Aventura, Fla. - Any time a top-line professional athlete suffers an injury, there is always the risk that they will not come back as strong as they once were, no matter how hard they train.
So as Ozz Negri gingerly hobbled back to his car after suffering what turned out to be a broken leg on his mountain bike last December, his main thought was not about the pain--it was about getting back into his Michael Shank Racing Ford-Riley at full strength.
With equal doses of determination and courage, Negri made his way back into the car for the Rolex 24 at Daytona less than a week after getting his cast removed.
While a switch to left foot braking and the ‘never give up’ attitude of the Michael Shank Racing squad saw Negri enjoy a thrilling return to the podium in the 24, the weekend masked some unwelcome news as subsequent follow-up doctor visits showed that the injury was not healing the way it needed to. After fighting his way through the COTA round, it was clear that Negri had to once again step away from his driving duties.
Negri went back under the knife to re-break the bone, not only resetting the clock on his recovery time, but once again opening the question of his ability to recover that top form. But not only did the surgery go well, the recovery and therapy work with Dr. Jonathan Hersch and Dr. Guillermo Valenzuela were right on time, as Negri’s return at Mid-Ohio saw him posting the fastest time in the final practice session ahead of a run to fourth place in the race with co-driver John Pew.
“We were nervous (about his recovery)--there just is no way to get around saying that, because it is true,” said team owner Mike Shank. “But no one has the will that Ozz has and didn’t surprise a single person on this team that he so quick the moment he got back in the car.”
“It’s unbelievable to me, the support from this team,” said Negri. “They never give up, and they never gave up on me. Knowing that they saved the seat for me and that the team wanted me to come back at 100%, it was so motivating to me.”
Since that speedy return at Mid-Ohio, Negri and Pew have picked up a run of top-five finishes, with the duo once again returning to the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series podium at the most recent round at Kansas Speedway last month. Negri has scored at least one Rolex Series podium every season that he has competed in the category.
With a newly-installed trophy on his mantle, Negri now looks forward to the Laguna Seca round this weekend. The track is another site of some significant moments for Michael Shank Racing. The track was the site of Michael Shank Racing’s first-ever two-car effort, and it netted a pole and a double top-10 finish as Negri and Mark Patterson made a splash on debut together in 2005.
“That was a great weekend, and it really ended up having a big effect on this team, because later in the year, Mark (Patterson) committed to be a part of the GRAND-AM program full time and we went on to win races and develop as an organization to the point where we are now,” said Shank.
While the pace and podium are relished signs of a full recovery, Negri is looking for more this weekend.
“Laguna was a very special weekend for me and for this team back in 2005, and there is only one way to make it even more special, to get Ford back on to the top of the podium,” said Negri.
Michael Shank Racing will be back in Rolex Series action this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with the race set to be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 at 5:00 PM ET.
Michael Shank Racing