IRL: Indy500: Memo Gidley''s volunteers march to Indy

A small band of ragtag volunteers is converging on Indianapolis this weekend, preparing to qualify a '99-model Dallara race car for their blue-collar American driver Memo Gidley. The team, affectionately known as Gidley's Volunteers, is a ...

A small band of ragtag volunteers is converging on Indianapolis this weekend, preparing to qualify a '99-model Dallara race car for their blue-collar American driver Memo Gidley. The team, affectionately known as Gidley's Volunteers, is a hastily-assembled group of passionate crewmembers, engineers and businessmen rolling up their sleeves to prepare a Dale Pelfrey-supplied car and engine for next week's Indy 500 practice and qualifying.

Gidley, who is competing in this weekend's CART Firestone Firehawk 500 event in Motegi Japan, will arrive at Indy on Monday for the first team meeting of his small yet enthusiastic crew. Team Manager Alan McCall explains "The top teams are showing up at Indy with 25 people. Up until today, this team has had only one member, namely myself. I've been working on the car alone in Garage 12C every day for the last two weeks, and was delighted to be joined this morning by four mechanics from Forsythe Championship Racing, who worked on Tony Kanaan's Champ Car last season. Their team is on a one-year sabbatical, and owner Gerry Forsythe has been generous enough to allow them to spend the next two weeks at Indy helping Memo and gaining valuable experience."

Gidley first met McCall in early April while roaming Indianapolis Motor Speedway in search of a means to pass his Rookie Test. Without cash in pocket, things were looking pretty grim for the young driver, until a last-minute benefactor raised his hand. "Well, I'd been hanging around the Speedway for six days trying to get my rookie test done with no money," Gidley explains. "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."

McCall had been in discussions with Team Pelfrey about developing their '99 Dallara chassis for this year's Indy 500, and the mysterious New Zealander volunteered his services to assist Gidley in setting up the year-old car for the next morning's Rookie Test. The 59 year old McCall has a storied history in racing on three continents, including stints managing two teams in Formula 1 and a key role in Jim Clark's 1966 Indy 500 entry, which resulted in a 2nd place finish for the Formula 1 champion driver.

In the early morning hours of April 10th, McCall, Gidley, his manager Donnie Graves, Jeff Kitchen from Pi Research, and Team Pelfrey engineer Gilbert Lage prepared the loaner car for the day's first session. Gidley hit the track at 11:20 am and aced his rookie test in record time, completing the multi-stage examination in less than 90 minutes while posting a maximum speed of 214 miles per hour. Prior to that morning, Gidley had not run a lap on an oval since the 1998 Toyota Atlantic race in Milwaukee, and yet he set the fastest lap of all rookies in the morning session.

Gidley pulled into pit lane to a delighted crowd of well-wishers. Recounts his manager Donnie Graves, "Old timers were looking at their stopwatches, smiling and shaking their heads. People couldn't remember the last time a rookie had shown so much speed so fast, especially someone who had no team, no sponsor, and no IRL experience. Dale Pelfrey was lit up like a Christmas tree, smiling like a proud father, and Alan McCall was just as excited."

"I knew Memo Gidley had real talent seeing him on the track that morning," McCall beams. "I doubt if there are five drivers who can compare to Memo in this year's 500. He has so much confidence, so much speed, and he has a self-contained engineering capability that makes an engineer almost redundant."

Within two hours of the rookie test, Pelfrey, McCall and Graves joined forces and Gidley's Volunteers were born. Reports Graves: "Pelfrey agreed to supply most of the hardware needed to participate in the race: a never-crashed 1999 Dallara chassis, two fresh 2000-spec race motors, the entry fee, and some miscellaneous shared garage equipment. McCall signed on as our Team Manager, first man-on-the ground, and self-appointed 'General Dog's Body.' My role is to make 200 calls per day in search of sponsorship money, and let me tell you, at least 150 of the people I speak to are uninterested from the word go. It's extremely late to obtain sponsorship, as most companies locked-in their year 2000 marketing budgets long ago."

So far Graves has obtained sponsorship from three friends-of-the-team, Mark and Linda Mountanos of the Coffee Critic, Ken Epsman from J&B Enterprises, and Peter Greenfield of Greenfield Industries. Their three logos will be featured on an otherwise white car when Memo's #82 hits the track early next week.

The newest member of Gidley's Volunteers is Tom Gloy, the famous California racer who once dominated Atlantics and Trans Am. "Memo instantly reminded me of my old friend Tom," says McCall. "The last time I worked at Indy was in 1983 with Tom as the driver, so it seems like destiny that Tom will be joining me at the Speedway this weekend taking over the executive aspects of my work so that I can focus on engineering. Steve Ragan from the Forsythe crew is going to be chief mechanic, and we're all working for peanuts and a promise. As long as Memo doesn't try to kiss any concrete, the six of us should be enough of a crew to qualify the car next weekend."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Memo Gidley , Tony Kanaan , Peter Greenfield , Jim Clark , Tom Gloy , Linda Mountanos , Ken Epsman