Back in a professional race setting for the first time since his devastating crash in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona, Memo Gidley says he feels right at home in the cockpit of a race car.
Three years, 7 months, 23 days, numerous surgeries, and countless hours of grueling rehabilitation after his life-altering crash, Gidley finished 14th in his racing return behind the wheel of the No. 101 TKO Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R in Pirelli World Challenge Race 1 at Sonoma Raceway on Saturday.
Right away, the 46-year-old said he felt like he was in is comfort zone, doing what he loves to do while surrounded by friends and former colleagues that have been a part of his life for decades.
“It’s something I’ve been doing for so long, it just feels normal,” Gidley told Sportscar365. “And I know so many of the people, whether it’s drivers or team employees, I just know a lot of people so it’s sort of like a second family.
“It feels good. It’s all sort of a new experience after the last four years, but it’s just comfortable. It’s great to be around tracks, which I’ve done for about a year or so.
“But to actually be here at a pro race weekend with the normal amount of pressures and things like that, man it feels good to be back.”
Gidley said he had no doubts about getting back behind the wheel following the accident at Daytona and his family never voiced any concerns either. Not that he ever gave them a chance.
“I didn’t ask!” said Gidley. “It’s a passion. It’s just one of those things. I always tell my wife, I can’t live in a bubble.
“You’ve got to do things you enjoy, and I enjoy these people who are out here and the team, the series, and anyone who’s interested in cars and going fast and racing. For me, they’re all behind it.
“The support from them, from the paddock, it has been great. Just getting back to the paddock now, and even just getting back to my first day driving the go-kart, I think it’s an inspiration for people.
“We all deal with personal stuff that we have to heal from or whatever’s happening, so it’s nice to have someone who inspires you, and I think that’s what it’s been for a lot of people and that’s great.”
The opportunity to get back in a pro race seat came through a relationship forged in recent years with TKO team president Dave Traitel, a drag racing and offshore boating enthusiast who wanted to try road racing.
After starting in karting with Gidley’s coaching, Traitel decided to purchase the Porsche with an eye on going racing himself down the road.
But first, he had an idea that Gidley simply couldn’t turn down: a return to professional racing in the PWC season finale at Sonoma Raceway.
“When he first said it, sometimes it has to sink in a little bit,” said Gidley. “If you know racing, there’s always a lot of good intentions but a lot of it doesn’t happen. You never know.
“When the car showed up and I sat in the car and I drove it the first time, that’s when it really started to sink in. We scheduled a lot of test days for me and the team to get used to the car, and it just got more and more exciting as it built.”
A team making its pro racing debut, and a driver coming off of a nearly four-year hiatus, makes for a remarkable underdog story, and Gidley is relishing every moment of it.
“The team and I realize what we got into: World Challenge, with factory-supported cars, and we’re just a new team,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot of shiny new equipment, but all of us have to get up to speed. I’ve not driven the Porsche GT3 R much and the team’s never had one.
“I think if we just learn a few things about the car, make a few adjustments, and get a little bit quicker, then go beat a few people and have a good race, that would be a success right now and a good starting point.
“I’ve only known Dave for a year and a half or so. He bought this car four months ago, so it’s all new.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but we’ll have to wait and see.”