DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Memo Gidley returned today to the scene of his most devastating racing crash, and he couldn’t have been happier about it.
Seriously injured driving in the 2014 24 Hours At Daytona sports car race, the former Indy car driver has spent three years healing, undergoing eight surgeries, rehabbing and working to eliminate the debilitating nerve pain that resulted from the frightening crash.
The 46-year-old, who drove Indy cars from 1999-2004 before turning his focus to the sports car scene, visited Daytona International Speedway for the first time since sustaining a spinal fracture and arm and leg injuries three years and one day ago in the 24-hour endurance event that annually kicks off the racing season. During a meeting with media, Gidley proudly announced doctors have cleared him to drive competitively again – though it won’t be in this weekend’s 55th edition of the Rolex 24.
“This is the first time that I’ve been healed and come to a track, and that’s why I’m out here,” said Gidley, who has attended the Verizon IndyCar Series events at Sonoma Raceway the past two years but was still in physical discomfort both times. “It felt great to be back here. I really don’t remember the accident at all.”
“For me it’s just an excitement to be back out at this track. As far as plans to get back in, now that I can drive, I can start to get my name back out there and just let people know that I’m strong and here and ready to go.”
“I’m excited to sort of just close this chapter (of the recovery) in my life right now.”
The tremendous nerve pain was a result of scar tissue that developed around the original injury. For nearly eight months after the accident, the only way he found remotely comfortable was lying on his stomach. Along with physical therapy and surgery, Gidley tried numerous ways to decrease the pain, including acupuncture, cryotherapy, a hyperbaric chamber, Chinese herbs and more.
While always focused on driving competitively again, Gidley admitted the pain was so intolerable at one point that he told a doctor if he had to choose between driving again or being pain-free, he would opt for the latter. His final surgery was a spinal fusion of the L4 and L5 vertabrae more than a year ago and, along with inserting a spinal stimulator, has limited his pain to a minor annoyance now.
Gidley, whose best Indy car season came in 2001 when he had three podium finishes in 14 races for Chip Ganassi Racing (including at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca shown at right), said he has no hesitation about climbing back into the cockpit.
“In the race car, it’s always been a very controlled environment, something that I feel totally in control of and I’m not scared to be out there,” he said. “It’s like walking down the street for a lot of people. When you’re walking down the street, every once in a while you trip on something and that’s what happened to me out driving – something unexpected. But I feel good, I really feel good, I’m excited and I want to get back out there.”
Born in La Paz, Baja, Mexico of American parents, Gidley spent his early years living on a boat in the Pacific Ocean. He has always enjoyed “living large” and that mantra has taken on added meaning in light of the 2014 crash and lengthy recovery.
“I’m always about living large and living for the moment,” Gidley said. “Nothing really changed there but it definitely reinforced that for me. … You enjoy life and that’s very important.”