After the German soldiers retreated from Cervini Airbase, Sicily, in 1943, life in Santa Maria di Licodia returned to a semblance of pre-war daily living, just with British and Australian soldiers securing the area. The auto mechanic shop where Little Grandpa Caruso learned car repair work, closed during the German occupation, had reopened its doors. Now fourteen years old, Little Grandpa Caruso also returned to the shop to continue learning the ins-and-outs of car maintenance. The owner, Carmello Serrano, welcomed his apprentice back with open arms. The town’s people were eager to resume their normal routines and that included the up keep of their vehicles.
In 1944 a customer came to the shop requesting maintenance on his silver 250cc pre-war Sertum motorcycle. This was a British bike whose manufacture stopped operations in the 1950s. The bike owner, Senor Paladino, told Serrano that he had recently purchased a dark grey 1938 Norton Big Four 633cc motorcycle. He bragged how fast the Norton was and that it would perform well in races. Paladino admitted that he did not know how to operate the powerful bike and asked Serrano if he knew anyone who could teach him. Without any hesitation Serrano introduced Paladino to Little Grandpa Caruso.
During the past year Little Grandpa Caruso had expanded his mechanical skills to those of repairing motorcycles. He would joyfully test drive the motorcycles after the repair work. His driving skills only improved with time. Serrano asked Little Grandpa Caruso if he knew how to operate the Norton 633cc and, if so, would he teach Paladino how to operate it. Little Grandpa jumped at the chance and eagerly agreed to the request. There was only one problem that he had to overcome…at fourteen years old, Little Grandpa Caruso was too short to have his feet lay flat on the ground once he was mounted on the big bike. He overcame the potential obstacle by walking on his toes to take off.
This monster of a bike was reconstructed after the German invasion by a mechanic in nearby Bianca Villa. The right pedal started the engine; the left pedal was the kick start and rear brake; the right handlebar was for the front brake and the accelerator; and the left handlebar was the clutch. Paladino learned to operate his beloved Norton but also developed an admiration for how easily and smoothly someone as young as Little Grandpa Caruso handled the big bike. It was as if Little Grandpa Caruso was born to drive fast vehicles.
A short while later Paladino asked Little Grandpa Caruso to ride his Norton in competitions. While Paladino loved his bike and the power it contained, he, himself, was not confident enough to ride it at high speed. Little Grandpa Caruso was sure that G-d and his Guardian Angel wanted to make his dream to race competitively come true. In 1944 Sicily a person needed an operator’s license to drive a car, but no license was required for a motorcycle.
In 1944 Sicily there were no super highways or interstate routes. The roads between towns were one lane each way. Any car accident would clog up the roadway for hours. The race course was actually racing through the streets of various towns. His first race was in Acireiali, an area north of Catania. One of the races was a timed race from Catania to Mount Etna.
From 1944 until a few months before leaving for America in 1949, Little Grandpa Caruso raced in nearly two dozen races. The worse that ever happened was during one street race, in the middle of a curve, the driver ahead of him ran into a hay bale barrier and the hay scattered across the road. The Norton slid out from under Little Grandpa Caruso but he only received a few scratches and bruises on his hands and legs. The bike received the most damage, a bent handlebar and foot rest.
No, Little Grandpa Caruso never won a race on paper, but the lessons learned had him feeling like Number One every time. The joy of the ride, the wind in his hair (no helmet restrictions then) and the thrill of riding on air taught him how to embrace the speed and to appreciate the freedom of the roads in a new, faster, motorized age.