DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — As A.J. Allmendinger drove the Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley to the famed Rolex 24 At Daytona victory lane in 2012 for the first time in the team’s history, he vividly recalls seeing his teammates waiting — the smiles on their faces, the tears in their eyes.
Co-drivers Justin Wilson, Oswaldo Negri and John Pew joined team owners Michael and MaryBeth Shank in shouts of triumph as Allmendinger brought the car to a victorious stop on the 50th anniversary of the great sports car event. Wilson and Negri pulled a mostly dehydrated Allmendinger – who had driven the last three and a half hours of the race – out of the cockpit and hoisted him on their shoulders.
“Can you believe it?! Can you believe it?!’’ they all kept shouting to one another, hugs all around.
It was the first major victory for the family-owned Michael Shank Racing team. And the first Rolex 24 triumph for all four drivers.
“Really for me, what I remember was how much joy I had pulling into victory lane, not for myself, but to see the faces on Mike and Ozz and John and Justin,’’ Allmendinger recalled. “Just that.
“It was one of those things I had dreamed about for so long, and we’d been close so many times and you kind of think, ‘OK, is it ever going to happen?’ And that was the biggest thing. It hit me right away how happy I was in general, but I was more excited and pumped spending it with them, seeing their faces and seeing how happy they were.”
For Shank, whose team’s best finish in eight previous Rolex 24 starts was second to the mighty Chip Ganassi Racing team in 2006 – the win was a culmination of desire and tenacity. It was the kind of surreal moment where life-changing achievement justified all the personal sacrifice. And there had been plenty, including mortgaging the family home to finance a racing dream.
“Looking back at it now, when we finally won the race, it changed the whole trajectory of this company and this team,’’ Michael Shank said. “It was something we had to do in order to take the next step in the evolution of the team. And a lot of it is earning that respect and understanding that we are a good team and can do good things with our sponsors or OEM partners or manufacturers. We had to get that (win) done.
“The tricky part of that is we had tried for many years and finished very well but something always kind of kept us out. There were a couple heartbreaking years. But we did it with the same group of guys and it was great.”
Looking back on that January day – now a full 10 years ago – still brings such warmth to the hearts of this team, especially considering beloved teammate Wilson in 2015 following an accident in an IndyCar Series race at Pocono, Pa.
To have those fond memories and to have worked so hard for that Rolex 24 moment are genuinely a cherished treasure in the hearts of this team.
The Long and Short of a Most Memorable Triumph
Allmendinger still chuckles remembering details of that winning weekend – especially sharing the car with Wilson, who stood 6’4”, compared to Allmendinger’s 5’6”. The driver changes were always “interesting.’’ And in the case of the 2012 Rolex 24, the final driver change was crucial in vying for the win.
In those closing hours, the Michael Shank Racing Ford had to chase down and then hold off the No. 8 Starworks Motorsports Ford, which had its own stable of top-notch drivers from Le Mans legend Allan McNish to Ryan Dalziel and Lucas Luhr.
“I remember taking the car in that last stint from Justin, and his back was wrecked from being scrunched, and my back was wrecked from being stretched out,’’ Allmendinger said. “I remember getting in the car and rolling out of pit lane for the last stint, and I hit the brake pedal and it felt like a knife was in my back. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m in so much pain already. This is going to be long.’ But a fast race car always helps that pain.
“We had battled for so long with that (No.) 8 car and it was starting to come down to the two of us. To have McNish in the car at first during my stint was really special because he had done it all. He’s done everything in motorsports, but especially when it came to sports car racing and those endurance races. Especially at that time – to me he’s one of the best that’s ever done it – but he was on his game. I remember going after it and that battle we had banging off of each other. He got in there and said something on TV to the effect, ‘I don’t know what A.J.’s doing, there’s still two hours to go.’ I was like, ‘We’re winning. That’s what we’re doing.’”
Most thought Allmendinger could not go the final distance.
“They kept saying on the (No.) 8 radio, ‘He (Allmendinger) has been in the car so long, he’s going to fade, don’t worry about it.’ I think Mike told me about that during the race, which got me all jacked up even more,” Allmendinger recalled.
Shank has been “jacked up” ever since. His team, now Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian went on to claim back-to-back IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona class titles in 2019 and ’20. It has expanded into fulltime competition in the IndyCar Series where Helio Castroneves earned his record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 victory driving for the team last May.
And it all started with that 2012 Rolex 24 At Daytona victory.
“The 50th (Rolex 24) is just a big, big deal to me and winning it added a lot of value to everything we owned during that time,’’ Shank said, noting the similarities of the team getting its first IMSA and IndyCar wins on the biggest stages in their respective series. “Our first win ever was in the biggest race in the world. Just the right time and the right place – and the Rolex was really what started it all.
“I really don’t believe we would have had opportunities like we have had without that (2012) win. It was incredible with the timing just working out perfectly and it happened to be the 50th, which is a gift that never stops giving to this day, to be honest with you.”
Meyer Shank Racing returns in search of a second Rolex 24 win this weekend with Oliver Jarvis, Tom Blomqvist, Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud driving the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 in the Daytona Prototype international class. They will start from fifth position.