Breaking into the very insular world of American sports is a remarkable achievement for outsiders.
Jarryd Hayne is the latest Australian to do so. He has made it into the San Francisco 49ers’ NFL squad, completing his transition from rugby league to American football.
While Hayne is applauded for the bold move, let’s take a moment to reflect on Marcos Ambrose’s similar switch from V8 Supercars to NASCAR, which doesn’t get enough credit among Australian sports fans.
Ambrose, like Hayne, moved to America to switch codes and adjust to a very specific series in which very few outsiders make it.
Ambrose had won two consecutive V8 Supercars championships when he announced his NASCAR move from 2006.
He started out in the third-tier truck series, adjusting to oval racing with its specific demands compared to road courses.
After three seasons learning the trade, Ambrose stepped up into the top-tier Sprint Cup from 2009 where he claimed two race wins, 46 top 10s and three pole positions from 227 races run over seven years.
While his race wins came on road courses, Ambrose nevertheless constantly improved on ovals and recorded a best of 18th place in the championship standings.
His nine-season stint in NASCAR deserves more plaudits than it receives, and should not be overshadowed by his stalled return to V8 Supercars this season.
Ambrose’s comeback in Australia came to an abrupt end after just three events, following his decision to step out of the DJR Team Penske Ford FG X Falcon. The single-car team was struggling for direction, so rising star Scott Pye, more familiar with the current-generation V8 Supercar, stepped in to accelerate the team’s development.
Ambrose returns to the series at this weekend’s Sandown 500, the first two-driver endurance event of the season alongside Pye in the much-improved FG X Falcon.
It will be fascinating to see how Ambrose progresses over the endurance season at Sandown, Bathurst and the Gold Coast, particularly how his pace compares to Pye and whether the return to racing inspires a full-time commitment.
Paddock speculation suggests Ambrose won’t be back full-time, though, with speedy Kiwi Fabian Coulthard linked with a move to DJR Team Penske next season, though a strong showing and solid results could lock Ambrose in as the endurance co-driver for the coming years as he searches for a first Bathurst 1000 win.
But whatever happens to Ambrose over the endurance races, his NASCAR sojourn should be held in high regard. And among all the praise for Hayne, Australian sports commentators should remember the other Aussie athletes who headed to North America.