Robin Miller on Memo Gidley Every now and then a breath of fresh air blows into the paddock and I'm quickly reminded of why I still find auto racing such an intoxicating sport to be around. Jose Guillermo Gidley, aka Memo, is one of ...
Robin Miller on Memo Gidley
Every now and then a breath of fresh air blows into the paddock and I'm quickly reminded of why I still find auto racing such an intoxicating sport to be around. Jose Guillermo Gidley, aka Memo, is one of those instantly likeable characters who could have made it in just about any era because of his will and willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed.
And all he brings to the table is his helmet, a splendid personality and some untapped talent.
Memo (Meeeeeemo) is not your average racer. Born in La Paz, Mexico, he lived on a boat six months a year until he was 13 because his father was a fisherman. He raced off-road bicycles, sailboats and motorcycles before he saw his first CART race in 1982. "I'm a first-generation racer and none of my family raced or was even involved in racing before I got into it," said Gidley. "Living on the water taught me to be real independent and not be afraid of hard work. We were kind of like modern-day hippies, and it was a neat environment to be raised in. But, when I saw my first CART race, I was hooked." Gidley began his four-wheeled career as a mechanic at Jim Russell's School at Laguna Seca and soon won the Russell Racing Championship. He was a go-kart and Formula Ford champ before moving into Formula Atlantics in 1997, where he finished second in the points and won two races.
Now two years of Atlantics (he also ran in 1998) hardly prepares you to go against the FedEx Championship's finest, but last June, Memo won an audition with Walker Racing to substitute for the injured Naoki Hattori. He loaded up his pickup truck in San Rafael, California with everything he owned (including his go-kart) and came back to Indianapolis.
"I just picked up and moved, but it wasn't real hard 'cause I don't own much," chuckled Gidley. "I was pretty much scraping the bottom of the barrel before I got the call from Derrick to go testing at Putnam Park (in Greencastle, Indianapolis)."
Despite rustiness and no testing, the 29-year-old rookie has been quite impressive in his six starts -- especially considering he's driven a Reynard/Honda/Goodyear three times and a Lola/Ford/Firestone three times.
He was fourth fastest in the first timed session at Elkhart Lake for Walker, and wound up 15 on the grid. He finished 12th in his initial street race at Toronto -- on the lead lap and only 42 seconds behind winner Dario Franchitti.
"I hadn't driven a car since Houston last year before I went to the test with Walker, and four weeks later I'm racing at Portland. It's a helluva racecar and you salivate thinking about driving it all season. But, I feel fortunate I got that opportunity. I mean, to drive a car like that and not have to bring any money is more than I could have expected."
When Hattori came back from his broken leg two weeks ago at Detroit, Gidley found himself unemployed.
"But Dale Coyne called me the Wednesday night before Detroit and wanted to know if I'd be interested in driving for his team," Gidley explained. "I was in Detroit the next day having a seat poured in the paddock and I was in the car Friday when practice began.
"Dale knew my background, and I think he knows I've gotten to where I am because I work hard at every aspect of it. Not just driving, but every aspect. And I think maybe he thought some of that could rub off on his team."
Transmission trouble made Detroit a short, if not forgettable race, but last weekend at Mid-Ohio, Memo showed the stuff that should get him some serious looks from CART teams for 2000. He qualified 13th (out of 26) on Friday for a team that's never in the fast group and ran as high as 11th in the Miller-Lite 200 before being eliminated by electrical problems.
"I had tested Champ Cars here before and I felt comfortable right out of the box," he said. "I wish we hadn't been rained out Saturday because I think we could have made the car much better. The race was going pretty good and it's too bad we couldn't have finished.
"But it's been a good summer. The biggest thing to me is that it gets people at this level to start thinking you have potential. Deep down inside, I know I can do it."
Let's hope somebody gives him a chance. Full-time.