Saturday Sleuthing: Paul Dumbrell

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 20/07/2019
  • By Will Dale, V8 Sleuth

From a wild young gun, Paul Dumbrell matured into a Supercars race winner, a Bathurst 1000 winner, and the best sidekick on the grid come PIRTEK Enduro Cup time.

He was aged just 16 years and 341 days when he made his championship debut at Symmons Plains in 1999 – setting a benchmark that stood until only recently – but it took him several years to find his feet.

The turnaround came as he juggled increasing business commitments outside the cockpit, a balance he says helped him succeed in both roles.

Last year Dumbrell closed the chapter on his career in Supercars and Super2, making way for Craig Lowndes to rejoin Jamie Whincup for the enduros.

Saturday Sleuthing caught up with him recently amid his latest challenge in the business world.

What does an average day look like for Paul Dumbrell in 2019?

At the end of 2018 I moved out of the automotive space I'd spent 10 years in to join the Total Tools business as their CEO. It's been a busy six months since.

It's a franchise business, 79 stores around Australia, over $500 million worth of revenue, so it's been an exciting six months; plenty of opportunities.

Whilst I've been working corporately for a long time, I don't have the motorsport on the weekends any more to go have a play with.

Dumbrell won the Super2 title in 2002, above, and 2014

Has that been a hard thing to let go of?

I don't think I've missed watching a race; maybe on replay rather than sitting in front of the TV all day.

I think Adelaide is always a great race, but watching the Super2 and Supercars you think back to the fact that it's probably the first time in 20 years that I hadn't been there. So that was obviously something to reflect on.

I think, no doubt, come Bathurst, Sandown and the Gold Coast races, that will also be a reflection on the end of a chapter of my life.

What got you started in motorsport?

It's quite funny actually. Will Davison and I went to school together at Xavier College in Melbourne.

I think we might have been 10-11 years old and we were both going to Surfers Paradise for school holidays.

I didn't know Will at that stage and a mutual friend introduced us, saying that we should catch up whilst we're up there, go to Wet 'n' Wild or whatever you do as 10 year olds!

We picked up Will from the Marriot Hotel and my father knew his father back from when they both raced in the '70s. Will was racing go-karts at that stage and one thing led to another.

I watched him out at Oakleigh one day. Obviously it was pretty serious back then; I think Will beached it in the sand and was furious with himself, and he didn't speak to me!

That set off a chain of events that led me to become involved in motorsport through go-karting with my dad Garry, starting a 20 to 25-year career.

Symmons Plains 1999

You held the record for youngest driver to start a Supercars race for a long time. How intimidating was it rolling up to Symmons Plains as a 16-year-old high schooler? The weather was pretty crook that weekend...

It was an eye-opener. It was absolutely bucketing down with rain, and we had a couple of mechanical issues as well.

The weekend didn't go exactly to our plan due to mechanical issues we had, but at the same time it was an amazing experience.

In my early career I drove a lot of different cars; NASCARs, AUSCARs, Formula Holdens and whatnot. Going and driving an extremely fast car such as that, then stepping back to other cars gives you a perspective.

Pukekohe 2005

Your early full-time years in the championship, you didn’t have the easiest time of things. Do you feel like your young age plus your family’s business background put you under a bigger spotlight?

No doubt. I think I've been really fortunate with the opportunities that have been afforded to me through our family and the support of my father, Garry. No doubt that raises the profile and everyone probably expects you to fail.

My reflection on that is; all I can do is take every opportunity and make the most of it. You've got to put everything else in the background. I'd like to think that over the journey I've been able to do that.

In the first four to five years of my full-time career, whether I took it seriously enough, whether I was committed enough… I don't know. In reflection you could probably say there was an opportunity for improvement there.

But I'd like to think that in the second half of my full-time career, I really stepped it up. I did a couple of Ironman Triathlons and really focused on what I needed to do. I certainly had my best patch from a performance point of view.

And then I realised that I'd reached the limits of my capability, and that winning or being competitive week-in, week-out was not something that I could do. That led to the decision to retire from full-time and go to the co-driving game.

Sandown 2010

That breakthrough race win at Sandown in 2010 … considering all your later successes as a co-driver, where does that solo win rank for you personally now?

Really, really high. I think I was about to break the record the weekend prior at Symmons Plains for the most starts without a podium – and that weekend we finished on the podium after qualifying on the front row.

Then we went to Sandown, qualified on pole and won a race.

It's quite amazing; you go to however many races without tasting success, and then in a couple of weekends we were able to do it back-to-back. What I was happy with was we did it on different tracks.

It was great battling Jamie towards the end of the race. There's plenty of talk that they over-fuelled their car [costing time in pitlane] and whatnot, but at the end of the day you've still got to cross the line first.

It's definitely a proud moment for me. We set out to achieve that and we were able to do it.

Sandown 2010

Did your increasing business commitments impact your driving? Or were there aspects of having to dovetail both that made you a better driver?

I think the latter, to be perfectly frank. If you overlay when I really started working corporately – I think it was 2008 onwards – that's where my performances improved.

In 2010 my father had cancer so I'd stepped into the CEO role [at Automotive Brands]. It got me back to the basis of having some fun and being very stringent in the preparation of the different aspects.

Time wasn't a luxury I had. When I prepared for motorsport, that's what I prepared for; when I prepared for work, I prepared for work. I was a little bit more structured in the way I went about it.

Overlaying that with the fitness regimen I embarked on with Ironman and all that stuff, I don't think it was a coincidence that it led to the best couple of years I had from a full-time perspective.

Winton 2006

You’ve got 299 Supercars Championship race starts to your name … is there any chance ever that you'll come back for another to make it a nice, round 300?

Oh geez, if I'd known that I'd have gone for one more year! (Laughs) No … hey, what does 300 mean? What does 299 mean?

I think in my reflection on motor racing, certainly in the last five years, I was afforded the opportunity to be involved with Triple Eight and Jamie and Roland, etcetera. That showed me how hard you have to work to win.

Unless I could do that, I probably wouldn't want to get that last start.

What is your status as a race car driver now? Do you consider yourself active? Semi-retired? Retired? Will we see you in a race car at all any time soon?

I'm standing in my office in Port Melbourne and I'm looking at my CAMS licence application, which I signed on the 22nd of January, and I've got my medical there, but I haven't sent it in.

So I think that probably summarises that I'm a retired race car driver at the moment.

Bathurst 2019

You’ve done a lot over the course of your career in Supercars; when you look back, what’s your most satisfying achievement?

There's probably two things.

Obviously the Bathurst win we had in 2012 was the pinnacle of my career.

When I was a 12-year-old back in the mid-90s with my father in the garage, cleaning my go-kart, we were watching Bathurst. He said: 'what do you want to achieve?'.

Winning Bathurst is what I said I wanted to do. Through good fortune and hard work we were able to do that.

That's equal number one to being a part of Jamie's multiple championships.

There were highs and lows. I've been part of a couple of races in his championship where we maximised the opportunity, and I've certainly sat on the other side of it where a mistake that I've made severely impacted his ability to win the championship.

I think just being part of those championship years with Jamie and the team was a highlight.

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