There’s a new contender in INDYCAR’s Battle for Ohio.
It’s Michael Shank, the co-owner of the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda fielded by Meyer Shank Racing and driven by Englishman Jack Harvey. The Columbus, Ohio, team owner wants to join another famous family with strong ties from Ohio, the Rahals, by scoring a victory this weekend in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio doubleheader.
Shank, 52, has been coming to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course since he was 7. His father worked on a team that raced Fiats in SCCA competition. The team won often, and young Shank was put to work as the team’s youngest crew member.
“I was the little guy hanging out with my dad, and he would shove me down by the pedals so I could clean them,” Shank said. “They would grab my ankles, and I would go down there and blow the pedals out and get all the dirt and gravel and the stuff down around the pedals. I was happy to do it. I didn’t care.
“That’s how this started, pedal cleaner.”
At that time, the big-name professional driver from Ohio was Bobby Rahal. His home base was the Columbus suburb of Dublin, Ohio, and he began his racing career in sports cars before earning everlasting fame as the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner. He drove for team owner Jim Trueman at Truesports Racing in Hilliard, Ohio, another Columbus suburb. Rahal won two of his three CART championships with Truesports before becoming a championship-winning owner/driver of the team that still competes today as Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
“In Columbus, he’s a superstar,” Shank said of his fellow team owner. “Bobby Rahal and Jack Hanna, the guy at the Columbus Zoo, were the big names in the Columbus area. I remember going over to Truesports because they sold parts to people like me that raced. I was in complete awe of everything and didn’t think I was worthy. As time went, I kept working at it pretty hard and started meeting more people and moved up the ladder. It’s worked out the way it has supposed to.
“I’ve gotten to do it nowadays, and that is a pretty big deal. There was a moment in time when we may have even worked together, but it didn’t work out that way. (Bobby’s son) Graham has driven for me twice in sports cars. I have lots of time for those guys. It was cool to see them winning the Indy 500 this year. That’s what we want to do someday.”
Rahal’s team has won two Indy 500s, the first with Buddy Rice in 2004 as Rahal Letterman Racing and with Takuma Sato this year as Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The NTT INDYCAR SERIES team headquarters has moved to Brownsburg, Indiana, but the BMW sports car team is still based in Hilliard, Ohio.
“I’m still a big fan of Mike Shank,” Bobby Rahal said. “He is a good guy. The guy has really created something special through his efforts. I’m a big Mike Shank fan.
“I think it’s great for Ohio to have Graham, Mike Shank and me. Graham says the most special race he has ever won was at Mid-Ohio in 2015. It’s a tough track, tough race, but he is going to give it 100 percent.”
The Rahals and the Shanks, along with another driver from Ohio, Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach from Stockdale, are ready to stake their claim to Ohio’s racing history this weekend. It will be the first road course race for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES race since the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America on July 11-12.
To add Shank’s name to the Rahals on the list of winning teams at Mid-Ohio would be a tremendous career achievement. Bobby Rahal drove to back-to-back victories in 1985 and 1986. Graham drove his father’s entry to victory in the 2015 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.
There is a mutual respect between these two families of the Buckeye State.
“Mike is an excellent guy,” Graham Rahal said. “Mike is a stud at what he does. I recruited Mike hard to come and join us when he left Sam Schmidt’s team last year. I told him, we’re the place to be. A lot of people who doubted our performance are scratching their heads this year. I tried to get Mike to join us. I’ve always had great respect for Mike and what he does.
“I have nothing but great things to say about him.”
Shank admits he would like to knock the Rahal name off the top of the list of Ohio’s favorite drivers at Mid-Ohio.
Young Rahal, however, isn’t about to give up that title.
“I am still the hometown boy,” Graham said emphatically. “That’s the end of that question.
“I love Mike Shank, but I’m still the hometown boy.”