As he prepares to take Meyer Shank Racing into its first full season of NTT IndyCar Series competition, Michael Shank is hoping the team’s circuitous path to a full calendar can provide the new series owner a few insights for future changes.
MSR got its start as a local race car prep shop in Shank’s home state of Ohio before stepping up to pro racing in the former Toyota Atlantic Championship. Despite its success in the open-wheel training series where future Team Penske Indy 500 winner Sam Hornish rose to prominence, MSR was unable to make the same leap, turning to sports cars in NASCAR’s Grand-Am Rolex Series in 2004.
In Grand-Am, with its low-cost, low-tech Daytona Prototype formula, MSR flourished as the price to compete was lower than the amount paying drivers offered and sponsors were willing to provide.
Now, having stretched himself and MSR to its limits to reach full-time status in 2020, Shank looks to Grand-Am’s team-first financial model as one for IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske to consider in the years ahead.
Using IndyCar’s almost unrestricted policy on dampers as an example where MSR has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to try and keep up with its rivals, Shank believes areas of open technology should be reconsidered as the series moves towards a new formula in 2022.
In light of the public struggles a number of teams are facing to find the budget to go racing next year, the custom, proprietary, Penske Racing Shocks that have helped Team Penske win four of the last IndyCar championships serve as Shank’s primary example of an overdue rethink on the series’ priorities.
“So here’s the thing. Roger (Penske), as of (three) weeks ago, is in a different scenario now,” Shank said. “He needs to do what Big Bill France always said, that to be successful, you have to fill the paddock with teams. To do that, you have to give opportunity to teams. So, Roger’s ‘unfair advantage’, in my opinion, ultimately has to be leveled to get more people involved in our sport. Bring along some of these Indy Lights teams, some of these teams that have had opportunities at different points; but they have to feel like they can be successful and not be (uncompetitive).”
Through the support of loyal and motivated sponsors, MSR has been able to strike technical alliances with bigger teams to expedite the program’s learning curve. A number of other new teams that entered IndyCar around the same time as MSR have not been as fortunate and, in most instances, have been unable to make a steady impact in the final results.
To create a more competitive and inviting environment — one that encompasses every corner of the paddock — and brings new team owners to the series, Shank says things like IndyCar’s damper wars must be reigned in.
“In my opinion, it’s a better longer-term view,” he added. “Trust me, I get it. All these engineers that are employed doing simulation, doing all kinds of damper development — it ruins that department. OK, I get that. (But) I’m thinking long-term: For success, I believe we have to make it an inviting place for people to come.”
As one of a handful of team owners with dual IndyCar and IMSA programs, Shank would like to see Penske — who also plays in both series — and maybe NASCAR as well, work on creating more shared weekends where racing fans come away as the big winners.
“I’m not saying I have the ideas, but there are obviously ways we can combine resources with what makes sense about certain events,” he said. “The eras, I think, are gone by where church and state had to stay separate. NASCAR does this; IndyCar does that; (IMSA) does this. I think that the greatest potential for reaching more people is doing combination shows that would blow people’s minds.
“So what we’re talking about is concerts, race events over Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Give the folks a true reason to spend money in motorsports again.
“There are a lot of things that they could do to help each other,” Shank added. “Creating great destinations for people to come to would be number one.”