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At Sea No More
Mark Bechtel
July 16, 2001
CART's Memo Gidley grew up on a boat but has found a home in race cars
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July 16, 2001

At Sea No More

CART's Memo Gidley grew up on a boat but has found a home in race cars

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On June 30, the day before the Grand Prix of Cleveland, Jos� Guillermo (Memo) Gidley sat in his team's hauler and reminisced about his only podium finish as a CART driver. It was of the celluloid variety, coming in the Sylvester Stallone flick Driven. Gidley, who was an extra, earned a place on the podium as the third-place finisher in a race won by a character whose name he couldn't remember. "It was that blond guy in the Target suit," he said.

Before the Cleveland event, the 30-year-old Gidley had run 23 races for five CART teams. That he would have a journeyman's career should have come as no surprise to Gidley. He was born in La Paz, Mexico, to American parents. His father, Cass, was a fisherman, and the Gidleys (including Memo's mother, Mary, and two older sisters) lived on Yo Ho Ho, a 54-foot sailboat, until Memo was eight. "People go, 'Oh, that's a yacht,' " says Gidley. "But it was an old wooden boat, maybe 25 feet long down below and eight feet wide, and that was it for the family. We slept on bunks." The Gidleys spent part of the year anchored in Sausalito, Calif., which Memo recalls as a "sort of hippie community" of colorful people, among them characters like Tugboat Ted and Bugle Tom, who painted everything half red and half green except his eponymous horn.

Once he moved to terra firma—San Rafael, Calif., to be exact—Gidley began racing motorcycles, and after seeing a CART event at Laguna Seca in 1991, he decided he wanted to switch to cars. "I was so naive getting started that I think it almost helped me," he says. "People can get roadblocked when they start something new because of what they think they know. But I knew nothing about the sport." He sold most of his belongings and enrolled in a mechanics' training program at the Jim Russell Racing School, which allowed him to drive the cars he worked on.

Gidley worked his way through the open-wheel ranks and began filling in for CART teams in 1999. He drove from track to track in his beat-up pickup, lugging his helmet and seat with him, making it known that should anyone need a driver, he was ready to go. He quickly earned the nickname Supersub, and midway through 2000 he landed what he thought was a permanent ride with John Delia Penna. However, Delia Penna folded his operation after the season, leaving Gidley unemployed. So the itinerant driver hit the road again. "Obviously, just being at the track doesn't help me as a driver, but it's a reflection on my personality," says Gidley. "When team owners see that I spend my own money to get there, they realize I'm pretty dedicated."

His dedication finally paid off in June, when Chip Ganassi—whose drivers have won four of the last five CART titles and whose cars are sponsored by Target—let rookie Nicolas Minassian go. To replace him, Ganassi hired Gidley, who had never finished better than sixth in a CART event. Gidley promptly got knocked out of his first race on the first lap. The result worried him, because he was living on a friend's sofa bed in Indianapolis and his deal with Ganassi was on a race-to-race basis. But Ganassi gave him another shot the next week, in Cleveland, and Gidley dominated most of the race. He built a lead of more than 25 seconds but lost it when he had to make a splash-and-go pit stop with 10 laps left. Dario Franchitti, who didn't stop, held off the hard-charging Gidley to win, then ran out of gas 300 yards past the finish line. It was a tough way to lose, for sure, but there was still something sweet about the way life imitated art as the blond guy in the Target suit took his place on the podium.

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