When you arrive at Michael Shank Racing’s headquarters in Pataskala, Ohio, just outside Columbus, it’s almost a bit of culture shock.
You’ve driven on a road through a small town, past the mom & pop shops, then past a giant series of buildings for ProLogis, before turning onto the road and seeing this building you wouldn’t expect to think is a race shop.
That low-key presence is purely by design.
“We keep it low key, low profile on purpose. We get some really random things happen here,” Shank told Sportscar365 upon my arrival.
Yes, the shop that houses the team’s No. 60 Ligier JS P2 Honda, a host of past race cars and a number of other memories from the team’s 20-plus-year history has also been home to funerals, wakes, random Porsche 928 appearances in the parking lot among other off-the-wall events.
Inside these walls of the near, 20,000-square foot facility that was opened in 2007 are some of the treasures Shank and his team have acquired in their history, as one of America’s longest running, consistently active privateer entries.
The entryway is modest, again by design, before you see the trophy case on the left. The centerpiece, of course, is the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona trophy, achieved when Ozz Negri, John Pew, AJ Allmendinger and Justin Wilson delivered Shank the win in the 50th anniversary edition.
The FIA Speed Record trophy for Colin Braun’s lap at Daytona is also present, as are a number of helmets past Shank drivers have passed on.
A conference room is offset of the trophy case, with a dual glass display to see into the race shop – where the magic happens. Past pictures from Shank’s Formula Atlantic and Grand-Am Rolex DP days line the walls.
“It’s funny how it all goes back to the first DP, when Burt Frisselle and Ozz drove our No. 6 Doran Lexus in ’04,” Shank said. “We saw the competition that year and we knew we needed to shift to Riley.”
By 2006, Shank’s team was a race winner – Negri having delivered an Ironman stint at Miller Motorsports Park, driving more than six hours in a 10-hour race. A picture of him, with fireworks in the background, is also present.
Once you’re past the couple offices and photos, the shop floor is present with room for about four cars. Three are present on this day; the Ligier is being wrapped in new U.S. AutoForce colors, which combines the blue and white and red and white used earlier this year.
Braun’s Daytona record-setting Ford DP is there, as is the Continental Tire two-seater, which hasn’t been active this year.
The missing piece? Shank’s 2012 Rolex 24 winner, which is currently on display by Continental but in need of a livery restore and the motor to go back into it. The motor is present at the shop, but without the chassis.
At the shop, Shank has the machinery to help convert the car from Le Mans aerodynamic trim into its high-downforce setting.
The nose section is on display; there’s a carbon room and fabrication area as well.
One of the cooler and more noticeable parts of the shop is the lighting, thanks to Shank partner Roberts Service Group. The 50,000 recently installed LED lights provide better lighting, while additionally saving money on lighting costs. He has one full-time electrician on site.
Outside is the transporter bay. It takes the team a couple hours to load up the one transporter before driving to Road America. At the track, it takes an hour and a half to setup, and roughly two hours, 15 minutes to tear down.
Shank’s team has 11 full-time crewmembers and he takes 12 to the track. A number have been with the team for more than 10 years. Even with a two-car program in the Grand-Am days, the crew was only 14 to 16 strong.
What stands out in this shop – since it isn’t the size, or the magnitude of the place – is the ability to do a lot with a relatively smaller budget.
Shank’s a lifer, and the fact the novelty size checks on the walls and pictures are going back to the 1990s, shows a longevity that has disappeared from sports car racing in recent years.
Consider the number of teams that have faded away, and the fact Shank still keeps pressing forward, is rather impressive.
“This is my life,” he said. “It all started when I was wrenching on an old FIAT back in the day. That was interesting.
“But for me, it’s a combination of hard work and manageable risk.”
The hard work paid dividends at Road America, as it turned out. A leak in the fuel cell threatened to end Shank’s race before it even began.
But the crew never gave up, patching the fuel cell and getting the car out to make the start. It was a daylong repair job accomplished in roughly three hours.
Fourth was no less a result than what was deserved, the seeds of which were sown by hours of preparation back at the shop.