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AUTO RACING PACKAGE: Columbus racer will know fast if he can make it in IRL

October 29, 1997

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ Mike Shank has a short timetable for success in the Indy Racing League.

The Columbus-based racer, who competed in his initial IRL event in the 1997 season finale at Las Vegas, said he will know by the second race of 1998 whether he will continue driving for the rest of the year.

``I have to prove to myself in the next couple of weeks whether I can drive an Indy car,″ said Shank, who started 29th and finished 16th in the Las Vegas 500. ``We raced well and didn’t make any dumb mistakes at Vegas, so that was encouraging. But I need to finish in the top 10 or close to it at Disney World and Phoenix (the first two races on the 1988 IRL schedule) to be where I want to be.

``If I’m not satisfied with what’s happened at that point, I’ll find another driver and move into a sort of general manager’s role, although I’ll probably compete at the Indy 500 in May regardless.″

Shank, 30, owns a Formula Atlantic team whose drivers are Johnny Rutherford Jr. and Ted Sahley. He’s been successful in that form of racing himself, winning five Atlantic C2 races in 1996.

But he didn’t get into a race car cockpit this year until getting ready for the Las Vegas race, partly because of his involvement with his own team and partly a result of developmental problems delaying delivery of his Riley and Scott chassis.

``Once we got the car, I tested it at Indianapolis Raceway Park, then went to Las Vegas and destroyed the gearbox the week before the race. That set my rookie test back to Wednesday of race week,″ Shank said.

``I passed it, but then the IRL made me sit out the first practice session so I could observe the other drivers. That meant I’d actually been in the car at racing speed for about 15 minutes before getting into the second practice session.″

And that, he said, was ``an awesome experience.″

``I’d never been in 200 mph-traffic before and wasn’t sure how to react to the way the air was moving the car around,″ he said. ``The learning curve was more than I anticipated, but by the end of the session, things seemed to be going pretty well.″

Shank’s main sponsor is retired Chicago business executive Robert Nienhouse. He’s also getting help from two Columbus companies.

``From the time the idea got started, up and through Vegas, it’s probably cost everyone involved about $850,000,″ Shank said. ``That’s a big amount, but it would have cost between $5 million and $8 million to put together a ride in CART and I’d never be able to afford that.″

End Adv for Thursday Oct. 30 and thereafter

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