IRL: Indy500: Memo Gidley returns to Indy preview

"Memo Gidley Feeling "Blessed, Yet Stressed" as he returns to Indy May 9, 2001, Indianapolis: American driver Memo Gidley returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway feeling "blessed, yet stressed" this week, with a brand-new team that is...

"Memo Gidley Feeling "Blessed, Yet Stressed" as he returns to Indy

May 9, 2001, Indianapolis: American driver Memo Gidley returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway feeling "blessed, yet stressed" this week, with a brand-new team that is steeped in Brickyard history. Although the program came together only in the last few days, Gidley attacks this year's race with a competitive G-Force chassis, a pole-winning engine builder, and an inspiring sponsor. Gidley, team owner Lee Brayton, and primary sponsor Cure Autism Now each have a powerful story to tell, and the new team represents a tribute, a call to action, and an opportunity for redemption.

Owner Lee Brayton is making a return to Indy competition in honor of his son Scott Brayton, who was killed at the Speedway on May 17th, 1996 in a practice accident. Scott had qualified on the pole for the second consecutive year, using engines built by Lee's firm Brayton Engineering.

"I never saw him any happier than the day he died," Lee said of his son, who crashed on the final practice run of the day. "He was on his last fuel load. He came in, gave me a thumbs-up and said, 'Dad, we're going to win.'"

A car owner through the 1986 season, Lee Brayton built engines throughout the eighties and nineties, but has not run his own car in fifteen years. To mark the five-year anniversary of Scott's passing, Lee entered two cars in this year's Indy 500, for drivers Steve Knapp and Memo Gidley.

Thirteen months ago, Gidley arrived at Indy in April with nothing more than a pickup truck and a cell phone. A substitute driver with 13 CART races under his belt, Gidley walked up and down Gasoline Alley hoping to borrow someone's car to take his rookie test. When Dale Pelfrey offered Memo the chance to take a year-old chassis out for a spin, Gidley wowed the old-timers by acing his rookie test in a mere ninety minutes. Pelfrey then offered Gidley the continued use of the '99 car, if the driver could bring his own crew. Thus, "Gidley's Volunteers" were born, and a grassroots fundraising effort enabled Gidley to log more than 500 miles of practice at the Speedway in preparation for qualifying.

Unfortunately, the 1999 car produced far less downforce than the 2000 cars of Gidley's competitors, and none of the year-old cars made the field. Gidley crashed on his first qualifying attempt, and has not run another lap at the Speedway until Tuesday May 8th, when he took out his black and white #61 Oldsmobile G-Force Firestone for an initial shakedown run.

In the past twelve months, Gidley ran ten CART races with Della Penna Motorsports, gaining valuable oval experience with tenth-place finishes at Michigan and Chicago. Gidley's all-time best finish in a CART or IRL event is his sixth-place result at the famous Road America track last summer. With up-to-date equipment and solid sponsorship for his 2001 Indy assault, the only thing Gidley needs more of is time.

"We have good equipment, and a lot of motors, and more than one set of rims," chuckles Gidley. "It's really a proper effort. However, we have a steep learning curve ahead of us compared to teams that have been running IRL events all season. Our program just came together last weekend, and we started our first serious running today, so we have some catching up to do. My whole career has been jumping in cars at the last minute and figuring it out on the fly, so I'm prepared for what lies ahead."

Gidley is impressed by the consistent commitment of the Cure Autism Now organizers, qualities he believes are well-applied to racing. "I've known the CAN people since their racing effort began in 1999. The people who are involved, like Anthony Edwards, are just as excited about Team CAN as they was two years ago, and that kind of dedication is what you need to be successful in racing, in scientific research, or anything else worth pursuing."

Team CAN, who sponsored Buzz Caulkins at last year's Indy 500, is the racing arm of the Cure Autism Now Foundation. The team is funded by sponsors Simple Green, Marsh Supermarkets, Motor Trend, Firestone and ChupaChups Suckers, each of whom takes a smaller amount of signage on the car to open up the sidepods for the Cure Autism Now logo.

The CAN Foundation is composed of parents, health care professionals and scientists, who are dedicated to finding a cure for autism and related disorders. CAN's mission includes broadening awareness and understanding of a disease that has been virtually ignored for over forty years, and providing information resources for parents of autistic children.

As Gidley mentioned, actor Anthony Edwards of the hit TV show "ER" has been involved in Team CAN from the beginning, and is a frequent speaker on behalf of the CAN foundation.

"I believe 100% in what CAN is trying to accomplish," says Edwards." I think using motorsports to raise awareness and desperately needed funding for autism research is exciting and simply fantastic. This is a unique opportunity for all of us to use a high profile program to reach a lot of people, have fun doing it and help a great and deserving cause."

-CAN-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Memo Gidley , Steve Knapp