Our series of '12 Questions' interviews continues this week with Marcos Ambrose, the Australian racer who is in his fourth full season of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver is currently 19th in the point standings after finishing 13th last weekend at Las Vegas.
SBN: What percent of your career races can you remember?
MA: Pretty much all of 'em. Some of the NASCAR stuff can blend in if you're having a bad day, because you want to forget about it and move on to the next week. But all the road races I've done, I pretty much know them all.
SBN: Why do you think you can remember so many of them?
MA: Well, if you like what you're doing, it's easy. I think all drivers have to have a pretty good memory about tracks and lines and experience.
SBN: What was your first win in any type of race car?
MA: Go-karting was the first thing, but I didn't do much winning until I was probably 10 or 15. I was just a kid, you know? When I went from a boy to a man, that's when I started to get aggressive – and that's when I started to win.
It's just a natural progression. You start out just competing, and then you get top-fives and top-threes. It just came naturally, really. The first (win) didn't stand out as anything special. For me, I'm all about the act and not so much about the result.
SBN: Who is a clean driver you enjoy racing with in NASCAR?
MA: Pretty much all of 'em. It depends what part of the race you're in. When you get to the Cup level, the entire field is talented and you know every pass is tough to do. There isn't one driver that I shy away from or wouldn't want to be around.
SBN: Well, that was going to be my next question – is there someone you don't like to try and pass?
MA: Not really. You've got some history with some guys, and sometimes you're pretty mindful of who you're around just because of prior history. But in general, each driver has a character and each car has a character because of the driver in it, so whatever paint scheme they're in doesn't really matter. You can see the characters come out in the way they drive their cars, so you know who you can run close with and who you have to avoid.
SBN: What's your personal code of conduct on the track?
MA: I try to be fair. I try to drive within the limits of my car on the day. I get mad at myself if I try to get more out of what I've got and then cause trouble. Some days, it's not your day – and you've got to know when those days are. If I stick to that rule, then I normally race fairly cleanly. If you let your emotions get to you, you can drive over your head every day.
SBN: Do you have a mental list of people you need to pay back for on-track actions?
MA: Yeah, sure. It goes back years. I'm not a vengeful person, but you have scores you need to settle, just for your own pride.
SBN: Who is a driver from the past who you'd like to team up with if you could turn back time?
MA: Well, I'd have to say my boss (Richard Petty) would be pretty awesome to have turned some laps with. I love the history of the sport, so I'd go back to the very beginning in the wild days – Curtis Turner, Fireball Roberts. Those guys would have been awesome to be around.
SBN: Yeah, you'd have a pretty good time with Curtis Turner.
MA: Oh yeah, I would. I really would. I read his book (the biography Full Throttle).
SBN: When is the last time you got nervous about anything?
MA: The Daytona 500. It's the first race of the year, you've got a chance to win the 500, we had a great car, we had to hang around for an extra two days to get the race in, and it just plays mind games with you. I mean, there isn't one race where you don't have a level of nervousness – but it was a lot more there.
I get nervous because I want to do well, and you don't know what's coming. You want it to be a good day; you want to perform. It's what I live for, you know? I wake up, and every day of the week I'm looking forward to race day. As long as you feel that way, I think you've got that competitive spirit.
SBN: Drivers do a lot of autograph sessions and appearances. Can you recall any awkward moments with fans?
MA: Yeah, there have been plenty of times. But it's the nature of being in the spotlight. In general, NASCAR fans are pretty respectful of the drivers and give them their time and space. I always give people the time of day. If it is an uncomfortable situation, I'll let them know, but I'll never, ever turn my back on a fan.
SBN: If you could only be one of the following jobs after you retire, would you rather be a NASCAR broadcaster or high-level NASCAR official?
MA: If I'm not racing, I'd be gold-mining.
MA: I can't tell you my hot spots!
SBN: Well, so if you struck gold, then you could own a race team yourself.
MA: Yeah, no. I'm in racing for the competition. I get a big kick out of driving those race cars. That's all I'm here for.
SBN: What's a question you get asked a lot that you're tired of answering?
MA: "Do you drink Foster's?" and "How do you say your name?" I get asked that all the time. It's an unusual name, and my Australian accent doesn't quite cross over to American, so when I say my name (pronounced like the American "Marcus") and when they see how it's spelled, they get confused: "Is it mar-COSE? Mar-CUSS? Am-BRUHS? Am-BROSE?" If I had it to do over again, I'd call myself "Bob Smith."
SBN: I've been asking drivers to give me a question for the next guy. Last week, Joey Logano wanted to know, "Is there anything you've done on the track you regret?"
MA: I think I spun him out there in the Shootout, so he's probably referring to that.
SBN: No, no! This was just in general. He didn't know the interview subject was going to be you.
MA: Oh, right, right. Anything I regret? Yeah. There was a guy in Australia – Bathurst, 2005 – and he took me out of the race (here's the video of the incident). We had a bit of a shouting match, and I just regret I didn't punch him.
SBN: And can you help me with a question for next week?
MA: Yeah, just ask, "What's his secret?"
SBN: But what if I interview a bad driver?
MA: Well, you'd better ask a good one.
Next week: 12 Questions with Ryan Newman