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Could this be the break Gidley has been waiting for?


 by Mark Cipolloni
June 19, 2001

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Yesterday Memo Gidley got the call he has been waiting a long time for.  It came from Target Chip Ganassi Racing Team Manager Mike Hull.  We can hear it now "Memo, Nicolas Minassian is out, you're in.  Can you come in for a seat fitting, we want you to drive for us."  

We bet Memo got off the phone, hopped in his Toyota pickup, and got to 7777 Woodland Drive before Mike could put the phone back on the hook. 

All kidding aside, although he never seems to get too excited, he sounded happier tonight when we spoke to him via telephone, than he has in a long time.   Memo lives in California, but during the summer months he stays with a friend in Indianapolis so he can be close to the teams and close to a lot of races.  When we first called him tonight, his friend answered the phone and said, I came home today and I saw a Ganassi Racing shirt hanging up and Memo's racing gear packed and ready to go.  "I knew something was up," he said.

We finally caught up to Memo just getting back from driving his go-kart in Camden, Indiana, about 2-hours north of Indy, something he does almost daily to keep in shape.  

We asked him if this was perhaps the best opportunity he had yet.  In typical Memo the-professional Gidley style, he was reluctant to come right out and say what he had to already be thinking.  He's truly thankful for the opportunity the previous team owners gave him.  But after a little prodding he admitted, "yes, based on the teams previous winning record, this is perhaps my best opportunity, but I'm also more experienced now, so that's going to help too."

Week in and week out Memo Gidley is at the race track talking, listening, watching....and hoping for that big break.  While other drivers try to land rides from long distance, Memo did it with results, perseverance, and desire.  Nobody pays for him to go to all the races.  He pays himself, because he wants to be there.  He wants to be seen.  He wants to be known.  And he wants the team owners to know he has the desire to make it.

Two things impress us most about Gidley, 1) his ability to get into a race car and be quick right away.  We saw that when he drove for the Players team, and again when he jumped into John Della Penna's ride.  The results were almost immediate. 2) He never gets down and doesn't carry a chip on his shoulder.  In the past it always seems one thing or another did not go right and Memo was back out on the street looking for another ride.  As a driver that has to be frustrating, perhaps demoralizing.  But not to Memo, at least he never showed it.  

From Derrick Walker to Dale Coyne, to Players Forsythe to Della Penna, he either lost his ride because the teams regular driver was coming back from an injury or the team ran into financial hardship.  His latest disappointment came at Indy.  On the final day, just hours before qualifying was over, Memo got a call from Tom Kelly, owner of Kelly Racing.  He was going to put Memo in one of polesitter Scott Sharps backup cars, and give him a last minute shot at qualifying for the Indy 500.

Gidley takes a lunch break next to his #61 car at Indy

In the Kelly Racing backup car getting ready for a last minute qualifying attempt.
Photo Credit: Earl Ma/BSG

While all the other drivers had been practicing all month in their cars, Gidley failed to get the hopelessly underfunded #61 CURE sponsored machine up to a speed good enough to make the field.  Rather than go home and sulk, Memo persevered.  He sat on the sidelines, waiting, hoping.  Then, as it always seems to be with Memo, he was thrust into a pressure cooker situation with the eyes of the world watching.  And he almost pulled off the near-impossible.  

With barely a handful of laps in the car, he ran the Kelly machine as fast as it would go with the setups that were on it, flat out, wide open, just brushing the wall, Memo gave it everything that car had on that day.  But in the end he came up short by mere fractions of a second.  If only he had one full day of practice, he might have qualified for the 85th running of the Indy 500.  Who knows, with how well Kelly Racing's others cars were running, Gidley might have made it a CART 1 thru 7 sweep instead of 1 thru 6 at Indy.

But that was Indy.  Now it's Portland, and the dawn of a new day.  We asked Memo if he ever drove a Champ Car at Portland.  He said, "I drove there in 1999 for Walker Racing, and I'll be driving the track in my mind over and over between now and then."  When asked how he will do with no practice time in the car he said, the new rules will help me a little, Friday is an all-day practice session so I should get plenty of laps in."

As for setup, he said his teammate, rookie Bruno Junqueira, doesn't have any experience at Portland, "so we'll probably rely on the teams previous setups to start and then, hopefully, my experience will come into play as the team refines the cars throughout the weekend."

Gidley's last Champ car race was at Fontana, some 6 months ago.  Will that affect you in any way?  "It shouldn't, I feel I'm in the best shape of my life, both physically and mentally."  Memo has already had his seat fitting with the Ganassi Team.  He's ready, and so is the team.

Our hats off to the Ganassi team for giving a very good American driver, perhaps the ride of his life, and to Memo Gidley, for being a true professional.  Despite all the previous disappointments, he never got down, never gave up, and never had a chip on his shoulder because things didn't work out.  He's a role model for every young American driver who wants to make it to the big time.  

Results, perseverance and desire.  Memo Gidley wouldn't have it any other way.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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