– Doug Schiller story " Dueces Wild In Las Vegas"
In Reply To
It was titled - “DEUCES WILD IN LAS VEGAS”
About a year ago a vintage quarter midget race car friend, Gary Morgan of Rochester, NY, gave me a subscription to a monthly periodical as a way of saying thanks for the help I was able to give him. The publication is a small one, but is distributed nationwide. Its name is The Alternate and is touted as “A Chronicle of 20th Century Motor Racing History”. I find The Alternate to be of particular interest because of the wide variety of articles it contains as well as the two monthly columns about motor racing. The columns, one authored by the publisher/editor, Phyllis Devine, the other by Doris Schindler (who coincidentally lives outside of Dallas).
Doris is the daughter of a very famous race driver of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. The driver’s name was Bill Schindler and like so many of his era, he died in the cockpit. Doris’ contribution to The Alternate is a kind of gossip column dealing with among other things, those who recently went to the “Golden Raceway in the Sky” -- her euphemism for motor racing folks who have recently died.
While reading one of Doris’ columns this summer I came across the name of a fellow who I had written about with regard to vintage quarter midgets. It seems that he too had passed away. His name was Rosie Roussel and he had built a quarter midget for his son, Mike in the mid-1950s. His racing career spanned about the same years as Doris’ father. Rosie mostly raced full size midgets and sprint cars on the west coast and of all places, England.
Seeing Rosie’s name prompted me to think that maybe there would be interest in The Alternate publishing some of my articles about vintage quarter midgets -- particularly those stories that dealt with folks related to the full size race car fraternity. I took the step and contacted the publisher, Phyllis Devine. She replied with an enthusiastic, yes! Within a few months I had one of my articles published.
Meanwhile, I had made another one of my visits to Long Island to visit with family and while there I made a long desired trip to visit another vintage quarter midget enthusiast, Joe Colombo. Joe has 5 Offyettes. One of his Offyettes was restored as a replica of a famous full size midget race car of the late 1940’s and 50’s. The full size race car was owned by Mike Caruso Sr. and was referred to as the Caruso “Deuce” because of the #2 emblazoned on the tail. The “Deuce” was a highly successful race car, winning more than 50% of the main events entered during the years 1948 and 1949. The chauffeur . . . Bill Schindler. Joe Colombo even included Bill Schindler’s name on the Offyette replica of the original “Deuce”.
About six months after seeing the car at Joe’s in New Jersey, I learned from a third party that Joe had sold the car to some folks in Las Vegas. The folks in Las Vegas . . . Mike Caruso Jr. and his son Brian. Mike Sr. had passed away years earlier. Mike Jr. had left the east coast and started a company which did metal fabrication, called MICAR Fabrication. A few weeks later I phoned Joe to inquire if he had indeed sold the Offyette replica. He said, yes he had and it was housed in the small museum the father and son created in the MICAR building. Joe said it sat right next to the full size replica of the original Kurtis Kraft Caruso “Deuce”. (the original car had long ago been parted out and the pieces sold off to other racers) He told me to check their web site as they had a picture of the pair of Deuces on it.
At almost the same time I noticed in the September issue of The Alternate, a mention in Doris Schindler’s column of Mike Caruso Jr. and his museum in Las Vegas and the fact that it now housed the Offyette replica that Joe Colombo had created. I made the bold move to contact Doris and tell her who I was, my relationship to the Offyette and my friendship with Joe Colombo. I wrote a letter explaining much about quarter midgets of the 1940’s and 1950’s. I included copies of the Offyette literature, magazine articles from Coast2Coast which I wrote about Joe and his restorations and last but not least, several pictures of our family and one of the children’s race cars that my dad had built in the 1940s. The pictures were done by a professional photographer and numbered more than 50. Several of the pictures were taken in and around our home on Meacham Avenue in Elmont, NY, while others were taken at Freeport Municipal Stadium, where midget races were held on the 1/5 mile asphalt oval. I thought the Freeport pictures would be of particular interest to Doris, since her family home was within ear shot of the track and she would listen to the roar of the Offy and Ford V8-60 powered race cars from her bedroom window. All of this info had been mentioned in one of her earlier columns.
One of the professional photos I included in the packet that I sent to Doris was taken in the “pits” at the track in Freeport. I felt the picture was special because the background contained the chalkboard with the driver’s names and car number. Many of those names were part of my childhood. I watched them do battle at Freeport amidst the alcohol and caster oil fumes and snarling engines -- with an occasional tumbling trip over the third turn wall into the fairgrounds beyond. The rest of the photo consisted of my race car raised up and mounted across the pit wall, while i squatted beneath with Carl (my father) who was feigning work on the bottom of the car. The rear wheel was held steady by a teacher friend of my father, Sam Malakoff. The front wheel was held by an unidentified teenage boy.
I thought Doris Schindler would find that particular photo of interest because of the names on the chalkboard -- drivers her father competed against and she more than likely knew as a youngster. I had included my business card in the packet I sent. It had my phone number. One night, not too soon after, I received a phone call from Doris Schindler, which initiated a series of exciting events which would culminate with me flying to Las Vegas.
In the phone call from Dallas, one of the very first things that Doris said, dealt with that special photo. She described the all too familiar photo and stated that, “The fellow holding the front wheel of the little race car was our Mike.” It took me a moment or two to realize of whom she was speaking. It then dawned on me that the only Mike we had in common was . . . Mike Caruso Jr.! She was telling me that she recognized the teenager, holding the front of my little race car -- 60 years ago, as Mike Caruso Jr. ~ who had just purchased the Offyette replica of the car that her father had raced so successfully.
Everything else in our half hour conversation was a bit of a blur. All I could think about was ~ she had identified the kid I had so often seen in the picture. That kid was now an old man living in Las Vegas . . . a place I visit frequently and he had an Offyette that my family had built!
I sat on the information for more than a month. Days before Murray and I were to depart on a long planned trip to Las Vegas, I called MICAR. Expecting to hear a female receptionist’s voice, I was startled to hear a male voice in that all too familiar New York area snarl. When I inquired as to whom I was speaking to, I was immediately challenged by the voice on the other end as to who I was!. I quickly settled that and he acknowledged that he was Mike Caruso Jr. I told him my relationship with Joe Colombo and the Offyette he just purchased and he welcomed my pending visit the following day.
Murray and I flew from Austin to Las Vegas, rented a car and proceeded to the Rio Hotel/Casino. I dropped her off, got our luggage up to the room and departed for MICAR. I took the route provided by Map Quest on my computer, but later found a much shorter route to and from the hotel which put MICAR less than 2000 yards from the Rio!
I arrived and parked in front of MICAR. Once inside I was awed by the array of machinery. An employee was kind enough to fetch Mike Jr. and after brief introductions I was taken upstairs to the museum, which I was to discover, held more than I had dreamed. Upon entering what was a compact display area, I saw the two “Deuces” as well as an impressive collection of family memorabilia, racing related, as well as other. All of it neatly displayed.
Explaining who I was and my relationship to the Offyette that sat before us was a bit awkward. He did know something of me and the Offyette from his contact with Joe Colombo. In a panic as to how I was going to extend what looked to be a 5 minute conversation, I whipped out my manilla folder full of pictures and literature. That bit of quick thinking led to a 6 1/2 hour conversation between us, over a period of two days.
Of course I was there to see the replica Joe had produced, but secretly I was there to show Mike Jr. THE photo. I had blown it up to 8 x 10. I took it out and pointing at the young man holding the front wheel, I inquired, “Who is this?” His immediate response was . . . “ME!” He went on to rapidly explain details that nearly knocked my socks off. Mike Jr. said things like, “That’s that aluminum body car, and that it was red”. (The picture was black and white) What he was telling me was, HE REMEMBERED THAT EVENT IN THE PITS AT FREEPORT THAT HAD TAKEN PLACE 60 YEARS AGO! When I pointed out that the little 7 year old kid beneath the car was me, he smiled as he too realized that our paths had crossed six decades before and were frozen in that photo. From that point on, the words and memories flowed. Hour after hour we swapped stories and details, long forgotten, but now fresh as yesterday. What a joy!
Here is a story written by Doug Schiller that was originally published in Debi Supan’s Coast2Coast 1/4 Midget News after his visit to the Caruso Racing Museum in 2008: