Born on a sailboat in La Paz, Mexico, 46-year-old Jose Guillermo “ Memo” Gidley grew up as a Sausalito “anchor out” before his family settled in San Rafael. Bicycle motocross led to dirt bikes, go-karts and finally cars. He ultimately rose to Indy car and endurance racing, meanwhile still sailing and also winning go-kart and Jet Ski championships. A near-fatal accident during the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2014 left him with major injuries, but after a lengthy recovery he is back in the driver’s seat for 2018, working with professional road racing teams and teaching karting to aspiring drivers. While racing is his passion, his day job is running his Sausalito-based boat charter company, Sailing Memo Boat Charters. We caught up with Gidley over coffee, not far from the Sausalito Community Boating Center at the Cass Gidley Marina, named for his late father, a fixture of Marin’s boating scene.
1. Why car racing over sailing?
I was into speed from the get-go. My dad always sent me out in our El Toro dinghy on the windiest days, and for some reason I was also into vehicles. When my uncle took me to a car race, I thought, “This is it!”
2. When was your first chance to drive an Indy car?
At Long Beach in 1999, I met a team owner with an available seat. I got my first taste of 950 horsepower a week later.
3. When did you find your place in top-level racing?
Indy car opportunities came in 1999. In 2000, I led my first laps and got noticed for being fourth fastest at a test session. I did nine races that year and 15 races with the Target team in 2001, leading at Michigan and nearly winning Cleveland.
4. What makes teaching racing and sailing rewarding?
I love both, and my true passion has become sharing with people experiencing these sports for the first time.
5. Why do racing fans connect with you?
Car racing is hard for an average person to get into, and people saw that as someone with no financial backing, I pushed and didn’t give up.
6. When did you turn the corner in your recovery?
Having family, friends and fans reach out and cheerlead was a big help. I thought about how much more difficult it would be for someone with less of a support network. I had to sleep on my stomach for five months. Sleeping on my back again was a win. Small victories, like tying my shoes, showed there was more coming. The really big deal was medical clearance to drive again.
7. Any advice for those facing similar circumstances?
Find motivation to recover and give your body time to heal. For me, it was a case of telling my body that I planned to use it again.
8. What’s your favorite place to sail?
The “Slot,” where the wind really howls in the summertime. It is very exciting — fast boat speed and challenging to sail.
9. What’s your ideal day in Marin County?
A mountain bike ride followed by a sail. Of course, I like going to Sonoma Raceway. But just being here — living in Tiburon and enjoying the views — and spending time with my wife, daughter and mom.
10. What are your favorite spots to eat in Marin?
11. What is your favorite road to drive? And what’s the fastest you’ve ever driven?
I like Highway 1 here in Marin. And over 250 miles per hour in an Indy car.