While Memo Gidley has kept busy this off-season trying to secure a lucrative ride for the upcoming CART Champ Car season, he has not spent all his time merely pounding the pavement. Memo recently returned to the mainland US after spending five days in Hawaii on a working vacation while promoting shifter kart racing.
Bobby Brooks, President of the Hawaii Karting Center, flew in Memo and the Trackmagic kart with which he won the SKUSA Supernationals in Las Vegas this November for a two-day driving demonstration and clinic at the school's facility at Hawaii Raceway Park in Leeward Oahu. Memo assisted in the launch of the school's 2000 semester and provided information on his expertise in shifter kart racing to local junior karters and other interested spectators on December 10 and 11, despite dark clouds and heavy rains which interrupted the on-track proceedings more than once.
"The track that we've been on is really good; I think it's a place for people to get started in karting, which leads into car racing if they want," Memo says, having been a long-time karting proponent.
The Hawaiian Karting Center currently runs a 2-hour "Intro to Kart Racing" program, and Brooks decided that in launching the addition of shifter karts to the school, who better than Memo - a multi-time karting champ making the move up to CART Champ Cars - to give him good feedback on the track layout and practice with some of the local Hawaii shifter kart drivers at the same time. All aspects of the track and school program are in place, and the introductory shifter kart class is a 3-hour program for under $200. "It's the least expensive racing around," Bobby says.
"I think that if you can be successful at racing, whether it's go-karts or whatever, you can transfer what you've learned and basically be successful at anything, because more or less, everything is the same," Memo adds. "It gives kids something to do and something to learn, and it's an easy way to teach them good lessons."
Memo has no difficulty relating to wide-eyed elementary school students. "Kids are very smart. They just a lot of times don't speak too much, especially when you're new and they're a little bit shy, but basically I just try and ask them a few questions and get to know them a little bit, and try and communicate with them on their level. For me, that's easy, because I enjoy being around kids. You know, it's fun. We talked about the track, we talked a little bit about racing, we talked about how to drive around the track - the difference between driving on the wet, which we had, and driving on the dry. I just try to let them see me drive a little bit and see if there were any questions, but basically let them see that I'm really no different than they are. I think if you can get on their level, then they realize they can be what you are and what you're trying to be, and I think they'll put a little more effort into it."
Like many of his CART colleagues, Memo has stayed active behind the wheel of shifter karts even after making it to the big leagues, though he takes a less recreational approach to driving them than most. "The lessons that you learn are everything that you need to basically run a Champ Car. Obviously you need to progress your skills up - the differences of speed between the cars - to progress that in stages, but it's just the cheapest way to learn how to drive, without a doubt. I think in the States, it's becoming very popular. Most or I'd say all of the kart manufacturers have professional teams that are racing and young guys getting paid money to race go-karts for a living. But unfortunately, I think a lot of the (domestic) kart community doesn't publicize this."
Getting the kart from San Francisco to Honolulu for this engagement, via air cargo, proved no easy task, even with a forklift and flatbed. "The karts that I race personally - they spend a lot of time putting them together and making them race ready. To ship them over is a pretty big project because they weigh quite a bit - not like a car, but when you ship them over, still you wanna make sure everything's secured right and that you've got the necessary parts that you need to run...but they're pretty simple. It took me about 45 minutes to load the box up and just a little longer to prep the kart and stuff, but yeah, it's a pretty big box!"
Memo's first trip to Hawaii came some seven years earlier as part of an off-road testing team, and he clearly enjoyed this return visit. "Hawaii's great - the atmosphere's really nice. I haven't seen the sun in four days, but I've been assured this is the only time it has ever rained in Hawaii! It's been really excellent - I really like it - I wish I could spend some more time, but I'll definitely come back. Everybody's really nice, and the people are friendly...I don't usually come over to Hawaii, but (this kind of trip) is part of the sport. I like to be at home working and driving, so I can't really go on vacations unless I have my go-kart. So I guess this was the perfect vacation because I have my go-kart, and it's been excellent."
On Memo's last full day on Oahu, the world-famous Honolulu Marathon took place for the 27th time, with more than 20,000 runners from around the world streaming past his Waikiki hotel room in the wee hours of the morning. Did he give the slightest consideration to running this kind of race? "Yeah, well actually, I set my alarm for 4:30, and it rang, but you know, I just couldn't drag myself out of bed." And he forgot his running shoes anyway.
Memo looks forward to doing this again, perhaps the same time next year. "For sure, the highlight is when you look at the pictures of the kids that are at the track - for me, when they're pulling out of the lot, and they're still saying goodbye to you by first name, then you know you've made a real serious impression on them...but you know, the Baywatch Christmas party, a little bit of club-hopping and sightseeing - that always helps out! I'm pretty serious about my racing, so I don't get wound up in the other stuff too much, but it's always nice!"
Other excursions for Memo included rides to I`olani Palace and Punchbowl National Cemetery, plus viewing the statues of King Kamehameha I and surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku. Brooks also arranged for Memo to attend the "Baywatch" party, where he met stars Stacy Kamano, Simmone MacKinnon, and Jason Brooks, as well as the show's Executive Producer, Director, and creator Greg Bonann. At the same function, Memo also talked with University of Hawaii football coach June Jones, recently named College Football Coach of the Year by the Western Athletic Conference, who took a keen interest in racing and in Memo's talent.
Local Champ Car enthusiast and radio show host Jerrette Kamaka also arranged Memo's appearances on local radio talk shows, trackside filming of a feature story for a local TV program, an autograph session at All-Star Cafe in Waikiki, and a press meeting at world-famous Nick's Fishmarket, owned by Denver Broncos patriarch Pat Bowlen.