Gidley gets his chance

One thing about Memo Gidley, no matter where he races, he gets plenty of attention.

Gidley gets his chance

When Gidley competed in 12 CART FedEx Championship Series races last year for team owner John Della Penna, the local press flocked to do stories on the quotable driver who was born on a fishing boat outside of San Rafael, California. On the race track, Gidley was able to do a lot with very little, finishing as high as sixth place at Road America at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

Despite showing talent behind the wheel of the Toyota-powered Reynard, Gidley was a victim of the money game in CART. Without proper backing, he was out of a ride. But now Gidley has landed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he will drive for Brayton Engineering - a team owned by former Indy 500 driver Lee Brayton and his son, Todd.

He doesn't have the same name recognition as team owner Roger Penske or CART driver Michael Andretti, but Gidley is proud to have an opportunity to compete in his first Indianapolis 500.

"The race is back to the way it was," Gidley said. "When the Indy 500 was at the highest point it ever was, I wasn't around auto racing that much. Every year, it has gotten better and better. The thing about the Indy 500 is you just can't get rid of it. No matter what you do, you're not going to get rid of it, so you might as well just accept it and come here and race. That's just what you have to do."

This year's Indy 500 field has all the elements to make it one of the best in years, with the best of the Indy Racing League taking on the best in CART. Gidley just wants to be part of the show.

"It gives me chills just thinking about it," Gidley said. "The Indy 500, when you first get into auto racing, that's the first thing you hear. It's almost like the first words out of a racer's mouth are the Indy 500. That makes it pretty special. I've lived here the last three years for most of the year. Being around this town, you see what kind of emotion and how the people get so involved with this event, that makes it very special."

Gidley nearly had a chance to be in the race last year after landing a ride with Team Pelfrey on Bump Day - the final round of qualifications. But his moment ended shortly after it began when he crashed on a practice run.

"Last year was really crazy because it was a two-week format with first day of qualifying and Bump Day the next day," Gidley said. "I was running around like crazy and it was very frustrating. This year I actually will be able to do what I do, drive the car and not run around like a crazy person."

By being so persistent in his search for a ride last season, Gidley believes it paid off with him securing a seat before the opening day of practice.

"Even though I didn't make the field, what I did in my rookie test, it definitely helps," he said. "Whenever you are able to make an impression on somebody, it helps."

Gidley made an impression on quite a few people in his only season in CART, but when the big rides came open at such teams as Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, he wasn't even on the list for consideration.

"It was definitely frustrating," he recalls. "I've been passed over for rides since forever. It's not because the team owners or the managers don't believe in my ability. In CART, the nature of the beast, they require drivers to have some sort of connection with sponsors to get the rides. It's not that I was looked over based on my ability, I was looked over based on my sponsorship. That wasn't a direct insult on me.

"It's a matter of waiting for something to open up, waiting for a team that has sponsorship that wants to hire me as a driver to do what I do. You just have to be real patient. I'm pretty patient."

His patience has paid off with a ride for the Indianapolis 500, but what opportunities exist beyond that? Will he compete in more races in the IRL, or will he walk the paddock at CART races hoping for another chance in that series?

"It's hard to know what exists beyond the Indy 500," he shrugs. "I have really high goals and I want to win championships. What opportunities exist beyond the Indy 500, who knows? I'm going to continue to do what I do which is go to races, have my helmet and be prepared. As long as I can continue to do that, that is what is going to happen.

"I would consider an IRL ride," he adds, "but I want to be with a team that you don't have to fight to get the sponsorship and you are not going there behind. Right now, I'm the stage of my career where I'm ready to win. I know enough and I have enough experience with the teams that I've been with that I can do my part and do it very well. I want to get with a team that can do the same."

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