Though his start in motor sport came with single seaters and oval racing in 1989, this Floridian native has since established himself as an endurance racing specialist, with multiple 24-hour starts at Le Mans, Dubai, the Nürburgring and, of course, Daytona to his name. Ask him for a career highlight, and winning his class at Dubai and Daytona, back-to-back, in 2013 will be up there.
On top of that, Shane Lewis boasts more than half a dozen starts at the 12 Hours of Sebring, class championship-contending runs in the American Le Mans Series, Trans-Am and the GT4 America Series. He even tried his hand at NASCAR at Watkins Glen in 2002
We weren’t expecting competitive bull riding to be on his resume though…
“You have to ask, really? I’m 53.”
“I didn’t start in karting like a lot of people do. I started actually by building an old, oval dirt car when I was high school. But every time I was at the oval, it was connected to a road course, and I’d hang on the fence. All I wanted to do was drive on the road curse. So my first ever race car was with the dirt car, but my first ever road race car was a Formula Ford [single seater]. And that was way back in 1988. I started a little bit older than most people do, so I was…let me do the math quickly! Yeah, I would have been in my early 20s.”
“That’s tough because there’s been so many highlights. [Pause] But…yeah, I would have to say winning the Daytona 24 Hours after 19 tries.”
“Yes, 19 times I have raced the Daytona 24. So finally getting the win* and to wear the [Rolex] watch that I thought I would never get to wear is probably the highlight. That win meant and still does mean the word to me, and the celebration at the end of the race was HUGE!”
*Together with Nelson Canache Jr. and American compatriots Jim Norman and David Donohue, Shane won the GX class in 2013 aboard a Napleton Racing Porsche.
“In all of the world, Nürburgring, hands down. The Nordschleife is the best race track ever. In the United States, if you ask me, that’s a lot harder. I love the facilities at COTA [Circuit of the Americas, Texas]. I love the garages, the atmosphere, I love everything about it. But actually in terms of a driver’s track, I would have to say either Watkins Glen or VIR [Virginia International Raceway].
“I love to tell everyone in the US, every driver that I meet, that they have to go drive the Nürburgring.” – Were this not emphatic enough, Shane lightly slaps the arm of his chair to emphasise each word! – “There was an opportunity, many years ago, that I could race Le Mans or the Nürburgring. It was the same weekend, and I chose the Nürburgring. I’ve raced Le Mans three times, and including VLN and N24 [Hours] I’ve done the Nürburgring 15 times – I think maybe I’ve done five or six 24s there – and I still want to go back. There is just nothing like it anywhere else in the world.”
“[Long pause] There have been a lot of strange things, but the one that sticks out was the time my car had an electrical problem during a race in Virginia. I pulled the car off to the side, got out, took the hood off, fixed the car, put the hood back on, strapped myself back in, and still finished the race. No mechanics, no help, nothing, just me. I mean, I’d built my own cars before, so maybe it’s not that strange, but it’s the one that sticks out as the most eventful and unique.”
“It’s red, white and blue, because I’m from the US. And you can see that it kind of looks like a race track and like an ‘S’, for my name.
“And how that came about is a pretty good story. Many years ago, I didn’t know what to do with the design, so I decided to hold a helmet design competition. And a lot of people sent their ideas in. So, I had a second one done, auctioned that off, and we raised quite a lot of money for charity. I mean thousands of dollars. So that design has stayed ever since.”
“I would have to say that, because I had to build my own race cars when I started and I’ve been doing this for so long that endurance racing used to be that you had to take care of the car. It wasn’t about being flat-out all the time. I have actually had to learn to be faster in an endurance race over the years. So I would say my biggest strength is probably never hurting or abusing the car during an endurance race. Always making sure my teammates and the finishing position come first.”
“I hope so! [Laughs]”
“Oh wow! I have never been asked that question before! Well the actor I think would do a great job would be Matthew McConaughey. He just seems like a genuine, full-of-life personality that smiles a lot, and I think that’s who I am. Plus I would make a great stunt double for him [Laughs].”
“That is a fantastic question, because I have many friends, who say, ‘you can’t do this forever. Is there any bucket list race that you really want to achieve?’ And I would say that I’m the luckiest guy in the entire world to have raced all over the world. So for me, it’s not so much about what I want to do, it’s about WHO I want to do it with. I want to be with people, teams, co-drivers that you can’t wait to see when you get to the track in the morning. There’s not one event in particular that I still want to do. I mostly want to do it with good people, whatever it is.”
“I love to surf. I love to mountain bike. I love to go off-roading. I love adventure! As a matter of fact, when I leave here, we’re going straight to Glamis [Dunes in California], and it’s like disappearing into the desert in Dubai with super fun off-road vehicles.
“Actually something maybe not many people know, and something I don’t talk about too much, is that when I was really young, I used to be a bull rider and competed in rodeos. In fact I was a California State bull riding champion when I was in high school!”
“I think this is probably the best group of people and the best governing body I have ever been involved with. I mean, the men and women at CREVENTIC treat the competitors like they want them there. They treat them like customers, they treat them like friends. I just love the atmosphere here. It’s the best!”
Shane Lewis was speaking with David Vink and James Gent at the 2019 Hankook 24H COTA USA. Images courtesy of Petr Frýba. You can also check out this story in the 2020 Hankook 24H DUBAI magazine, available for download at the link below.