Read­ers re­mem­ber the ad­ven­ture and dan­ger to be found at Mary­land’s old Vista Race­way.

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - John Kelly's Wash­ing­ton john.kelly@wash­ Twit­ter: @johnkelly For pre­vi­ous col­umns, visit wash­ing­ton­­ple/john-kelly.

The dust may have set­tled long ago on Vista Race­way, but An­swer Man’s col­umn last week on the Lan­ham, Md., track kicked up a lot of mem­o­ries.

The Dis­trict’s Tony King would go to watch his fa­ther, Bob King, com­pete. Bob raced Tri­umph mo­tor­cy­cles. We’d call them vin­tage now, see­ing as they were made in the 1960s, but then they were snarling, snap­ping beasts ea­ger to leap down the dirt track.

Tony said all sorts of speed events took place at Vista, a halfmile track owned and op­er­ated by African Amer­i­can part­ners. That in­cluded midget car races and var­i­ous classes of mo­tor­cy­cle races. There was the oc­ca­sional horse race, too.

Any time hu­mans get on — or in — some­thing that goes fast, ac­ci­dents can hap­pen, and that was the case at Vista. Tony still re­mem­bers the color of the ill­fated midget car driven by John “Shelly” Moroney of Rich­mond: bur­gundy with gold num­bers, bought for him, Tony said, by his mother and grand­mother.

On July 17, 1960, Moroney lost con­trol of the midget car while pass­ing an­other driver on Vista’s Turn 4 and hit a ca­ble that was stretched across an open­ing on the side of the track. The wire was there to keep race fans from cross­ing. It struck Moroney un­der the chin, break­ing his neck.

That wasn’t Vista’s first fa­tal­ity. In 1954, a D.C. po­lice mo­tor­cy­cle me­chanic named Fred­die Kutch died after he was thrown from his bike after col­lid­ing with an­other racer at the fin­ish line. The track was muddy from an ear­lier rain­storm.

The aptly named Jay Law­less first raced at Vista in 1962 — aptly named be­cause Vista was known then as an “out­law” track, un­sanc­tioned and off-lim­its to mem­bers of the Amer­i­can Mo­tor­cy­clist As­so­ci­a­tion.

“If we were caught we would have been sus­pended by the AMA,” wrote Jay, who now lives in Alaska. To avoid that, many rac­ers used fake names. Jay went by “Sam Brown.”

He was in the Army and sta­tioned at Fort Meade, Md., mean­ing he and his rac­ing bud­dies didn’t have to travel far to com­pete.

“If you were good enough you could come out of there with a lit­tle money,” Jay wrote. “Be­ing a party boy, I en­joyed the cel­e­bra­tions in the bar they had in the in­field.”

That bar was known for the buck­ets of Cold Duck it sold.

There was of­ten a party at­mos­phere at the track, es­pe­cially on La­bor Day week­end, Tony King said. That’s when the Gypsy Tour took place. It was a two-wheeled bac­cha­na­lia, with live mu­sic and a “Best Dressed Mo­tor­cy­cle” con­test.

“A guy named Frog had over 1,000 lights on his mo­tor­cy­cle,” Tony said. “He would win ev­ery year.”

Tony said the event also fea­tured hot dog races. And those were what, ex­actly? “That’s where a woman would stand up on the back of a mo­tor­cy­cle and try to bite a hot dog off a string that’s hang­ing across the track,” Bob said.

The Gypsy Tour could de­scend into some­thing ap­proach­ing chaos at Vista. Hells An­gels would set up their camp on one side of the track. The lo­cally grown Pa­gans mo­tor­cy­cle gang would set up on the other.

“They’d get drunk at night and be wan­der­ing over into each other’s camps,” Tony said. Then the fight­ing would start.

“They would have to call in the P.G. County po­lice, the state po­lice, the sheriff — ev­ery­body,” Tony said.

In 1968, a mo­tor­cy­cle racer told The Wash­ing­ton Post, “Peo­ple hear about those guys [the Pa­gans], and it makes it hard for the rest of us.”

Prob­a­bly the win­ningest com­peti­tor ever to race at Vista was Dray­ton Tylee of Alexan­dria, Va. He was cham­pion for five straight years, go­ing vir­tu­ally un­de­feated from 1960 to 1964.

Tylee stopped rac­ing, but he never lost his love of speed. A con­trac­tor who built homes in North­ern Vir­ginia, Tylee was killed in 1975 along with a friend when the plane he was pi­lot­ing crashed in the moun­tains of Colorado. They were on their way to the Reno Air Races.


A mo­tor­cy­cle con­test at Vista Race­way in 1959. The track fea­tured all sorts of events, in­clud­ing midget car and horse races.

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