Here’s a few things you may or may not know about the newest team owner to win the Indianapolis 500:
Michael Shank was a good race car driver back in the day. He wasn’t Indy-winning material, but that didn’t stop him from making his one and only IndyCar start back in 1997 with Nienhouse Motorsports in the Indy Racing League.
He came up through the Midwest Sports Car Club of America ranks in Formula Ford 2000 and Sports 2000s, graduated to the Toyota Atlantic Championship in the mid-1990s using an older Swift DB-4 chassis, began running cars for other drivers. Success in Atlantic’s second tier brought Michael Shank Racing forward as more than a team to look after its owner/driver, and from there, the modern version of MSR was born as fielding clients in junior open-wheel and sports car racing became the norm.
But before he hung up his helmet, Shank had a chance to do one IRL race in a less-than-competitive Riley & Scott Chassis powered by an Oldsmobile engine at the 1997 season finale in Las Vegas (main image).
“Just the year before we’d won the C2 Atlantic championship which, that’s all we could afford,” he said. “And we did well with it actually. And that next year, we bought a Ralt [RT41 Atlantic chassis] and ran a client and that led to that, which is as it was meant to be. However, in the meantime, we found a guy that decided to come on board and help us financially to try to do an IndyCar race, and that’s that ultimately ended with us doing Las Vegas together.
Starting 28th in the field of 31, Shank and the unloved R&S chassis made the most of the opportunity. By staying out of trouble in the 208-lap contest, he soldiered home to finish 16th, 17 laps down, but ahead of bigger and less fortunate names like Jeff Ward, Kenny Brack, Billy Boat, Sam Schmidt, and Arie Luyendyk.
“And it was a tough experience, and I don’t know, kind of ruined me a little bit, I suppose in a lot of ways, but driving-wise, listen, that was the goal; to get to IndyCar,” he said. “We did at least one.”
He loves Busch Light beer. I mean, he really loves Busch Light beer.
Screenshots of Shank knocking back a can on the yard of bricks while Castroneves was being interviewed have become a favorite item to share on social media.
“There’s no question my group, my crew, and the group I live with on that lake, that’s the beer of choice for the most part,” he said. “Someone did go grab it and put it in my back pocket when we’re out there on the front straightaway and I’m like, ‘Well, you know, I might as well start now,’ But that’s not even the funny story.”
His passion for the everyperson’s beer is so well known, cases of it started showing up on Sunday on his porch in Ohio while he and the team were celebrating in Indy. At last count, the drop-offs were up to 480 cans. By the time he and his wife get home on Tuesday, they might not be able to walk through the front door.
“So we’re just sitting here just going over lots of texts, and our niece just showed up at our house to deliver a car back for us, and she put us on FaceTime and said, ‘you guys are not gonna believe this.’ She turned the camera to our front porch in Ohio. And there’s 16 30-packs stacked up in a pyramid on our front porch from the local Anheuser-Busch distributor.”
It’s his name on the business, but his wife is very much a co-owner. Michael Shank Racing, and its modern version as Meyer Shank Racing, rebranded in deference to partner and former Sirius/XM CEO Jim Meyer, has featured the supreme business and planning skills of Mary Beth Shank from the outset. Together, they grew MSR into a race-winning Atlantic team with future IRL champion and Indy 500 winner Sam Hornish, and soon moved out of junior open-wheel to focus on the burgeoning Grand-Am Rolex Series.
With his wife playing an increasing role behind the scenes as MSR grew into a Rolex 24 At Daytona-winning operation, the two took every step together on the path to eventually joining forces with Michael Andretti to field MSR’s first Indy 500 entry in 2017.
Years later, with Andretti Technologies providing engineering support, and MSR having grown to 50 employees in Pataskala, Ohio, with championships in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar series and a rising IndyCar operation run entirely from inside MSR’s halls, the victory on Sunday is very much a husband-and-wife story. So make no mistake: An IndyCar team co-owned by a woman just won the Indy 500.
“I think the best thing is, is that I had a conservative partner in my wife, so financially, we were very conservative,” he said of developing MSR. “We also, on top of that, made some timing decisions perfectly. So we got out of Atlantic when Atlantic was very difficult. At the end, we got into the Daytona Prototypes when it was in its infancy, and Jim France put his arm around me and my wife and, and just never let go.
“And another critical piece [was in] 2018 when we sold a piece of the business to Jim Meyer. It’s been very planned and very structured, well thought-out. And now Jim’s involved in Liberty Media, who were here this weekend.”
For every team that got its start with family wealth, the Shanks serve as a reminder of how others with the same passion for racing are willing to sacrifice everything they own to try and make it.
“We were raised on, ‘you’re out of business every single year,’” he said of having to find new clients to run at the start of each season before the team grew and began to stabilize. “And that’s probably what also saved our ass numerous times. We really had to worry. You talk to a bank to get a loan, and you tell them about the cash flow model, and they look at you like you’re crazy. ‘Why would we ever give you a loan?’
“And it took my wife and I probably, I don’t know how long… we couldn’t get a loan for 10 to 15 years. And when we did, we had to put our house up. And we did that: We put our house on the line for the first 10 years of the Daytona Prototypes, I would say. But that was an accepted risk for us.
“At some point, you get comfort, you know; we’re pretty good at this. Treat people well, they seem to want to come back around. We get some decent results. And that drives business, and we took calculated risks to buy major assets, trailers and cars and that kind of thing.”
And finally, yes, the upstart team founded by Mike and Mary Beth just won the Indy 500, and there were a lot of familiar faces there to share in the achievement.
This is as Midwestern and blue collar as you’re going to get in the NTT IndyCar Series.
For those who’ve been around to watch the team’s rise over the last 25 years, Mike and Mary Beth Shank are the reason so many of the early employees have stayed. And more recently, some serious veterans from championship- and Indy 500-winning teams have driven east from Indianapolis to work for MSR.
“The people that have been here; we have we have at least 10 guys that have been here 20 years,” Shank said. “I think it’s loyalty and the way we treat people, we try to people treat people with respect and give them a place that can work, and not have to shadow them and they we trust they do their job at a high level.”
There’s something special happening at the realest racing team in the series, and it is because of the husband and wife at the top.