The seventies and eighties were the heyday of the motocross’ privateer heroes. Billy Liles, Danny Chandler and Jo Jo Keller were famous all over the U.S. and were the guys the fans rooted for at places like Unadilla, Broome-Tioga, Southwick, Hi Point, and Raceway Park.
There was another rider who was just as famous as the rest of them and who also had more than his fair share of fans and support. He was the first man I remember to totally whip it sideways going down into the infamous Gravity Cavity at Unadilla. He went down the seventy foot drop sideways, one-handed and flipping a peace sign. How could you as a spectator not root for a guy who risked it all like that to salute you?
The rider in question is Newburgh, New York native, Patrick Moroney. “Pat,” as he is mostly called, is the son of fifties and sixties off road pro, Jim Moroney. Pat grew up in a motorcycling family and started riding at the age of four. When the time came for Pat to strut his stuff on the racetrack, he veered off the ovals and onto the motocross and scrambles tracks of District 34.
In time, Pat knocked at the doors of stardom but for some reason, was never chosen to carry the factory rider banner for one of the big bike companies. He never the less earned the national number twenty-eight rank before he settled down to finish his career racing locally. Many believed that his wild party attitude held him back in the corporate eyes. It certainly didn’t hurt his racing; Pat was factory fast every time he set foot on a motocross track. Pat was also very misunderstood by the corporate heads at the Japanese factories. As this interview sheds light on the real Pat Moroney, take a trip back in time with him.
Today, Pat can be found at the helm of Jim Moroney’s Cycles, a full-scale race shop and mega dealership. They sell Harleys, Suzukis, Yamahas, Ski-Doo personal watercraft and my favorite, KTM Sportmotorcycles. He also runs a successful flattrack race team that has had national wins and many top placings as well. Look for the Fast Hog Racing Team at local and national flat track events and in the winter time, ice racing events. The day we caught up to Pat, a tree had fallen down in his backyard and, truth be told it fell on his boat. Late for the interview, he was more amiable than I would have imagined after such an ordeal.
Q: Pat Moroney, District 34 motocross legend, how have you been?
A: Pretty good. It’s nice to hear from someone who still remembers me. I’m kinda looking forward to talking with you and chatting about the old days.
Q: You were national number twenty-eight at one point. Was that your highest placing in a motocross national series?
A: Yeah, I was. My best finish was ninth overall at the season’s end and I was the top privateer that year on an air-cooled bike and everyone that beat me was on water-cooled factory bikes. I was the only one not from California that year. (His face shows the pride of what that meant not too long ago to be as ass-kicker from the east. Most of today’s factory riders are from the east).
Q: Pat, you always went for broke; did the fans cheering have a lot to do with that?
A: Yeah, sure. I mean, with all those people yelling for me, I could go faster here (the east coast tracks) than any other place in the country.
Q: You mentioned before that you really didn’t party as much as people thought you did. Was that a part of your psyche-out technique?
P: Yeah, I hung out with some people that partied a lot. But, before the races… a couple of days before the races, I really didn’t do anything at all. I just hung out with a lot of people who did and had a lot of fun. Plus, at Unadilla, it was just a lot of exposure. I mean, we were racing the minibikes in the pits till ten, eleven o’clock at night. It was a blast. I remember people jumping the lake and setting themselves on fire. It was crazy, just a real spectator sport just watching them go at it. It was cool being a part of that and then the next day having all these people root for me and getting me psyched to go fast.
Q: So District 34 was representing, huh?
A: Yup, yup. I also rode a lot of New England that year. District 34 didn’t have as much competition then so I grew up racing guys like Jo Jo Keller, Mark Robillard, Jimmy Ellis and those guys. There was just a lot of competition there at the time.
Q: How do you see motocross now compared to when you were at the top of your game?
A: I agree with the shorter motos rather than the forty-five minute motos we used to have to ride. Also, that you have to start out with a stock bike, no factory works bikes. That would have been a big advantage to me now as opposed to then. The bikes we raced against were all titanium and liquid cooled with single shocks and I was running air cooled with twin shocks and way down on horsepower, then halfway through the race, they lose whatever power they had left.
And also, in supercross, they never had a 125 class so everyone had to try to make the 250 main. I made about ten main events. It was a lot harder then because everyone was in the 250 class. If there were a 125 class, it would have helped by being a stepping stone for me to get the factory attention because I rode the 125 a lot better than the 250.
Q: So you think the AMA did a good thing by bringing in the 125 class in supercross?
A: (laughs) It’s pretty rare, the AMA doing something good, but yeah, I agree with that.
Q: Your father was also a motorcycle racer? Tell us about that.
A: My father was an enduro rider and a scrambles rider. My first race was actually a trials event when I was eight years old. Then I rode a couple of closed course enduros on a Suzuki 80 when they first came out. It’s a lot different from the Suzukis 80s now a days. Then I started racing scrambles on a TS 100. They had to use trials tires then and the tracks were a lot smoother with smaller jumps. More like TTs now. I really loved that; if they had more races like that, I would still be racing ‘cause the tracks would give an older guy a shot, its not beating your body up.
Q: How did your son James get into racing? Did you push him into it or did he gravitate toward it himself?
A: Yeah, I mean…of course you want your son to ride and race. It’s only natural to want that. At first I thought he was going to go in a motocross direction but soon found out he wanted nothing to do with motocross. He liked to go fast on the smoother tracks so I got him into dirt tracking and he’s showed a lot of talent. He is really smooth and he’s been doing well. He was the top 80cc rider in the Northeast and we’re going to the amateur nationals to try and bring back the number one plate.
Q: That’s really good.
A: Actually, the most scared I’ve been is watching him race; he gets up to eighty or ninety miles an hour and I am more scared watching him than when I was racing myself. I was never scared or hyped out when I was racing. I sometimes hope that he gets into playing the guitar more and joins a rock band and lays off the motorcycles. Ha ha ha. Especially his mother hopes that, but whatever he chooses to do I am pretty much going to support him in it.
Q: What was your most memorable Unadilla incident, something that really stands out in your mind?
A: Every time I went to Unadilla it was awesome but I think it was nineteen seventy eight, it was a 250 GP class with all the European riders and it was in the second moto, I was running third or fourth. I had just passed Weinert and a couple of Europeans, I think DeCoster and Hannah, were just ahead of me and down in the back section in the whoops, the plug wire melted on my radial fin (cylinder) head and the bike just died. There were about two hundred people there that picked me up over their shoulders and carried me all the way back to my pits a half a mile away. Ha ha ha, that was pretty awesome.
Q: Wow, they never carried DeCoster like that. Any other events come to mind?
A: I think I was second in the first moto in nineteen seventy nine, when I won the overall in the 500cc support class, my transmission just blew itself up right as I crossed the finish line; it just scattered the motor all over the place. We had to do a motor change between heats and just as the two minute sign goes up, I kick it over on the milk crate, leaned back and got traction and roosted off the crate and headed to the starting line. I got there just as the gate was falling and ended up pulling the holeshot. I won the moto going away, I was so psyched. I ended up beating Rick Burgett who had just won the 500cc National Championship [I told you Pat was factory fast].
Q: Who was some of your toughest competition?
A: I remember a PA rider named Gary Pustelak; he was this drill sergeant-type with real short hair and totally straight, square jaw and all. He would always come around and bust my chops because he thought I was a partier or whatever you wanna call it. He’d get so pumped that he’d be doing clap pushups behind me on the starting line, and I’d just be laughing at him, you know. I’d be all relaxed and he’d be all pumped up and hyping out.
That start at Unadilla we almost tangled in the first turn. He took me all the way out to the bales and if I didn’t back off, I would’ve corkscrewed into the ground. So, I tucked in behind him and about a half lap later, I watched him endo in the whoops and I just aimed right for him and clutched it over his bike when I got there. I clutched it again right over his back to keep going. When I came around the next lap, his jersey was ripped up and he was pushing the bike, so I start yelling at him to get off the track…it was just hilarious.
Q: Man, that’s “old school” hard-core moto right there. Pat, you were one of the originators of catching big air. What do you think of the guys today and freestyle, which is a sport unto itself now?
A: I consider John Gurga, “Magoo” Chandler, and myself as the pioneers of the acrobatics; I didn’t run up front in the nationals as much as I wanted to or I’d really have gone crazy. Anytime I ran near the front, I would just be sideways, kicking it out and hanging off the bike off every jump. It was nothing as radical as the guys today but then, our equipment wasn’t nearly as advanced as today. I think the equipment factor was the biggest hindrance to us then. I know for a fact the factories also warned their riders never to do what we did, they looked down on it. The warned the guys to keep their wheels straight or they would get in trouble. They told them no whips, no crossups and they would just look at me like I was an idiot for doing it but I didn’t care, the crowd loved it.
Q: I think the AMA and the factories forget that it’s the paying spectator that pays for stuff and deserve to get what they want.
A: Yeah. At the local races where I’d be up front all the time, I’d be sideways and really going off. I didn’t have the imagination of the kids today with the nacnacs, supermans and kissing the front fender. They’ve got a little better imagination than I had. (laughs heartily)
Q: Do you still ride, Pat?
I still ride dirt bikes a lot now, but I don’t know, maybe I’m older but I can’t get as radical as I used to. I seemed to have lost that part of it.
Q: That’s the exuberance of youth though. After a few broken bones, things seem a lot different. (We both laugh. His son James looks at us both with a puzzled look.) That’s a nice segue into the present. What happened after you left motocross?
A: One of the things that really pissed me off was when Ward Robinson, who owns Unadilla, denied my entry for the 1982 race. You had to have it in thirty days before the race and mine was in at twenty-eight days. After that I was riding some nationals and went back to Husqvarnas and that’s when I met my wife now. That kind of slowed me down a bit and also at that time, I had been racing every weekend at a racetrack for fifteen years straight and like Bradshaw and those guys and I got burned out. I wanted to do different things in life. You know, go to the lake and water ski and just stuff that I never did because of racing.
I bummed around for six months and realized that I missed racing and entered the qualifier for the Six Days Trials. I made it but decided not to go. The next year I started riding a bunch of hare scrambles. I ended up with a couple of seconds in national hare scrambles and won a bunch of local races. In 1986, I won the ECA Open A enduro championship. That’s when I turned AA enduro and finished second in the Alligator (Daytona) Enduro behind Kevin Hines (multi time enduro champion). I still ride every week with a bunch of experts in the woods now. I don’t race any more though; I leave that up to my flat-track team and my son James.
Q: Thanks Pat for taking time out of a busy and somewhat frustrating day to fill us in on what is going on with you. ( a tree had fallen on Pat’s boat the day of the interview and he was running late because of it.)
A: No problem, like I said, it’s good to know that people still remember me and want to find out how I’ve been. I always raced for the fans; that’s why they remember me.
Q: We certainly do Pat. Thanks again for your time.
So there you have the scoops on one of the pioneers of the freestyle movements and one seriously fast motocross rider. The biases of the Japanese factories to only hire guns from the west coast has shifted mightily as most of the factory talent today is from the east coast, Europe, or Australia. Motocrossers from both coasts, however, can be proud of the pioneers in the sport of motocross such as Pat Moroney. They set the bench mark for today’s crop of go-fast riders and racers.
If you enjoyed this look back, write to the editors at MSC motocross to see about future ‘Where Are They Now’ interviews. The heroes and pioneers of MSC motocross deserve to be remembered.