“Two guys walk into a bar…..You’d think the second one would’ a ducked.” That’s how I met Richie Caruso. It was 20 years or so ago at PMI that Richie introduced himself to me with that joke. I had to laugh. Not so much because of the joke, but more the way it was delivered. With enthusiasm, and that New York smile. You only had to talk to Richie for about three minutes to tell exactly where he was from. Not because of his accent. More because within those first three minutes he had already worked in several references to how well the Yankees were doing that year. “Two guys walked into a bar….” That line became Richie’s standard greeting to me. He didn’t even need to finish the joke. We’d both laugh anyway. He would just stand there with his big grin and wearing the ever present Yankees hat. Over the years Richie would keep us entertained with his never ending supply of silly jokes and one-liners. He would break up the tedium of a long on-track session with the occasional knock-knock joke or quick witted comment over the com network. Always with a smile.
My daughter Jackie learned how to be an SCCA Starter from Richie. He was one of the best and he taught her well. Not only about the fine art of the Starter’s position but also how to just have a little fun where ever you go. After her first season I was talking to her about what she had learned and asked how she had like working with Richie. “I love it. He’s great” was the enthusiastic answer. She went on to explain a lot of what she had learned over the course of the season from all of her fellow Starters that she had worked with, but then stated something that caught my attention. “Richie’s more fun to work with at Second Creek that at Pueblo”. She said that one of the tasks of the Starters is to keep track of the lap count during the race. In his usual style Richie showed Jackie a unique way to do this. The Starters stand at Second Creek had a railing topped with a 2×4 that Richie would lay out a string of pebbles on. One rock for each lap. As the leader would go by he would flick off a rock until there were no more rocks. Checkered the next time around. If Race Control called him on the com net asking how many laps were left he would just count his rocks and instantly know what to tell them. No muss, no fuss, just relax and enjoy the show. The stand at Pueblo had pipe for railings. Couldn’t get the rocks to stay. Had to actually pay attention and count the laps. Less time for jokes and fun.
Richie possessed a unique sense of time. Anyone that has wondered why he was late to a meeting or the start of a race day just didn’t get it. You have to understand that in this world there are two absolute definitions of the exact time of the day. Greenwich Mean Time is the time that almost the entire world sets their clocks to. The other is Caruso Standard Time. You can not set a clock to Caruso Standard Time because clocks can’t measure it. Caruso Standard Time is whatever time Richie thought it should be at that moment. He once showed up for a race ten minutes early then figured out that he hadn’t reset his watch from Daylight Savings Time and vowed to never let that happen again. Richie could never be late because he was always on time with Caruso Standard Time. A perfect system.
Our days at the track were always a little more fun with him there. I’d always imagined that he would leave this world saying “have you heard the one about…” We will miss his brightly colored Hawaiian shirts, the “mingos” hanging around the stand and that big New York “let’s have some fun” smile.
Hang the checkered and put up the beer flag, Richie. Time to go home.