Before AJ Allmendinger ever raced in the NASCAR ranks, Michael Shank was there to support him.
For 15 of the last 16 seasons, Allmendinger has raced with Shank in the 24 Hours of Daytona—winning the 50th Anniversary of the Rolex in 2012. Throughout the wins, the podiums, and the disappointments, their friendship has endured.
So imagine the emotion Dinger experienced watching Helio Castroneves behind the wheel of the No. 06 Meyer Shank Racing taking the checkered flag in last Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.
“In the moment, I was shaking, quite literally, shaking in my living room, crying,” Allmendinger said. “Just knowing what my brother, Mike Shank, has been through to get to that point—all the ups and downs, all of the struggles. The last few years, the partnership he’s had with Honda and Honda HPD has been a big deal to him because up until then he never really had any manufacturer support. Ford, a little bit, when we won Rolex but it wasn’t a major thing like he was part of the company.
“But Honda has really stepped up and allowed him to go after what his goals were and that really started with the GT3 program, into IndyCar and now with the prototype program and with the full-time IndyCar and now with Helio running a second, part-time car. We’ve been together and we’ve stepped up for each other through both of our lives at multiples times trying to help the other person.
“I was just so happy for Mike, Mary Beth (Shank’s wife), Jim Meyer (co-owner), and then Helio, who I got to know really well when I was at Team Penske and covering IMSA. For him to win his fourth like that—after maybe thinking he wasn’t going to get another opportunity—it was just a great day all the way around. I'm just so happy for the whole group, especially Mike and Mary Beth because they’re family to me. Even for me, standing there, like it wasn’t real. Just seeing the pure joy on Mike’s face standing there at start-finish line, I could talk about it for hours.”
This weekend, Allmendinger returns Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with the NASCAR Xfinity Series. He's hoping that Shank will be there to cheer him on. Not only is Ohio home to Shank—who hails from Columbus—it’s also the home track of Dinger’s current car owner Matt Kaulig. Allmendinger’s No. 16 Chevrolet will feature the Ramco livery—a manufacturer based in Hudson, Ohio.
Allmendinger, who is currently third in the NASCAR Xfinity standings, is grateful for the opportunity Kaulig and GM Chris Rice have afforded the driver.
“I love being a part of Kaulig Racing,” Allmendinger said. “I love trying to help this organization be better because this organization is making me so much better as a race car driver. I’m really enjoying it and I love being around Matt, Chris, and all of the men and women at Kaulig Racing.
“It’s generally fun. Sure, race day, you walk by me and I’m tense and I’m nervous. I want to be at my best and if it doesn’t go well, I’m going to be pissed off—the same as I’ve always been. But I know the team atmosphere is a family. We’ve got each other’s backs. I truly enjoy it.”
Certainly, Allmendinger is a favorite entering Mid-Ohio. When NASCAR made its debut at the 2.258-mile, 13-turn track in 2013, Allmendinger won by 1.164-seconds over Michael McDowell. In his second start at the circuit in 2019 with Kaulig Racing, he finished third.
“You’ve got to make your own passing zones,” Allmendinger says. “It’s for sure a challenge to pass at this race track. With an Xfinity car, with the way the tires go away, from start to finish you get a big difference in lap times from the start of a run to the end of a run, so it gets a little easier to pass.
“If you get through Turn 1, you can get a good run up toward Turn 2, and you can make a passing zone out of that. At the end of the back straightaway, there’s a good passing zone there as well. In the infield, you’re kind of single file, (but) with out cars, you have the luxury of being able to use the bumpers a little bit and being able to force somebody into a mistake, if that’s what you have to do.”