Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Salute to My Favorite Driver, Marcos Ambrose

The Ford EcoBoost 400 marked the final race of the 2014 season, the final race (for the near future) on ESPN, and the final race for Marcos Ambrose.  Marcos has returned to his native Australia next year to run V-8 Supercars for Roger Penske.

I've followed Nascar off-and-on (more "on" than "off") since 1993, and in that time I've had three favorite drivers: Kyle Petty, Ryan Newman, and Marcos Ambrose.  Kyle was an easy, if misguided choice--he won the first race I ever saw in person…which turned out to be the LAST race he ever won.  Ryan Newman was more along the lines of "Huh--this guy looks like he's gonna win some races".
Marcos, however, was (at least to me) a more personal choice.  I met him when he was starting out in the Truck Series, running the old yellow-and-green Team Australia truck part-time.  He was incredibly nice, very professional, and gracious.  But what was more, he was an OUTSIDER.
Despite what old-school fans might make you believe, there are few true "Outsiders" in Nascar.  Just think about it--when Jeff Gordon entered the sport, he was treated more-or-less like a hostile invading nation, just because he was from California by way of Indiana.  Marcos was a true outsider--he wasn't from the USA (much less the South) and came up a completely different way than anyone else in the sport.  As someone who doesn't fit the mold of the typical Nascar fan, it was easy to see why he'd become my favorite driver.
When Marcos went full-time to RPM--a team, if you'll remember, that was essentially left for dead the year before--I picked him up as my official favorite driver.  Not to go all "failed journalist" on you, but obviously I wasn't as intense about my fandom as I could've been, or this website would be nothing more than a fanboy's rants.  But it was great seeing such a unique outsider, working together with a group of investors lead by my first favorite driver's father, rebuilding a team from near-bankruptcy to a race-winning outfit.
Marcos accomplished a lot in his (comparatively) short Nascar stay.  He won a pair of races at Watkins Glen and was a dark-horse threat for the top-10 in points each year.  Obviously, there's a lot he didn't accomplish--other than a brief surge with Todd Parrott as his crew chief, he never was a real threat to win on an oval, and unfortunately the two most-memorable moments of his to casual fans were likely punching Casey Mears and stalling out at Sears Point.
Even with an uneven four years in Cup with RPM, however, I can honestly say that I'm happy that I picked such a professional, hard-charging driver as my "favorite".  And while I'll have a new favorite next year, just like before, it'll never be the same.

Good luck Marcos.