Mario - Fats - Caruso
1928 - 1993
Known as the
Inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2000
Mario 'Fats' Caruso 1964 (1)
Mario ‘Fats’ Caruso began racing in 1949, with his brothers Tony and Funzie, and close friends Al Mattress and Vince Abdella. The team’s first car was a Class B Ford V-8 two door sedan. After cutting his racing teeth with this car, Frank White offered Caruso a ride in his Circle 2, a cut down, which he drove to many feature wins, and eventually the Northeast Auto Racing Association (NEARA) championship.
Fats had made a name for himself locally, at racetracks like Seekonk, Thompson, Westboro, and Norwood. When he earned his ride in the #69 coupe, sponsored by Worcester Sand and Gravel, his career really started to take off. He began competing at tracks like Old Bridge and Trenton in New Jersey, Utica-Rome and Oswego in New York and Dover and Hudson in New Hampshire. Caruso was a consistent top five finisher, and a regular threat to win wherever he competed. (2)
"Fats" Takes Trenton - August 18, 1963
In 1963 Mario Fats Caruso won the biggest race of his career, beating a stellar field of modified greats, as he won the first annual Trenton 200 at the one mile New Jersey State Fairgrounds Speedway. Carusso had won the night before at Norwood and did an all nighter to make it to Trenton for early morning inspection. Southern invader Ray Hendrick finished second and was followed by Perk Brown, Gil Hearne and Runt Harris. (3)
Tragedy Strikes Thompson Speedway Caruso And Slater Critically Injured
Slater's Car (above) Caruso's Car (below)
In the later stages of his career, Fats competed in the family’s SK Modified at the Thompson and Stafford Speedways. It was in the Bill Ross Modified that Caruso took down his last feature win, in the 1984 Thompson 300.
Although he retired at the end of the 1984 season, Fats was persuaded to come back to compete against his son, David, in the 1989, 1990, and 1991 World Series races at Thompson. (4)
At Thompson Speedway, June 30, 1968, tragedy struck in the 3rd lap of the feature when Jerry Dostie and Bill Slater tangled on the second turn with both cars coming to a dead stop.
Coming up behind them was Fats Caruso with the rest of the pack. With nowhere to go, Caruso's car slammed into the back of Slater's car and the rest of the pack followed causing a massive pile up.
Fire broke out on impact engulfing all of the cars. Several drivers were seriously burned in their cars. Some of the drivers were also burned trying to pull trapped drivers out of the wreckage. Caruso and Slater were taken by ambulance to Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam.
Slater's diagnosis was cautiously optimistic and he regained consciousness within the week, but for Fats the situation was far more critical. He came in with extensive internal injuries, burnt lungs, and two broken legs. Miraculously though, after two weeks, and to everyone’s astonishment, his condition began to stabilize.
Fifty Greatest Modified Drivers of All-time
Caruso raced in an era when most of the cars in competition were built in backyard garages. Engines were also home built. To win, it took 90% driver and 10% car. Caruso could manhandle a Modified with the best of them. Among those whom he raced against and beat many times were Wild Bill Slater, Leo Cleary, Johnny Thompson, Ralph ‘Hop’ Harrington, Eddie Flemke, Freddie Schulz, Bugsy Stevens, and Fred DeSarro. It took a rare breed of cat to beat these drivers and Caruso was one of them.
Mario ‘Fats’ Caruso was honored at Stafford Motor Speedway as being one of the Fifty Greatest Modified Drivers of All-time as voted by the public. Caruso was fortunate to have been among modified racing’s stars of what was a truly great time in racing history. (5)
(1) Paul Conley, Mario ‘Fats’ Caruso is ready to run the feature event (R.A.Silvia Collection, 1964)
(2)(4) Judy and Scott Poirie, Mario ‘Fats’ Caruso (New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame, 2016)
(3) Phil Smith, Looking Back A Bit With Phil Smith – Fourth Week of August (RPW – Westerley, RI, 2018)
(5) Phil Smith, 50 Greatest Modified Drivers (Stafford Motor Speedway, posted by Scott Running, 2020) www.staffordmotorspeedway.com/50-greatest-caruso/