Mark Webber: The time I photobombed the school photo in a Corona

The path from Aussie country boy to international racing legend started on a Queanbeyan dirt track

Mark Webber The time I photobombed the school photo in a Corona

IT’S HARD to imagine, but before Mark Webber started stuffing his cabinets full of Formula Ford, Formula 3000, FIA GT, Formula 1 and WEC trophies, he wasn’t always such a great driver.

While there’s no doubt the Webber name will forever be synonymous with spectacular motor racing following a colourful and multifaceted career in cars, it’s comforting to hear that the race ace’s journey to his current role as Porsche ambassador started from humble origins. Familiar, even.

Raised in rural New South Wales on the ACT border, Webber describes his freshly licenced self as “notorious on the road” and racked up more than one wrecked car to his name before he eventually started keeping vehicles on the road and track.

Firstly there was the entire rear left suspension he tore out of a car on the kerb of a Canberra roundabout after trying to negotiate it too fast.

“I rang Dad up and told him a car pulled out in front of me but obviously he knew I was bullshitting,” he admitted.

Then there was the time he “trashed” his sisters car along with another parked car coming through a corner a little too hot in a big front-wheel drive and trying to maintain his momentum – unsuccessfully.

But perhaps the most amusing period in Webber’s formative driving years were back in his halcyon Karabar High School days. While a majority of his fellow students would choose to spend their recess kicking a footie or perhaps doing even less, our Mark had very different ideas.

“I had a 1969 Toyota Corona two-speed automatic which my Dad got me because it had no horsepower, but I used to rally up behind the school,” he told Wheels at the Bathurst 12 Hour endurance race.

And if you think this was some kind of responsible early involvement in organised low-speed motorsport, think again. With bench seats and no seatbelts, Webber was happy to take passengers, lots of passengers.

“We’d be seven or eight-up in the car – an absolute deathtrap with me behind the wheel doing rally stages. One day we did have a head-on because my mate was coming back the other way.

“I’d think nothing of it. I’d be sitting in lessons in the morning thinking lunch is nearly here, we’re going out for 45 minutes.”

But the culmination of Webber’s highly informal paddock bashing in underpowered Japanese hardware was the day his antics were very publically ousted and captured in unequivocal evidence.

“One day I got back and the teachers were having their annual school photos outside. I came back in, we were seven-up and I was behind the teacher’s photo on the grass. I got in a lot of hot water for that. It wasn’t the best move.”

His antics with joyriders on board may seem questionable these days, but Webber says he undoubtedly learnt a lot of valuable lessons tearing up unsealed roads by himself “sliding, changing tyre pressures, going out there and having some fun on my own.

“As soon as got my licence, normal roads were one thing, but being rural I knew these areas where I might be able to take the car for a bit of a drive so I would test myself out there. The bottom of Mount Jerrabomberra was the playground.”

Like the sprawling housing estates that have now spread into Webber’s unnoticed test tracks, the promising young driver also evolved and found a way to focus his energy and enthusiasm for going quickly into a more constructive goal.

After his early racing successes on home turf, Webber travelled to Europe and the UK but it was during a brief return home that he found himself in a serendipitous reunion with the “playground” near his family home.

Instead of an old Toyota, Webber took his runners and used the Queanbeyan fields as his training ground, building vital fitness before returning to Europe where his career would shift into the higher gears.

“I’d go to the same location and do interval sessions on my own, scorching hot, because I knew the Europeans were in the winter and I’d go back and drill them when the fitness camps were on.

“Within the space of about three or four years I was a completely different animal. Same spot.”

So what’s the secret to transforming a reckless young man into a seasoned professional? Webber has some sage words on the transition from “absolute hooligan” to “disciplined and self-driven individual.”

“It’s got to come from within,” he said. “It’s the passion, the enthusiasm and the discipline within yourself.  Something’s got to click. I’ve got to have some standards in myself now, I’m representing myself.

“What’s so hard when you are young, is we are not great listeners because we think we know everything. All you want to do is lap time.

“It’s an old head on young shoulders. That’s what you’ve got to try and achieve.”

That ideal scenario of nurturing a wise mind before the body is too aged to achieve the maximum potential may be far easier to suggest than create in practice, but Webber explained that taking a few knocks helped him battle through.

“Adversity is a sensational thing because it teaches you resilience. Professionally and privately you have to have resilience. That’s the cornerstone of success and being prepared to things that other people aren’t.

While the life of a successful racing driver may seem glamorous and privileged to motorsport fans and spectators, it’s the part you don’t see which is toughest and the element of forging a career in racing that decides the mediocre from the champions, said Webber.

“It’s not when the helmet’s on or the stopwatch, it’s the Monday to Friday component and being professional. Going to Austria, going to France, living in these places – the language is difficult. Well guess what? That’s how it is. You’re not going to change a nation just because you turned up.

Despite having a seemingly inexhaustible monologue of humble advice and experience to dispense, Webber chose to summarise his ongoing career in fast cars and the race track with the words of another F1 great – Jackie Stewart.

“I’ll never forget Jackie. He’s always told me ‘fly with the eagles not with the crows’”.

He must have been talking about the wedge-tailed eagles that soar in the hot Aussie thermals above Mount Jerrabomberra.


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