Memo Gidley’s personal visit to hell has an actual date: January 25, 2014. Thanks to his former team owner, Bob Stallings, Memo has a new birthday: May 24, 2017.
The owner of the IMSA team and Red Dragon Corvette DP Gidley was driving when he incurred severe leg and back trauma in a crash at the Rolex 24 at Daytona decided it was time to rewrite history on Wednesday at Sonoma Raceway.
Stallings’ secret plan, one he’d kept for more than a month, involved inviting Gidley out to his home track to see the team test its Pirelli World Challenge Porsche 911 GT3R with Jon Fogarty – Memo’s old IMSA teammate – behind the wheel. (Scroll down to watch video of the test.)
Finally, just a matter of days before the new GAINSCO-sponsored Red Dragon was unloaded, Stallings revealed his intentions: 1215 days after breaking bones, enduring non-stop pain, fighting through grueling rehabilitation and working his way back to local karting competition, Memo would get his first chance to drive a current racecar and answer whether he’s ready to get back to business.
The answer was a resounding yes.
“It’s awesome,” Gidley told RACER. “It’s a great team. The time that I spent with them up to the accident was awesome. It’s just nice to get that call that says, ‘Yeah, do you want to get in the car and do some laps?’ This will be my first time back and be with the GAINSCO guys that were around me when I was going through the issue from Daytona. It’s a perfect way to come back into the sport that I love so much.”
“The Porsche [911 GT3R] is new to me, and GT cars are somewhat new to me, but getting into the Red Dragon just felt great,” he said. “It’s a different beast, but it’s the same goal and work ethic with this team.”
It was earlier in the year when Gidley pronounced he was back to full strength, and with a steady regimen of karting to sharpen his skills, the idea of making the Red Dragon available to continue the process went from concept to reality.
“I felt fantastic,” he said. “I knew from a physical standpoint, that I was going to be good. That’s the way I go. If I’m not ready for something…I’m always as ready as possible. My training has been so many thing the last three-and-a-half years. Currently, being out in my shifter [kart]; pounding laps around the go-kart track; I always say the closest thing to driving and Indy car is a 125 shifter.
“Getting out of the car, not tired, not sweating, everything felt much more relaxed. Getting used to a GT car again, managing more weight behind you is the biggest thing when you get into a full-size car compared to a go kart. I just wanted more laps and to continue driving.”
Team manager Terry Wilbert, engineer John Ward, and a number of other crew members from the 2014 Rolex 24 race were there to run the car. Watching Gidley post competitive lap times prior to Fogarty taking over was a joyous occasion for all.
“It’s been three-and-a-half years and he’s still a Red Dragon team member to us,” Ward said. “Most of us never thought we’d see that again. But it’s the same old Memo, it turns out, enjoying what he does. I didn’t know what to expect, and he was quite impressive and gave good feedback. This Porsche is a different animal for everybody, and he didn’t put a wheel wrong, was consistent, and one of the thing you can look for is if a pro goes quicker and quicker as he learns the car, and that’s what we saw with Memo.
“He was quicker every lap, and we were all thrilled. I can’t emphasize that any more. What was in front of our eyes three-and-a-half years ago at Daytona, and knowing the struggle he’s had, to see the fight to get back and have him going as fast as he was, it’s quite impressive.”
At the end of the test, the ever-gracious Gidley thanked those who made his 1215-day journey possible.
“Having fan support, friend support, family support, NASCAR, Bob Stallings, [insurance provider] John Gorsline; so many people that helped make it happen…I feel lucky,” he said.
With a taste of the Red Dragon’s cutting-edge GT3 technology, and a race-winning affinity for prototypes, Gidley wants the one thing he has left to acquire after Wednesday’s test.
“I am absolutely ready to go, without a doubt, no excuses,” he said. “If I go back to Daytona and I jumped in the 99 car – if it was still around, I guarantee you I’d be comfortably on the pace right away. I’m ready for that opportunity and somebody to make it happen. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”