April 12, 2000, Long Beach CA: American driver Memo Gidley arrives in Long Beach today ready to drive for his third open-wheel team in the last seven days. "If I could tell you the roller coaster I've been on this week," exclaims Gidley, "It's...
April 12, 2000, Long Beach CA: American driver Memo Gidley arrives in Long Beach today ready to drive for his third open-wheel team in the last seven days. "If I could tell you the roller coaster I've been on this week," exclaims Gidley, "It's typical of a day in the life of my whole deal, which is you never know what's going to happen around the corner."
Gidley's wild ride began twelve days ago, when Walker Racing driver Shinji Nakano was injured in a testing crash at the Milwaukee Mile. Gidley had substituted in four CART races for Walker's '99 Japanese pilot Naoki Hattori, and was a natural choice to fill in for Nakano. Gidley flew out to Indianapolis and had a 2000 Reynard seat fitted at the Walker shop, but the seat was never installed. A last-minute development saw fellow American driver Bryan Herta win the ride, after Forsythe Championship Racing agreed to loan out Herta to the Walker team for two races.
Finding himself in Indianapolis with his helmet and no car to drive, Gidley made the best of the situation, hanging around the pits at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in search of seat time to take his Indy 500 rookie test. Interviewed on Monday afternoon, Gidley explained, "Well, I've been here since Tuesday trying to get my rookie test done with no money. I've been going around seeing shops trying to get something going, but most teams told me the necessary seat time would cost between twenty and fifty thousand dollars. I don't have that kind of money, and so it wasn't until 10:30 Sunday night that Dale Pelfrey said 'Yeah, I'll put you out on the track no problem, be there at 7am tomorrow. I hope you can bring some guys with you to work on the car, because we're shorthanded.' So I changed the pedals and helped to get the car ready for the track."
Gidley hit the asphalt at the legendary brickyard at 11:05 am last Monday April 10th, and within 80 minutes had completed the multi-stage examination and posted the morning's fastest rookie lap, clocked at 214 miles per hour. It was an impressive showing for a racer who last drove an oval at Milwaukee in the 1998 Toyota Atlantic race. Gidley felt immediately comfortable in his 1999 Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, noting "The faster I went, the better I felt. I have gone 200 on the straight at Road America, but I had never entered a turn at faster than 145 before. You're jamming right along when you enter a turn at over 200, I mean you're really cooking."
In the middle of his Tuesday morning workout at the Healthplex Gym in Indianapolis, Gidley received a call from Neil Micklewright, vice president of operations at Team Players. Mickelwright told Gidley that his star driver Patrick Carpentier had injured his hand carrying a suitcase up the stairs on Monday evening, and would miss at least two races. Gidley headed over to the Players Indianapolis shop on Tuesday morning, and closed a two-race deal to substitue for Carpentier at Long Beach, California and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Announcing Gidley's appointment as substitute on Tuesday afternoon, Mickelwright said "You hate to lose one of your drivers this early in the season, but we need to keep the momentum from Homestead going and we feel that Memo is best suited for the job." Ironically, Gidley will be driving a Forsythe-owned Ford/Reynard using the Walker-owned seat poured last week, while Bryan Herta will be driving a Walker-owned Honda-Reynard while under contract to Gerry Forsythe. Meanwhile, Gidley is planning an Indy 500 qualification effort with Dale Pelfrey next month. Excited by the opportunity presented by this weekend's CART event, Gidley simply says "Last time I raced at Long Beach, I won it in Toyota Atlantics in the rain. Working with my new team at the very competitive Players Forsythe orgaization, I'm going to do my best to re-visit winner's circle on Sunday."