May 20, 2000, Indianapolis Motor Speedway: American driver Memo Gidley put the old white mare ...
May 20, 2000, Indianapolis Motor Speedway: American driver Memo Gidley put the old white mare #82 to rest in Turn 1 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this afternoon, emerging unhurt from the accident that occurred during his initial qualifying lap. Gidley had struggled all week trying to run competitive laps in a year-old 1999 Dallara chassis maintained by a hastily assembled patchwork team of passionate crewmembers nicknamed "Gidley's Volunteers."
Shortly after receiving the green flag for his first qualifying lap, Gidley's car wiggled and the car went low, the left front tire crossing into the grass at the entry to Turn 1. The back end shot around and the car's left rear corner hit the outside retaining wall at the exit of Turn 1. The car slid through the short chute before drifting to a stop at the entrance of Turn 2. Gidley immediately climbed unassisted from the moderately damaged car.
Gidley's accident occurred shortly before 2pm on an overcast day that saw driver after driver abandon their qualifying attempts as the temperature continued to drop. After a brief medical evaluation in which he was released uninjured and cleared to drive, Gidley described the accident: " I'm fine. The car got a little bit loose on the entry, which has been happening all week in practice. On the cold tires there just wasn't enough grip and it just snapped around. I thought I had it saved for quite a while, but then it just snapped the other way and hit the wall."
Gidley was one of the last scheduled qualifiers in the initial sequence, and lost his spot in line due to a rear wing endplate that was 8/100ths of an inch too high. After hastily making the required adjustment, Gidley's Volunteers rushed their car down pit lane and rejoined the queue in first position. The #82 car passed technical inspection around 1:45 pm with a completely empty stretch of road ahead, the first such gap of the day.
Suddenly on deck, the team realized that their driver was waiting for news back in garage C12, and summoned him via cell phone. A comic scene ensued as the old white unadorned car rolled into the glamour area with the engine running and an empty cockpit. ABC's automatic boom camera hovered above the car as if it was searching for Memo, who sheepishly jogged down pit lane with his helmet in a black bag. Old-timers working the rope line chuckled as the whole Indianapolis Motor Speedway waited for Memo to don his balaclava and helmet.
Gidley complimented his hard-working team just minutes after the accident. "The team's been doing a great job, it's just that getting this 1999 car into the race has been very difficult. In order to make it happen we've had to trim out all the downforce to make competitive speed down the straightaway, and therefore the car has very little grip in the turns. It's been touch and go for everybody, me included, but that's the way it happens. I wasn't going to give up at the end there, all I could do was put out my best effort. It's all a learning experience. For me it's sad to end this way, but we worked our tails off to get this far and it wasn't for lack of effort."
Although the crash came as a surprise to the young American driver, the result did not. Last night Gidley released a statement to his friends and supporters preparing them for the possibility that the '99 Dallara, graciously provided by Dale Pelfrey, simply wasn't fast enough to make the big show. "I don't want to sugarcoat the situation: tonight I don't think this car can be made fast enough to make the show. If we were at 218 mph, maybe we would have a chance. However, I still have hope. Everything that's happened to me has always happened at the last minute. With the miles I've logged in the last week, and the dedicated people I have working with me, I think we have a better shot than anyone else to benefit from a situation where a 2000 car becomes available."
Without a backup car, Gidley will need to rely on the kindness of strangers in order to find another car to drive tomorrow, perhaps the backup car of a driver who has already qualified his primary. Stranger things have happened at the grand dame of speedways, so stay tuned for Memo Gidley's possible return to action tomorrow on Bump Day.