There’s an old adage that slow and steady wins the race.
Like in the old fable of the tortoise and the hare, sometimes the most successful people in life are those who work toward achieving their goals at a slower, more attainable pace.
After three years of competing in the NTT IndyCar Series on a part-time basis, Meyer Shank Racing co-owner Michael Shank and driver Jack Harvey now hope that their slow, but steady ascent into a full-time competition will bring wins in their future races.
After forming a technical alliance with Andretti Technologies to run their first Indianapolis 500 in 2017, Meyer Shank Racing ran six races in 2018 and 10 races this past season in a technical alliance with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (now Arrow McLaren AP).
Next year, the duo will renew their alliance with Andretti as they compete in their first full-time season. And while MSR’s path to full-time status has been a lengthy one, Shank is a firm believer that the team made the right decision of slowly wading its way into the IndyCar pool instead of diving head first into the deep end.
“I think a lot of people in racing come in and blow their dough, and then they’re gone,” Shank told NBC Sports. “[They] create a lot of ill will and no-good for anybody.
“When we came to IndyCar, we went to the series and said ‘here’s our plan, and this is what we’re going to do,’ and they just kind of looked at us like ‘okay. That’s what everyone tells us,’ but we actually did it, and I think, in baseball terms, we’re probably batting .700 relative to hitting all of our goals. I think we’ve done a pretty damn good job doing what we need to do, and I couldn’t be much more happier.”
A former racer himself, Shank made his lone IndyCar start in the 1997 Las Vegas 500K. After hanging up the helmet, Shank shifted his focus to team ownership, with Michael Shank Racing competing in the Champ Car Atlantic Series and eventually the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series (now part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship).
Eventually, Shank made the decision to attempt to return to IndyCar racing as a car owner, and he bought a Dallara chassis in 2012 with the intention of running Indy.
However, Shank failed to secure a competitive engine, and thus the team never entered the hollowed grounds of ‘The Brickyard’.
“Back in 2012, I didn’t have the relationship that I have with Honda today,” Shank said. “In fact, I was a Ford team at the time in IMSA, and they have no presence here in IndyCar.
“It’s extremely hard to get into.”
Having lost money in his first attempt to run Indy, Shank was initially hesitant to return. However, changes in IndyCar management pursuaded him to give the series another shot.
“The only difference between 2012 and 2018 is Jay Frye,” Shank said. “Jay Frye put his hand out and put his arm around me and said ‘let’s make sure we get this done. What’s your plan, and how can we help?’
“It was not just me, though. There’s other teams like us that came in at the same time. Harding came in, Carlin came in, Juncos – we’re all part of that class that came in.
“All of us came from different backgrounds. I feel we’re doing as good of a job as any of those other teams.”
Since its first race in 2017, MSR’s path towards full-time status has been very carefully planned and orchestrated.
Though no driver or team owner wants to watch races from the couch, Shank said he believes that the path MSR took was the best one.
“What hurts us worse is to come in and be gone because we’re financially ruined,” Shank said. “That hurts the most.
“We had X amount of money, and we asked ‘how can we spend this amount of money? What’s the best, most efficient way to get results for our partners?’ They need results and so do we.
“We set out a very specific plan starting in ‘18, and we stuck to it by the letter. Everything we’ve done is by plan.”
Part of what has made MSR’s plan so successful is the fact that every year the team created a set of goals which they felt could realistically be achieved.
“This year’s goals were to finish in the top 10 as much as possible and transfer at least once in qualifying,” Shank said. “We did a good job of achieving that a lot of the time.
“Next year, as we roll into a full season, we want to be in the top 10 in the points from the get-go, and we want to have three to five podiums and three to five top fives, and the rest of them in the top 10. If we do that, we’re going to finish fifth or sixth in the championship, and that would be exactly a perfect goal.
“There’s going to be days were we finish 14th, though, and we get that. But we’ll just be trying to keep it even-keeled and not lose sight of that.”
So what does the team’s driver think of these goals?
“Our goals, our desires, between me, Michael, and everybody at MSR are totally in line with what we want to achieve in the time frame that we want to achieve them by,” Harvey said. “I think this team is being built for longevity. That’s how I see it.
“I was happy with the plan and obviously wanted to stick around and be a part of it as long as I can.”
Like Shank, Harvey’s road to full-time status has been a long one.
After making his way up Europe’s ladder series, Harvey moved to the U.S. in 2014 to race for Schmidt Peterson in Indy Lights. Between 2014 and 2015, Harvey won six races in Lights, including the 2015 Freedom 100 at Indianapolis.
Harvey went rideless in 2016 before driving for MSR in its maiden Indy 500 the following year. Since then, Harvey’s scored four top 10’s in 19 IndyCar races, with best starting and finishing position of third, both of which came in this year’s IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
With MSR continuing to improve each season, Harvey he has plenty of trust and faith in Shank, and sponsors SiruisXM and AutoNation, among others.
“We just have so many good relationships that I still felt this is the team,” Harvey said. “This year we’ve shown what we can do, but I feel like we still got some gas left in the tank to be able to improve next year.
“We all have this thing called pride and we want to get the best results we can. I think between us, we all understand each other. There’s some difficult conversations, but we don’t shy away from them.
“We appreciate all of our sponsors. I think we look after them really well at the track and away from the track. We go racing with people we enjoy going racing with, who we all believe in. It’s very much a big team effort. I think the way we’ve expanded really shows that.”
Now with a full slate in 2020, both Harvey and Shank are hopeful to make the most of their first full-time season. Should the duo continue to impress next year, they could very well become one of the best feel-good stories the series has seen in a long time.
“The story of how we got from 2017 to now is an awesome story,” Shank said. “It could be a little book, actually.
“Let this effort win a big race at some point, it’ll be a true textbook example of how people can do whatever they want to do. You just have to be creative and treat people well.“