NTT IndyCar Series team owner Michael Shank is ready to see a large crowd at Sunday's Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and he is doing his part to ensure it. Thing is, he probably could do more.
“Right now it would be easier for me to get a ticket to the Indy 500 than to get another ticket to Mid-Ohio,” he said, laughing.
Shank is indeed joking, yet his point is well-taken. For every friend who wants to see the Columbus, Ohio, team compete this weekend is a family member requesting the same access. Add in team sponsors, potential team sponsors, families and friends of those sponsors and potential sponsors and it's easy to see how Shank projects his friends-and-family count at “easily a couple hundred.”
Shank is excited that so many people want to see the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda in action with Jack Harvey at the wheel. And yes, Shank will do -- and is doing -- his part.
“Everyone who wants to be there will be there,” he promised.
Racing at Mid-Ohio is as special as it gets for Shank, who was born in a nearby Columbus hospital and saw his first race at the historic road course in the late 1970s. Shank saw his first Indy car race in 1980 when Johnny Rutherford drove that beautiful, Indy 500-winning Chaparral 2K, affectionately known as “the Yellow Submarine,” to victory at Mid-Ohio. In junior formulas, Shank won races there as a driver and later as a team owner.
Shank has lived his entire life in central Ohio, which is to say Mid-Ohio is as home as home gets. As the crow flies, he lives an hour due south of the track, not far from where Meyer Shank Racing is based (in Pataskala).
“I did my first driving school at Mid-Ohio,” Shank said. “In 1978 or ’79 my dad started taking me to races there. I saw that first Indy car race … I’ve almost been every year to the Indy car race there.”
In terms of team owning, Shanks’s most significant Mid-Ohio race win came in 1999 in the Champ Car Toyota Atlantics division. Canada’s Kenny Wilden was the winner, driving alongside teammate Sam Hornish Jr., who like Shank is an Ohio native (from Defiance).
Interestingly, the successful sports car program Shank has fielded for the better part of two decades has never won a race at Mid-Ohio. “Ironically funny but not funny,” Shank said, again laughing.
Harvey isn’t expecting to deliver the team’s first NTT IndyCar Series race this weekend – remember, MSR remains a part-time participant -- but there’s every reason to believe the team will be competitive. In May, Harvey stood on the podium following the INDYCAR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the third-place finisher. As an Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires driver, Harvey swept Mid-Ohio's 2014 weekend races from the pole. He won another pole the next year.
“What Mid-Ohio means to our team doesn’t need a big introduction,” Harvey said. “It’s one of those races that we circle on the schedule every year to really do a good job in front of Mike’s home crowd. We go into the weekend as we do any other, but there is definitely that bit of added pressure to have a good result.”
Harvey said the team’s goal is to qualify in the top 12 and finish in the top 10. But, anything’s possible.
Mid-Ohio will be MSR's eighth NTT IndyCar Series race of the season, with starts at Portland International Raceway (Sept. 1) and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (Sept. 22) still to come. Shank said plans are moving quickly toward what could be a special announcement regarding full IndyCar participation in 2020.
”Things are very, very active,” he said.
That also would mean another homecoming, which means more tickets will be needed.
Shank won't be the only Ohio native participating in the Honda Indy 200. Graham Rahal calls New Albany his hometown; Zach Veach is from Stockdale. Sunday's race is at 4 p.m. on NBC with the radio call on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Channel 209.