it totally. We have people from all over the world here,” in speaking of the regular public traffic that ventures out to cross off a bucket list item.
While many from the continent will bring out their own cars, there are rental opportunities too. “About 10-15 years ago, a guy from Holland began renting old Alfa 75 Twin Sparks, like 40 of them, very old cars. It became quite popular, and now we have like 15 very big rental companies.”
During our conversation, we spoke of the VLN race the weekend before. He and Andre managed 5th in a class of 20 cars. “It was very impressive, as we had totaled the car two weeks ago,” declared Schmitz. “In a practice session, Andre was hit by another car, which had a brake failure, at a 90-degree angle at 80 mph. The front-right wheel was gone. The rear axle was five inches to the left and the whole body was bent. We worked day and night, all of us, to come prepared. (The car) was ready four hours before the race start(ed). Somehow it worked out.”
Being Beat can be difficult. As an American journalist, I had to break the silence and ask him about his well-known sister, Sabine. “Have you ever had the opportunity to race with her?” I ask gingerly. Beat patiently reports that he has only raced with “the Queen” once. “ It was last year. She is usually driving top cars, so it was very difficult for her to drive slow cars like we drive (laughs). I drove the start, my racing partner Andre drove the middle part, and (Sabine) drove the last stint.
If you make your way to the Nürburgring in the future, make sure to stop into the Hotel am Tiergarten. You will most likely find this racer tending to your stay, and if you are lucky, may meet some very interesting characters in motorsport and get a tour of nearby SpeedBeat Racing. Beat Schmitz is one hospitable German who moves pretty fast.