Story transcripts

The Tassie Devil

Friday, June 12, 2009

Reporter: Peter Overton
Producer: Nick Greenaway

It started out in the boondocks of the Deep South. Wild hillbilly car chases, as the moonshiners tried to outrun the cops.

Now it's almost respectable, America's most popular sport. Nascar racing is very fast, very loud and very, very lucrative.

And then there are the pile-ups that turn the tracks into war zones. It's so tough, so competitive, that no Australian ever managed to crack the Nascar circuit.

Then along came the Tassie Devil. Young Marcos Ambrose the touring car champ, who shocked his Aussie fans by packing up and moving to the States, where he's beating the Yanks at their own game.

Story contacts:

  • For more information on Marcos Ambrose, contact:
    Marcos Ambrose Management
    Chris Jordan
    BAM Media
    Melbourne, Victoria
    P) +61 3 9001 1358
    F) +61 3 9001 1359
    admin@bammedia.com.au

    Full transcript:

    STORY -

    PETER OVERTON: It's a bone-shaking, ear-splitting, adrenaline-charged contest of man and machine. American NASCAR racing - the fastest, richest, most popular sport on four wheels. Think Australian V8 Supercars on steroids. And out of this crucible has emerged a Tasmanian devil - Marcos Ambrose. So all's fair in NASCAR?

    MARCOS AMBROSE: All's fair in love and war and it's rubbers racing, you know. You get fender damage where we run into each other and you can bump 'em and, you know, it's really... It is just war out there.

    COMMENTATOR: Slamming into each other as you can see here. Marcos Ambrose just trying to be aggressive.

    PETER OVERTON: At 32, this lad from Launceston has muscled his way into the toughest motor sport competition in the world.

    COMMENTATOR: Marcos Ambrose, all the way from Tasmania, a little island just below Australia.

    PETER OVERTON: Last year becoming the first Australian to ever win a NASCAR race.

    COMMENTATOR: Marcos Ambrose goes to victory lane for the first time in his career, at Watkins Glen.

    MARCOS AMBROSE: You've got to be really committed to it and just like a dog with a bone, just keep going at it until you break it.

    PETER OVERTON: Here, they celebrate victories in smoke and style. Many NASCAR drivers never get to experience the winner's podium, so Marcos Ambrose was emphatically announcing the arrival of the driver from down-under.

    MARCOS AMBROSE: I feel like I'm cemented in this sport as well as any other driver is right now, so I feel like I've made it. I'm here, I'm in the middle of it, in the thick of it, and I've worked really hard to try and get the respect of my fellow competitors because they had to learn me from scratch.

    MAN: Marcus is in the top 35 right now and he has overcome everything, I'm congratulating him.

    PETER OVERTON: What do you think of him?

    MAN: He's the nicest person we know from Australia.

    MARCOS AMBROSE: I'm the only one from Australia.

    MAN: He's humble, and that's what us Americans like. He's a good guy.

    PETER OVERTON: Does he drive well?

    MAN: He's one of the best.

    PETER OVERTON: Today, we're at the Miami Homestead Speedway, where these NASCAR road warriors are all-American heroes. But after 100 starts, Marcos is right at home here. Do you remember what it was like, your first NASCAR race?

    MARCOS AMBROSE: Ah, yeah, I do. It's, ah, it is pretty intense. My first big speedway race like this track here, I had guys on each side of the car, in front and the back, and they were all touching me at like 300km/h, and I'm thinking, "If I want to get out of this I can't, I'm stuck." So I just sailed off into the first corner and lived with it.

    PETER OVERTON: There goes the cheer for you.

    MARCOS AMBROSE: Yeah.

    PETER OVERTON: It's high-octane and high-cost, $500,000 a week just to keep a driver on the track. And they race for 10 months of the year. During one race, Marcos will burn through up to 20 sets of tyres. It's not only fast and furious, but long, often running well into the night. A NASCAR race is not just a race of speed, but endurance. Mark Ambrose is driving a car that's just like a sauna he'll do it for four hours at an average speed of about 300km/h and as for the noise, well - just listen to it. Sounds brutal.

    MARCOS AMBROSE: Yeah, it is brutal, and, you know, it's a tough sport and it will spit you out in a heartbeat if you give it a chance.

    PETER OVERTON: So it's not just driving at 300km/h turning left?

    MARCOS AMBROSE: No, it's a game of chess at 330km/h, it really is. It's just a game of cat and mouse, you know. You've got to put yourself in good positions, you've got to stop yourself getting in bad spots on the race track, keep the momentum up and stop getting crashed out.

    PETER OVERTON: It might be a macho world on the track, but it's the girls in his life that Marcos really races for. Daughters Adelaide and Tabitha and wife Sonia - his childhood sweetheart and greatest ally.

    SONIA AMBROSE: I'm not that worried about him on the race track at all really, I just feel confident that he's out there, that he can do the best he can, and I'm really excited for him, you know, when he's doing well I'm really, really excited. And, honestly, sometimes I think I'm just more worried about him going out the back yard with a power tool or something like that.

    MARCOS AMBROSE: Thanks.

    PETER OVERTON: No wonder Sonia's so relaxed about speed. Marcos has been racing for as long as she's known him. Even as a teenager, he was Australian go-kart champion.

    MARCOS AMBROSE: I loved racing cars and the whole go-kart thing, and you know, I just twisted my dad's arm to buy me my first race car and help us go racing and he said, "OK, we'll do it for 12 months and just enjoy it for what it was and then we'll get back to life," and I never got back there.

    PETER OVERTON: And when he won the 2003 and 2004 Australian V8 Supercar Championships, Marcos Ambrose stamped himself as the best driver in the land. But he was far from finished.

    MARCOS AMBROSE: Things were looking pretty good. I could have bought a boat and hung out in the Gold Coast and raced 14 times a year, or whatever it was, but you know what? It's just not what makes me. I just want the challenge and I just decided that I'd had enough of the Australian racing because I felt like I had accomplished everything I wanted to do.

    PETER OVERTON: So three years ago he took the huge risk of moving to Charlotte, North Carolina, to crack NASCAR racing.

    MARCOS AMBROSE: It may not be as elite as Formula One, but it's got the most cars, it's got the most budgets, got the most sponsors and it's got the most fans. So it's as big as it gets. If you're a race car driver, really, NASCAR is where you've got to come to.

    PETER OVERTON: But for Marcos to make his mark in NASCAR, he had to quickly learn how to drive on banked oval tracks where most of the races are run. Mastering them is a completely different driving experience to Aussie touring cars. I'm starting to feel giddy.

    MARCOS AMBROSE: Do you want to go in?

    PETER OVERTON: You get like that, don't you? It's like, whoa!

    MARCOS AMBROSE: Yeah, you want to go faster?

    PETER OVERTON: We can go faster?

    MARCOS AMBROSE: Yeah, we've got another gear left, I think.

    PETER OVERTON: Marcos took me for a spin around his home track in Charlotte. And he revealed some of the more devious tactics you need out here.

    MARCOS AMBROSE: The one thing the average person doesn't realise, you can force the guy in front of you to spin out if you position your car around his vehicle the wrong way. You take the air off his rear spoiler and you'll spin him out. So you're always trying to get the other guy upset so he doesn't want to get back to the accelerator pedal and you'll scoot around him, so it's really a game of cat and mouse.

    PETER OVERTON: Rivalries are legend - there's no quarter asked and none given. Watch what happened two years ago to Marcos just laps from victory - deliberately crashed out of contention by American star Robbie Gordon. Is that in the memory bank - Robbie Gordon may meet you?

    MARCOS AMBROSE: Oh, yeah, it's definitely there and when the timing's right, like they say, I'm a snake in long grass. I'm just waiting.

    PETER OVERTON: And Robbie will get the bite, eh?

    MARCOS AMBROSE: Well, you know, I won't give him any slack. If we get ourselves in a winning position and there's two or three laps to go and he's in front, I mean, he'd better watch out.

    PETER OVERTON: Hey, Robbie, we're from 60 Minutes Australia. What do you think of the Aussie Marcus Ambrose?

    ROBBIE GORDON: Marcos who?

    PETER OVERTON: Ambrose.

    ROBBIE GORDON: What's he do?

    PETER OVERTON: He drives, he races hard against you.

    ROBBIE GORDON: Huh? Isn't he Tasmanian?

    MARCOS AMBROSE: It's just good to chill out sometimes and come back to somewhere like this where you can really forget about it.

    PETER OVERTON: Let's just stop and listen. No engines, nothing.

    MARCOS AMBROSE: A couple of crickets, maybe.

    PETER OVERTON: This is where Marcos retreats to get away from the intensity of the track. The state of North Carolina is not only the birthplace of NASCAR racing, but also where gold was discovered in North America. Marcos comes to these backwater creeks to indulge his hobby - gold panning.

    MARCOS AMBROSE: There's no glamour down here, just hard work. Oh, I see some. It's not enough to buy fuel for the way home, but there's something there.

    PETER OVERTON: Out of all that gravel and debris, you've got some gold?

    MARCOS AMBROSE: Yep. I mean, it's pretty cool to find something like this, 'cause you know that no-one else has ever found it, otherwise they would have kept it.

    PETER OVERTON: There you go, isn't that fantastic?

    MARCOS AMBROSE: Yeah.

    PETER OVERTON: There's still gold in them hills, but these days there's a lot more of it on the NASCAR racetracks.

    MARCOS AMBROSE: The top guys are at the top of the pile and I'm still getting there. I don't expect to be anywhere near them. They earn in the tens of millions if they win championships.

    PETER OVERTON: That much?

    MARCOS AMBROSE: Yeah, they're flying around in Lear jets. They call it the 2/10ths rule, I'm 2/10ths away, a lap, from buying my own jet. Unfortunately, those 2/10ths are really hard to find and it's the difference between 1st and 31st.

    PETER OVERTON: 2/10ths of a second?

    MARCOS AMBROSE: Yeah, it's really tight out there. I mean, half a second in qualifying will send you home. You won't even get to race if you're half a second off the pole.

    PETER OVERTON: 2009 is really the make-or-break year for Marcos Ambrose's NASCAR dream. In a climate of financial calamity, sponsors are more important than ever, and luckily, Marcos is tremendously popular here. Even with his fiercest rival. Can he cut it here at the very top for a long time?

    ROBBIE GORDON: He's a great race car driver. Uh, don't tell too many people, but he is really good.

    MARCOS AMBROSE: I feel alive when I'm in that race car ready to go, because just everything's amped up like 10 times its normal value. It's just, you're in there, you're ready to go and, you know, the adrenaline's pumping, you've got to be on the game, and, you know, there's nothing better than that and that's what I wake up for every day - is for that feeling and that sensation when I strap in the race car.

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