Michael Shank lives life in the fast lane, speeding through the days at over 200 miles per hour. He first began racing professionally back in 1989 and quickly made a name for himself, eventually making it all the way to the Indy Racing League. He has always been determined to gain the acknowledgement and respect that he feels he deserves in the racing world.
Shank has since retired as a driver and now focuses on running and growing his own team at Michael Shank Racing. Shank’s team currently consists
of two cars and a talented team of about twenty full-time employees. The team just recently won the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with A.J. Allmendinger, Justin Wilson, John Pew and Oswaldo Negri as the drivers. He hopes to continue to win more big races, and currently has his eyes set on the Indianapolis 500. He definitely feels confident that his team can continue to grow and succeed.
Born in Columbus, Shank now lives and works in Pataskala. Ohio has always been his home. When he’s not racing, he enjoys going out on a boat at
Buckeye Lake or Norris Lake. He prides himself in being very loyal to everyone around him, and it’s no surprise that everyone agrees he is indeed a great guy. Read on for our exclusive photo shoot and Q&A with Columbus’ very talented speedster, where he tells us more about the racing business and his fast track to success as the owner of an impressive racing team.
Q&A » » » » » »
Into what kind of person has Ohio made you?
Loyal. I think I’m loyal to a fault, almost. So loyalty has got me this far, but I think loyalty comes from where we grew up in the Midwest, specifically Ohio. The Gahanna area is where I grew up. I would say I’m loyal to people. I give people opportunities to do their best, and when they mess up, I understand that, and we try not to do it again.
I think that’s something I learned from growing up right here.
What do you hold dear to your heart?
My family, first off, because they’ve been behind me. My wife, Mary Beth, has stood behind me for 20 years through really, really thin times financially, and stressful times, just so we could race and follow a dream that I had. I brought her into it, and she supported me 100 percent. My family, my mom, brothers, sisters, father, got me started and got me going in the right direction. So that comes first, I’d say.
Describe your journey into the limelight.
Long. It’s been very long. We’ve been doing the same thing for nine years. Specifically, we just won the 24 Hours at Daytona; we’ve been in that series for nine years. We’ve been here doing the same thing for that long and never got the recognition until we finally won the big one. But I would say, bigger than anything: literally don’t stop. Even when we’re knocked down, we don’t stop, we come back, we take our hits, our bruises. Hunt it, kill it and eat it.
What does Rolex 24 mean to you, especially winning it?
For me, it puts an exclamation point on what I always told people I could do anyways. I thought I was a badass, and I think this proved that we can get the job done. We can compete at any level against anyone from all over the world, ’cause that’s what we just did, and I finally just proved it to people. Although I’ve always felt that we could, this was the first time I could say, “Here, we did actually do it,” and it’s got us a ton of respect.
Did you attend college?
I didn’t even fill out an application
for college. I graduated with a low GPA, but I had a lot of drive and I knew what I wanted to do for a living, which was drive race cars at first and turn it into owning race cars and running the team. So I would say my world is just all real world experience. Hard knock stuff.
How would you describe your career so far as a race-car team owner?
I think it’s a progressive one; we’ve progressively been getting better. I think we’ve learned a lot from mistakes, but we’re not where weneedtobeyet.Iwanttowin the Indianapolis 500 next; that’s why we bought a car. We’re not financially there yet; we don’t have enough sponsorship to run it yet, but we have the car now. So my next goal would be to win one of
deals. We’ve had a few, and that’s what we always strive for, but a lot of times, especially when the economy goes to hell, we pay the price because it’s a luxury business. We pay the price first, typically. We’ve made it for 20 years through one of the worst financial crises in the world, and we’re still doing it. So I’m proud of that. That’s all from buckling down. It’s from my wife Mary Beth not letting me spend money, really keeping us tight,
What’s your strongest virtue?
I think my strongest virtue is letting my guys run their own deal. Whatever job they have, I let them do it. They know how I want to race, I tell them exactly how I want to race, and I walk away. The minute they let me down, then we have an
them. I really don’t know them that well, but any time you can build a business from nothing and leave it to your kids so they can continue on, I think that’s something to be extremely proud of.
Who is your favorite driver of all time and why?
There’s a driver named Danny Ongais that I always looked up to. He was just this crazy big ball guy; ran in the ’60s, ’70s. Started as a drag racer, ended up being an Indy car driver. Fearless, completely fearless. I also admired, for lots of reasons, Paul Newman. When he died, I actually took a pause, because it was a sad deal. He helped tons of people, he loved racing, he helped a lot of guys in racing that I know very well financially, he drove himself, loved it, had a passion for it, didn’t do it for any reason but just to drive.
What is your favorite track to race on?
Laguna Seca. Monterey, California – about an hour and a half south of San Francisco in the Monterey area – just an incredible part of the country. The towns are beautiful, the track is phenomenal. That’s probably my favorite place. My home track is Mid-Ohio though, it’s always treated me really well and the folks there have always treated us very well. But overall, the best place I love is Laguna Seca.
How do you chill out?
Boating. I’m a water guy. Wakeboarding and wakesurfing. We live out at Buckeye Lake; we live right on the water, so we can go out in the evenings. We also have a home down in Lake Norris, Tennessee, which is a beautiful, giant finger-type lake down there that we go down to and spend time. So when I’m not racing, I’m on lakes, in one of the two states for sure.
How do you get revved up?
Music. I can listen to Keith Urban, AC/DC, dance music. Just good music, kinda upbeat stuff, you know.
If you were given an elephant, where would you hide it?
I’d probably put it right in front of you, because no one sees what’s right in front of them most of the time.
Anybody that starts with nothing and makes something, I admire.
the other five major races in the world. For me, the number one is the Indy 500. The Rolex thing is great and it’s helped us a ton, but the Indy 500 is out there for me. I hope over the next five years to get it.
Do you sleep much?
You know, it goes on and off. One of the things I’ve been told in my life is that you can’t not sleep. So I really try to force myself to do at least six hours a night. If I’m lucky, I’ll get ten; if I’ve been drinking, I’ll get twelve.
What surprised you the most about your industry?
The biggest surprise that I live with every year is being out of business every single year. So having to go out with between 12 and 20 full-time employees, and every year know that we have to get new sponsors, new drivers, new groups a lot of times; it’s very stressful. It’s very difficult to get multi-year
issue. That issue can be forgiven, but if it happens again, then it’s gonna end. I’m willing to let people make mistakes, but we don’t want to make the same mistake twice, because then I have to do a lot of explaining. I don’t like to do a lot of explaining to people, no matter who it is.
The coolest guy in Columbus is ...?
I really like Chris Spielman. I just think he’s a cool cat. He’s dealt with a lot of adversity, obviously, through all kinds of stuff. I’ve always thought of him as a pretty cool dude. I don’t know him personally, but just from the outside looking in, I always thought he did a heck of a job. Getting his name, his brand, he made a hell of a living.
What are your feelings towards Jegs and the Coughlins?
Anybody that starts with nothing and makes something, I admire. Now, they happen to do it in a field that I love, so I can double admire
What is your favorite movie of all time?
The first movie I took my wife to was Days of Thunder. But my all-time favorite, bar none, is Old School with Will Ferrell.
What is the food you crave from Ohio that you can’t get on the road?
White Castle. That’s a fact. I do crave them once in a while. People know it and they actually buy me cases of it and it’s sitting in my freezer when I get home usually. I pitched them once.
What is the best advice you could give to an aspiring driver?
This driver is gonna get knocked down so many times that they’re gonna give up, because I did, I tried to a couple times. What I tell kids
is that it’s a completely possible way to make a living – racing cars or working on them – it’s totally possible. But you’re gonna get hit so hard, you’re gonna want to give up. If you can just bust through the initial cover we all put on, you can make a living at racing, so
it’s literally not the stop. If you’re committed to doing this, you gotta ride it out. If you’re in it lightly, you’re done.
Create an analogy for driving one of your cars for an entire race.
It’s like doing hot yoga, like with the room temperature jacked up to like a hundred, for three straight hours. You get a minimal amount of water. We do have water in the cars that feed into a tube and stuff, but when you come out of it, you’re seven pounds lighter probably. It’s 129 degrees in the car, something like that. It’s something like going into a steam room and working out.
What is the most difficult hurdle you have encountered in your life?
Getting the respect I think we deserve. That is the number-one thing that I fight for every day, every week. Getting people to acknowledge us as being good at what we do, whether it’s a sponsor, driver, whoever.
What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
One of the craziest things I’ve ever done was shaved A.J. Allmendinger’s logo onto my head after a bet that we did in December at Daytona during a test session. He bet me that I wouldn’t cut his logo into my head, and I’m a man of my word. So we did that. When he wins his first Sprint Cup race, he’ll put our MSR logo onto his head, he says. We’ll see if he’s a man of his word.
Who is your hero?
Probably my dad. My dad died when he was 48 years old, it’s been a long time. He went through a lot of ups and downs in his life personally,
but had straightened everything out towards the end. He also got me into what I’m doing today; he was kinda the start to all this. He was the nucleus that started where I came from. I think I inherited a lot of his fairness to people.
What is the best place you’ve traveled to?
An island called Anegada in the British Virgin Islands. It’s a place that almost nobody knows where it’s at. The tallest point on it is 25 feet above sea level, so as you’re approaching it by boat, which we did, you can’t even see it until you’re right up on it. It’s surrounded by coral. There’s only one way in, one way out. To me, it felt like you could disappear there and never
be found again.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Diet Mountain Dew.
What is your favorite sport to watch on TV? In person?
I love professional basketball actually, in person. I do enjoy college football on TV.
What was your first job? Worst job?
My first job was making ice cream at Swensen’s Ice Cream. I made ice cream when I was fifteen or sixteen. But before that even, I baled hay out here in Jefferson Township, out in New Albany. The worst job was baling hay; it’s the most physical, nasty job you can ever imagine.
If there were a book written about your life, what would it be called?
What animal would you be?
I’d probably be something like a panther or a tiger.
Oatmeal and a banana or steak and eggs?
Oatmeal and a banana. I just had one yesterday, actually.
Out of everything you have accomplished, what can you say is your finest achievement to date?
The biggest achievement I’ve been able to do is keep twelve to twenty people employed full-time. That’s the biggest. Obviously, out of all the wins we’ve had, the Daytona 24 is the biggest to date. But the biggest thing is the big picture, we’ve been able to employ 12 to 20 people over 20 years, I’ve been able to make a living and support my family. That’s definitely gotta be it.
What is your most notable characteristic?
I think it’s loyalty. I think I’m loyal. Sometimes guys get too comfortable. I don’t like change, and I want people to do their best. I give them a lot of opportunity to do that. So it can also be my downfall sometimes.
What one possession do you treasure the most?
This watch, the Rolex Daytona that I won at the Daytona 24 race
that was given to me. I could have bought a Rolex anytime I wanted. It just took so much time and effort from so many people just to get this one thing. I’m really proud of it.
If you could sum up your philosophy of life in one sentence, what would it be?
Never give up.
Tomorrow you get to hang out with God. Make a wish.
I struggle with doing something for the world or bringing my father back. I’d probably bring my father back. Probably. Even though I should be a little bit bigger-headed than that.
Ocean or mountains?
What’s your favorite nighttime city?
It’s raining and you have a day off. What are you going to do with your day?
I’m gonna go watch a movie. Love to watch movies. I have a movie theater at my house, so in the wintertime, when the lakes are all shut down around here, we go in and do a movie marathon. They can be obscure stuff; we’ll just sit and watch movies for hours.
If you were president, what would be your first order of business and why?
A flat tax. I’d work on taxes. The only problem I have, and I’m pretty non-committal about politics, but I would like people to have to work for what they do because that’s where I came from. I shouldn’t have to support the people that don’t feel like they need to work or have to work. I’m willing to do my share for sure, but I would change some of the tax codes.
How do you want to be remembered?
Someone that was giving, loving, loyal.