Marcos Ambrose turns his hobby into a business
April 15, 2014, Jon Gunn, NASCAR Illustrated for, NASCAR.com
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Editor's note: Photo by Jim Fluharty
Marcos Ambrose is a Sprint Cup Series competitor, but he, like many racers, got his start behind the wheel of a go-kart.
Now, the 37-year-old driver of the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford has returned to his roots.
Ambrose doesn’t actively race karts like fellow Cup drivers AJ Allmendinger and Jamie McMurray, but the Australian has started to manufacture and market his own line of kart engines via Marcos Ambrose Motorsport.
"The first thing is, I’m a race fan," Ambrose said. "I love racing — whether it’s racing lawnmowers, NASCAR or Formula 1. I love the history of racing; I love the background of racing from the grassroots up.
"This really started out as a hobby for me, just tinkering around on engines. It certainly isn’t a mega-business here. We’re just trying to have a bit of fun with engines. It’s gradually come into an evolution where we really started to focus on one engine and trying to give grassroots racers a better package."
Ambrose isn’t the only member of his family to venture into the business side of the sport. In the 1970s, his father, Ross, co-founded the Van Diemen chassis company in England. By the time the company was sold in 1999, the marque had earned an impressive number of victories and championships worldwide with its potent line of Formula Ford chassis.
"[My father] was on the business end and as a race car driver, I’ve been really focused on not tinkering [with race cars]," Ambrose said. "With the help of DeWalt, Mac Tools and Stanley, it was just a great time for me to start going down that path.
"I do gold mining and I work on these little motors. That’s really what I’ve been doing the last couple years — apart from racing full-time."
Working from his modest Charlotte-area shop, Ambrose is readying to release his 150 cc and 200 cc engines to the public, but he admits that he isn’t finished with research and development.
"It’s not proven yet, so we are still in the prototype stages," he said. "We’d like to think that one day, we can get this to market. Right now, it’s a hobby of mine, it’s convenient for me to work on the engines and it puts my tools to good use."
Ambrose named his engine line Thumper X after the distinct sound 4-stroke engines produce. The engines are suitable for use in several classes and features include an electronic starter and 4-speed gearbox.
"This is actually a motorcycle engine that is a pretty simple unit and very, very cheap," Ambrose said of the powerplants that range in price from $1,000-$2,000. "We’ve modified it to suit dirt track oval competition and recreational go-karts. It’s a great little engine, about 24 horsepower.
"What we are trying to do is create a really cheap, reliable engine with superior performance over what’s out there and is a lot of fun."
Fun is exactly what Ambrose has when he tests his engines. Although dirt racing has never been his primary discipline, Ambrose is right at home tossing his Thumper X-powered kart through the banked corners.
"This is one of those projects where you’re waiting for it to stop because you can’t move it forward, and we’ve never stopped moving forward with this engine," he said. "It’s been the little engine that can. It keeps going and going and we keep working on it and keep making it faster and more reliable.
"It’s been a great journey for me and hopefully we can hit a track or two in 2014 and let some racers sample the engine to see if it’s got any legs."