Michael Shank and driver Jack Harvey have vivid “Memories of May” recalling their first recollections of the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500.
Shank, the co-owner of Meyer Shank Racing, came to the Speedway for the first time in 1987. He attended Indy 500 Pole Day with a group of mechanics that he worked with at a Mazda dealership in Columbus, Ohio.
“In 1987, I remember sitting in the stands behind pit lane, sitting in the sun, drinking beer with a bunch of guys, just in awe of what I was looking at,” Shank recalled. “Prior to that, my father and I listened to Indy 500 stuff on the radio while we were working on cars out in the garage.
“Of course, I knew about it my whole life, but never even thought in a million years did I think we would truly get there. This was before I developed this big plan of auto racing in my head.”
Young Harvey’s memories of May began as a boy in Bassingham, England. The Indianapolis 500 was a magical event held in a faraway land but received significant attention in the United Kingdom.
“We would always watch the 500,” Harvey remembered. “It would come on kind of late in England, but we always watched the 500 on the television. You always got a sense of was how big it was, how many people were there and what it meant. You always understood what a significant event it was.”
Just as Shank’s interest in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway began while helping his father in the garage, and his first experience came on the road trip with his buddies in 1987, Harvey recalls his first time at the Speedway.
It was November 2013 and he was the guest of Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles and his wife, Beth.
“I was staying in their basement,” Harvey recalled. “They showed me around the track. It was a really cold day and it was a bit of a ghost town, but you could tell there was an atmosphere just waiting to explode. It explodes every May.
“I understood what the 500 meant, but only since I’ve been here do, I understand what it means to Indiana as a state and to the community.”
Shank’s interest in racing would take him in a unique path. In 1997, he came to the Speedway in May to put a deal together to compete in a race in the old Indy Racing League. After striking a deal with Nienhouse Motorsports, Shank returned to his Ohio home and watched that year’s Indy 500 on television. Later that year, Shank started 28th and finished 16th in the IRL race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The next year, Shank focused on a career as a racing team owner. One of his proteges in Formula Atlantic was Sam Hornish, Jr., who would go on to become a three-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and winner of the 2006 Indianapolis 500.
Shank would create one of the most successful teams in American sports car racing and would return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2012.
“Grand-Am asked us to do a feasibility study on the IMS road course with our Daytona Prototypes,” Shank said. “That was for IMSA to come onto the road course. That was the first time I had my team inside at the Speedway. That was pretty incredible.”
Shank almost entered the Indianapolis 500 in 2012 after he purchased a new Dallara DW-12 chassis in December 2011. His team won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January 2012 and was prepared to compete at Indy. Unfortunately, the only engine he could acquire was the struggling Lotus. He was unable to strike a deal with Chevrolet or Honda that year and eventually sold his car to team owner Sam Schmidt.
“But life returned to normal and the yearning and pull of IndyCar could not keep me away,” Shank said. “We went back after it again.”
As Shank continued to excel in IMSA Sports Cars, young Harvey was climbing the ranks through the Indy Lights Series.
Ironically, it was Fernando Alonso that brought Shank and Harvey together.
It was 2017 and Harvey had signed a deal to drive for Andretti Autosport in an extra car in the Indianapolis 500. Shank’s team was prepared to compete in the Indy 500 for the first time through an engineering partnership with Andretti. Stefan Wilson was tabbed for Shank’s No. 60 Honda.
Enter two-time Formula One World Champion Alonso and McLaren CEO Zak Brown. They wanted to compete in that year’s Indy 500 with Andretti. In order to make the delicate and complicated situation work, Harvey would move out of his ride and join Shank’s team. Wilson agreed to step aside, based on the fact that he was guaranteed an entry in the 2018 Indy 500 from team owner Michael Andretti.
“It was a weird deal, but I look back at it now and thank God it happened that way,” Harvey admitted. “We worked really hard with Michael to get to full-time running and now we have.
“It was an opportunity was placed in front of you and you didn’t know how big it was going to be. That is how this has worked out.”
From this unlikely pairing grew a strong bond. Shank and Harvey discovered the end of one deal, created an even greater opportunity for both of them.
“Though Jack Harvey, I met Jim Meyer, my current partner,” Shank said. “It’s a tangled web.
“It’s hard to see the woods through the trees. That’s exactly what happened. For both of us, I think it worked out exceptionally well. That particular race was a disaster for all of us and not one of our finer moments, but we learned a lot and got our relationship going.
“Jack and I established a trust that we weren’t going to screw each other, and we were going to see where this would take us.
From his Tower Terrace seat during Pole Day in 1987, Shank finally made it to Race Day at the Indy 500 in 2017. The first time he ever saw the race in person, was the first time he had a car in the starting lineup that year.
“This is sacred territory that I almost felt like I didn’t deserve to be in,” Shank admitted. “It took me a long time to understand we paid our dues and worked hard and took huge risks and never stopped trying hard to get there.”