NASCAR Cup Series
By Jerry Bonkowski
Published: 23 Feb, 2021
10 Minute Read
When longtime NASCAR fan favorite Marcos Ambrose decided to end his nearly 25-year racing career, he sought to get as far away from race cars and race tracks as he could.
Boy, did he ever.
Having left NASCAR after the 2014 season, Ambrose moved his family literally halfway around the world, roughly 10,000 miles away from the Charlotte area and back to his native Tasmania.
To put that into a bit clearer context, Tasmania is an island state, 150 miles south of parent country Australia, and the last major land mass southward before reaching Antarctica — home of the South Pole.
Roughly the size of West Virginia, much of Tasmania is pristine wilderness, with a population of less than 550,000. And it’s back in his native land that Ambrose has once again found peace, happiness and not surprisingly, has rediscovered his love of racing. Only now it’s primarily as a teacher/coach and crew chief for daughters and aspiring go-kart racers Tabitha and Adelaide.
“My racing career was coming to the point where I needed to come back to Australia for personal reasons,” Ambrose said in an interview with NASCAR.com. “I got out of racing, it was just time for me to stop, really. Raising a family was really important to me and being a good dad and a good husband.
“So we’ve done that. And my girls now are 13 (Adelaide) and 15 (Tabitha), so they’re well on their way and I’ve really enjoyed my time with them.”
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While Adelaide is in the early stages of her racing career, older sister Tabitha has shown great promise and, like her father, already possesses great skill behind the wheel.
So much so that the proud father envisions his oldest daughter moving up to Australian “circuit and some speedway racing in the next year or two.” While he’s not ruling out Tabitha eventually following in his NASCAR footsteps, he’s also not rushing her development, either.
“Racing’s just so great for kids,” Ambrose said. “It teaches them a lot of stuff about life, how to be a good loser, victories, working hard, putting in effort, and taking a bit of risk as well.
“Racing has just been great to me in my life and now Tabitha has really taken to it. We support her and what she’s doing, but she’s going to have to make it on her own. And if she wants to go down a path of racing cars, she’s going to have to find a way. We’re certainly happy for her to be going down that road and we support where we can.”
Tabitha’s exploits have reignited Ambrose’s own love of racing. While he no longer climbs behind the wheel, Ambrose recently became crew chief in the Australian TA2 (Trans-Am) Series for friend and driver/team owner Owen Kelly, who has driven several late model and NASCAR Cup and Xfinity races in the United States for, among others, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Even though he lived halfway around the globe, Ambrose had long aspired to one day compete in NASCAR, and set out to climb a racing ladder that eventually saw him achieve that goal.
After starting out in his native land, he moved to Europe and raced in the Formula Ford Series in the mid-to-late 1990s, competing against soon-to-be Formula One stars Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button and the late Dan Wheldon, as well as someone he would eventually renew an on-track rivalry with in NASCAR, Danica Patrick.
Ambrose learned his lessons well in Europe; he returned to Australia and won back-to-back Supercar championships in 2003 and 2004.
After one more season in that series, he moved to the United States and began competing in 2006 when JTG-Daugherty Racing owners Tad and Jodi Geschickter gave Ambrose the opportunity he had coveted for so long.
“Without Tad and Jodi, I would never have made it to NASCAR,” he said.
While he won two races in NASCAR’s premier Cup Series, both at Watkins Glen International (2011 and 2012), those victories are not No. 1 on Ambrose’s his list of career achievements.
“Winning races, yeah, that’s great but it’s a fleeting moment,” Ambrose said. “But to make it to a full-time (NASCAR) Cup driver, for me was the highlight of my career because it is so competitive and the quality of drivers and the teams. Coming from overseas into that American-dominated sport, it was just a big thing. I’m really proud of my time.”
In addition to being forever grateful to the Geschickters for taking a chance on him, Ambrose has great love and appreciation for NASCAR legend Richard Petty, for whom he drove in the final four seasons of his Cup career (2011-2014).
“Richard is just one of the nicest people that I’ve ever met and I got to know,” Ambrose said. “He’s so full of wisdom, was such an incredible race car driver, a storied family in racing, such a humble guy and nice person, nice family. (Richard’s former crew chief, Dale) Inman’s the same. Robbie Loomis was there when I first came in, Sammy Johns, just so many wonderful people inside that organization. It’s just incredible to think that I drove for him and I respect him so much and the family so much.
“I’ve got so much respect for racing families that have been doing NASCAR for three and four generations now and what they’ve gone through and what they’ve done. They’re part of the fabric of NASCAR and that’s what makes the sport so great, those kind of people. I was privileged to have known Richard and to race for him.”
After leaving NASCAR and a brief 10-race return to Australian Supercars at the end of 2014 and into 2015, Ambrose turned away from racing because he had gone through burnout — and not the kind of burnout that he experienced after all the races he won in his career.
“When I left America, I just cut the cord,” he said. “That was just a way for me to actually just handle leaving NASCAR and leaving North America. We just had to start a new chapter in our lives.”
That included withdrawing completely from social media.
“I really stood away from (racing) big time,” he said. “We just turned the tap off. To be honest, my life’s always been about racing. I’ve been racing since I was 15. It was a huge push to go to Europe, and then make a career back in Australia, and then start again and go to America.
“And then (nearly) 10 years of NASCAR on your own, I didn’t have the infrastructure around me, the family around me, and I think I just burned out. I think that was part of my issue. When I came back to Australia, I thought I could still drive for Roger (Penske in Supercars) and do the racing thing. And really, I just couldn’t. My brain was just saying, ‘No, you have to stop and just reset.’ And I think that’s what I’ve done over the last six years. That was part of the closing of my social media accounts and everything, just sort of giving your brain a rest and just changing up what you were doing.
“I just felt like I took on so much burden that I just needed to stop and break that. We’re six years out from that and now I feel much better. I feel like I’m back to my old self.”
Ambrose is still young enough to wheel a race car. When asked if he’d consider it, he flashes the same kind of big smile that made him such a fan favorite in NASCAR, and quips, “You know, it’s probably time for that six- or seven-year itch, isn’t it?
“I do miss racing. … Tabitha and Adelaide getting into racing has reinvigorated me in the sport. And so we’ll just see where it goes from here.
“We’re actually now in the process of reopening my social (media) pages. We’re doing it really to help Tabitha and to re-engage in the community. I’m doing the crew chief thing now and I’m back at the race track contributing where I can and I’m really enjoying that. I feel like I’ve got a lot of experience in racing and the cars that I’ve been setting up have been going quite well so I’ve enjoyed that as well. So we’re sort of just re-engaging now into motorsport.
“I’m sure I could jump back in and do some training and do some testing and be back to somewhat of my former glory, but I haven’t tried, and it just hasn’t been on my radar.”
Ambrose has not returned to the United States since he left nearly seven years ago. But fond memories are still fresh in his mind.
“I do miss the NASCAR community and the friendships that I built in there and in America,” he said. “I certainly have a lot of friends in the garage that I’d love to see again. I’d love to re-engage. So yes, I certainly miss it, a great part of my life. Nearly 10 years of my life was on the NASCAR circuit. And yeah, it’s fond memories.
“We’d love to come back. … Once COVID gets under control and everything, hopefully we can come back, especially with Tabitha now showing some interest in racing. I think North America would be a great place for her to go.”
Since leaving NASCAR, Ambrose has become a successful businessman. He owns several commercial properties in Tasmania, with his pride and joy being Thousand Lakes Lodge, a resort he built in the remote outback for folks who like to rough it during the day but enjoy returning for luxury and pampering at night.
“I’ve really enjoyed doing that,” Ambrose said. “It’s an old Antarctic Training Center up in the mountains. It really is a wild place with wombats and Tasmanian devils, voles and things like that and lots of bushwalking. So that’s been good.
“(Building the lodge) was part of that sea change. It was part of just resetting the clock. I spent so long in the concrete jungle of NASCAR and it’s a fast-paced life. You’re in a jet to get to the track, you’re in a car driving down the motorway to get to the track. You’re at the track, you’re racing your race car, you’re sleeping in a motor home, there’s just generated noise and concrete and so I think I just needed to just get back to basics.
“So I thought it was a good idea at the time to go and build this wilderness lodge and I’ve really enjoyed doing it. It was actually really good for my soul to sort of just get back to nature a little bit and to do something very different.
“There’s quite a few, myself and Carl Edwards are a couple of examples. You just get to a stage where you’ve just got to make a decision and you’re either in or you’re out, you can’t be half in or half out. Sometimes you just got to make the cut. And for me, I had a young family and I wanted to raise them. My body and my brain was saying, ‘Hey, you just need to stop what you’re doing here.’ And so that’s kind of where it was.”
One of the happiest memories of Ambrose’s career in NASCAR was how American fans embraced him, something that continues to this day. When asked if he was humbled by how fans responded to him, how they still send him letters and emails and how they still are curious what he’s doing these days, a broad smile once again stretched across Ambrose’s face.
“Yes, yes and yes,” he chuckled. “To race at the top level is tough. But then to not create enemies and for people to enjoy what you do, for me, that’s even better. Americans, they generally love Australians and the Australian way of life. So I was fortunate to be Australian and racing in NASCAR, embraced that, and people embraced that for me. All I tried to do when I went to the race track was just try my best and to have a red hot go of it.
“I appreciate that people still think of me in those circles. It sort of does reinvigorate me to say, ‘Hey, what are you doing down in Tasmania, you should be doing something more.’ So maybe I’ll get back engaged a bit more quickly and I’ll see you guys soon.”
To hear the full interview with Marcos Ambrose, check out The Racing Beat on the BLEAV Podcast Network (BLEAV.com) and your favorite podcast platforms such as iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and more.
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The Marcos Ambrose file:
* Age: 45
* Hometown: Launceston, Tasmania
* NASCAR Cup Series career (2007-2014): 227 starts, 2 wins (both at Watkins Glen in 2011 and 2012), 18 top-five and 46 top-10 finishes
* Highest single-season Cup finish: 18th in 2009 and 2012
* NASCAR Xfinity career: 77 starts, 5 wins, 9 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes
* NASCAR Truck Series career: 22 starts, 0 wins, 2 top-five and 4 top-10 finishes
* During his NASCAR career, Ambrose drove for Hall of Famers Richard Petty and the Wood Brothers, as well as JTG-Daugherty Racing, Robby Gordon and Michael Waltrip. When he left NASCAR to return to race in the Supercars Series in Australia, he drove 10 races over two seasons (2014-2015) for another legendary team owner, Roger Penske, before officially retiring from all forms of racing.
* Won back-to-back Australian V8 Supercars Series championships in 2003 and 2004.