The Long-Time Favorite Savors His Recent IMSA Prototype Challenge Win in the Latest Chapter of His Great Comeback from Serious Injuries
By Holly Cain
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Memo Gidley has long been a racing favorite – respected by rivals, cheered by fans, looked up to by teammates. A celebrated sports car driver for decades, Gidley has shown himself a winner and a diverse competitor.
Yet for all his driving skills and character assets, the 51-year-old says he now brings something even more cherished to the IMSA grid: perspective.
Even after significant injuries suffered in a major accident in the 2014 Rolex 24 At Daytona – followed by a multiyear recovery – Gidley’s will never wavered. And now, eight years since the accident and nearly 17 years since his lone IMSA top-tier series race victory (2005 at Mexico City), Gidley took his place atop an IMSA podium once more at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on May 15 in the IMSA Prototype Challenge race.
Gidley savored that special moment – the competition, the accomplishment, his own perseverance.
“It was amazing, almost overwhelming,’’ Gidley says of the win he shared with Alexander Koreiba in the Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) race at Mid-Ohio. “It was just so nice. I’ve just had a great love of racing and great support of fans, and then after what happened in 2014 – and you know everyone, almost including myself, assumed at the time that was about it. There was just so much to get back from to be where I was or to get back out there and drive again.
“I just love racing so much and just love being around the people that are involved. I’m always one to push my body and be prepared, but it was difficult.
“So, to get back out there and to get a win in IMSA again, it was just awesome and everybody else was just so happy I was able to make it happen.’’
Gidley set the tone for the Mid-Ohio weekend, winning the pole in the No. 23 AL Autosport with JDC MotorSports Duqueine D08. He built a comfortable advantage in the first half of the 90-minute race and turned the car over to Koreiba, who earned their first victory of the season by more than 41 seconds.
The seat in the No. 23 Duqueine is the first fulltime ride in 10 years for Gidley, who established himself as a well-rounded racer competing in the IndyCar ranks as well as an accomplished sports car driver.
In that decade of time, Gidley says he worked first to strengthen his body as he healed from a broken back and significant injuries to his lower extremities. Simultaneously, he strengthened his spirit. Both were equally important to his recovery. When he felt healed enough to get behind the wheel again, he first chose a go-kart.
“Just to get back out there really wasn’t good enough for me, just to be out there doing it,’’ Gidley recalls of the early efforts to return. “I wanted to feel like I was achieving what I thought I could.
“For me, when I first took my go-kart out three years after my accident, I went to a track where nobody’s around because I didn’t want to drive and feel like I couldn’t do it and then have to tell people I wasn’t going to be able do it.
“I wanted to make sure everything was good. And since that point, I’ve just known if I worked hard enough, I’d get back there. It’s more difficult, because as you get older, things get a little more difficult. And I think that’s another reason – now that I’m in my 50s, it seems like it inspires people that are out there getting older. Get out there and chase after your dreams even as you get older.”
Gidley is adamant that, in some ways, the recovery and strict rehab he put himself through may have made him the ultimate candidate for this fulltime job competing in IMSA. He’s done various races in other series – usually no more than one or two a year leading into 2022 – but being in such prime physical shape has given him the confidence to take on the Prototype Challenge’s full schedule.
“Even though I was only doing that super-limited schedule, I was still at the go-kart track and still am, at least once a week,’’ Gidley says. “I’m still at the gym every day. I’m still on my mountain bike four days a week, I’m still swimming laps three days a week, so all that sort of stuff I’m still doing.”
And as his turn at Mid-Ohio showed – he’s reaping the benefits with the regimen of physical preparedness. And his great desire to return to competition. And win.
“As you get older, you just realize how lucky you are, and also I definitely realized how many people – over the racing I’ve done – have helped to get me where I am,’’ Gidley said. “You really appreciate that.
“I think when you’re younger, you kind of forget some of that stuff and are just trying to get up (the racing ladder) as quickly as possible. But getting on the podium … we’re racing cars, so you have to realize it’s a pretty cool thing to do as a hobby or as a profession. And you just have to go out there and have fun, appreciate what you’re doing and do the best you can.’’
Gidley becomes animated speaking about his young co-driver Koreiba, 25, and the great vibe on the team. He says he is both helping Koreiba and learning from him. And the AL/JDC team, he says, is made up not only of quality, top-shelf engineers and leaders, but “good people.’’
It’s all provided the kind of comeback story that motivates the mind as much as it warms the heart.
“Maybe I wish I wasn’t an example because maybe that means I wouldn’t have had that crash in 2014,’’ Gidley concedes. “I was thinking about that this morning. As crazy as it sounds, I’ve enjoyed this experience after 2014, even though it was really difficult for a number of years. Especially now, how appreciative everyone is that I’m actually out there, and I’m appreciating being out there and able to do it.
“My whole deal now is about living your prime now,’’ he continues. “A lot of people think your prime is when you’re 20 or you’re 30 – and from then it goes downhill. I’ll tell you it does get a lot harder. The days I spend in the gym preparing, it’s harder to maintain and get to the strength you want to, but you’ve got to just go for it.
“You can’t get sidetracked and think it’s not going to happen. It’s cool I can kind of inspire people to just get out there and do what they enjoy: live their life, do what they enjoy and do it well.’’
Combined with their third-place finish at the Daytona International Speedway season opener in January, Gidley and Koreiba are just 20 points out of the Prototype Challenge standings lead. The series returns to action July 3 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.