At Sea No More CART's Memo Gidley grew up on a boat but has found a home in race cars

July 15, 2001

On June 30, the day before the Grand Prix of Cleveland, Jose
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
Della Penna. However, Della 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.

--M.B.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT LABERGE/ALLSPORT

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)