Seen in this photo is the 20 year old Texas Cyclone, star of professional board track racing in 1912, Eddie Hasha onboard his No. 32 factory Big Base 8-Valve in front of the 60 degree track at Vailsburg, NJ, just before his death in the early Fall of 1912.

If there is one machine which embodies the storied era of the board track motordrome it would no doubt be an Indian, and no configuration to have come out of the Springfield factory was more perfectly tailored for the infamous slanted timbers of America’s fabled dromes than Indian’s Big Base 8-Valve. Perhaps even more synonymous with the treacherous glory of the American motordrome is one of the company’s most notable talents, the young Texan William Edward Hasha. The skilled racer from Waco burst onto the national racing scene in 1911 like a super nova, his brightness being extinguished nearly as fast in one of the most infamous accounts of tragedy in the history of the short-lived sport.

By 1912, the 20 year old Hasha had made name for himself as a gifted young racer on the dirt tracks of Texas and Louisiana before joining the professional ranks on the boards of Denver’s Tuileries and Lakeside Motordromes in the summer of 1911. Within just two years since his first race in Waco back in 1909, Eddie Hasha had become a top level professionaland joined the most prestigious factory racing team in the country, Indian’s Wigwam. He was known as the “Texas Cyclone” and the “Texan Midget,” but only a few short months after entering into professional competition young Eddie Hasha was soon heralded as the “King of the Pro’s.” From his first board track races in Denver in the summer of 1911, Hasha tore around the newly opening wooden saucers in Denver, Chicago, and Oakland onboard Indian factory IOE machines No. 16 and No. 23. However, it was in the final days of 1911, in reports from California late that December that mentions of a new Hedstrom direct-drive machine had been provided to both Hasha and Indian teammate Ray Seymour for testing on the track in Oakland. Formally announce in the pages of Bicycle World & Motorcycle Review on January 6, 1912, the new machine was revealed to be a masterpiece of raw, streamlined power. It was this machine that would become known as the Big Base 8-Valve, and Eddie Hasha who would become its champion.

Perhaps motivated by the success of Excelsior’s powerful new factory racer, the big valve series 7 in early 1911, which in the hands of Denver’s Joe Wolters resulted in the stealing of nearly every record once held by Indian riders, Indian’s Oscar Hedstrom developed an overhead valve platform in hopes of regaining their dominance on the track. The first iteration of Hedstrom’s new 8-Valve debuted in May of 1911 with Indian’s newest amateur team member Frank Hart in the saddle. It was onboard that first Indian OHV machine, labeled No. 26, that Hart went onto become America’s first ever FAM Amateur National Champion, but the 6HP OHV prototype was seemingly still underpowered. Coupled with the fact that iconic Indian riders like Charlie Balke, Morty Graves, and Jake DeRosier began shifting their allegiance to Excelsior by the close of the 1911 season, Hedstrom went back to the drawing board to enhance his 8-Valve idea. The result was a new streamlined machine, one with a larger displacement producing more horsepower, purpose built for redline speed on America’s sensational new sport of board track racing… the Big Base 8-Valve.

The new refined 8-Valve machines increased capacity to 1000cc and featured new larger cases and fly wheels, as well as a direct chain drive with no primary gearing, though the same 4 “in-head” valves per cylinder architecture remained the same. The idea being that having more, smaller, lighter valves above the combustion chambers, each cylinder having two intake and two exhaust valves actuated in pairs by a rocker arm, gasses could more efficient move in and out of the chamber. For added air and exhaust flow a dozen or so port holes were drilled through the cylinder walls just under the bottom fin, as well as a handful more in the heads near the exhaust valves. The new engine was set into the standard Indian short-coupled loop frame, though the Big Base featured a more slightly forward rake with an elongated neck tube. The fuel tank was shortened and modified with a longer section at the neck joint, as well as a sharp taper towards the back. Similar to Hedstrom’s first attempt at the 8-Valve configuration, the lengthened oil tank was notched on the right side of the machine to allow for the rear cylinder exhaust to pass through, in effect warming the oil faster than a stock machine. Being built specifically for the increasingly popular board track motordrome, the Big Base had no brakes, transmission, clutch, suspension, or throttle, the regulation of power being left to a metal tab on the handlebars which would break the electrical circuit from the magneto. The machine’s simplicity was elegant, raw, and efficient, and its power would soon come to redefine the idea of speed. 

In February of 1912 both Hasha and teammate Ray Seymour uncrated their new Big Base 8-Valve machines in Los Angeles for the opening of Jack Prince’s latest motordrome, the 50 degree banked boards of the LA Stadium. On February 12, 1912, Hasha, who was making his debut in Los Angeles leveled the field of Class A competitors onboard his new Big Base 8-Valve labeled No. 32 in front of an opening crowd of 8,000. Hasha not only won each event in distances of 2, 3, and 4 miles, beating out Excelsior’s team of Wolters, DeRosier, and Balke, but in each distance that he ran he reclaimed the standing record by wide margins. Within two weeks Hasha and Seymour with their pair of Big Base machines had reclaimed all of the records recently lost to the Excelsior squad, and on April 7th at the big mile at Playa Del Rey Hasha smashed the record marks from 1 to 10 miles, hitting a new top speed of 95 mph with his powerful Big Base. Indian was back on the warpath and Hasha was leading the way, hitting his stride and claiming victory after victory on the boards of Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Columbus, New York, and Philadelphia. 

Late in the Summer of 1912 Hasha signed a contract to race the remainder of the season at the Jack Prince’s newest drome near Newark, NJ. It was at this time that, despite being one of the most popular motorcycle racers in the country, those around the 20 year old Hasha, his friends and family began to pressure him to retire from the increasingly dangerous sport. Still in his first year of marriage, Hasha mentioned in interviews that he promised his bride that he would soon give up the racing game in order to spend his remaining days by her side. His fellow teammate John Constant later recalled that even Harley-Davidson co-founder Arthur Davidson, who had met Eddie in the first days of his racing career while he was setting up HD distributors in Texas back in 1910, too had urged Hasha to hangup his racing jersey. In the last days of October Hasha wrote a letter to his father explaining his intention to turn away from racing, having recently passed on an invitation to compete in Cuba that winter, and that he was looking forward to entering into the family contracting business, planning to settle back home in Dallas or possibly expand the operation to Birmingham, AL. On the morning of September 8th, 1912, Edward Hasha’s father back home in Texas opened that letter and read his son’s relieving words, but on that same day Eddie Hasha, in New Jersey, mounted his Big Base 8-Valve Indian for a race at the Vailsburg Motordrome, one which would unknowingly be his last. The horror that unfurled that day at Vailsburg would resonate in the minds of enthusiasts, competitors, promoters, manufacturers, and the general public alike for decades to come, remaining one of the most retold stories in American motorcycle history. The story has come to embody the age of the motordrome, a legend of our culture, a myth of terrible fact.

Though Hasha’s fatal day at Vailsburg is often credited for the collapse of the sport of motordrome racing, the truth is that, though it was a horrible affair the thrilling sport of board track racing would continue for several more years, and the age of the larger board track speedways would last nearly into the 1930’s. Another dozen board track motordromes would be built over the next two years, and competition would continue for another four before the final events on the circular wooden tracks would ultimately disappear. It was on the boards of those motordromes that Indian’s Big Base 8-Valve would continue to be the benchmark of performance over the coming years, solidifying their place at the top of the American motorcycle food chain. Pioneer’s of the sport like Ray Seymour, Morty Graves, Don Johns, Don Klark, Harry Glenn, Lee Humiston, Fred Luther, Johnny U. Constant, and Lon Claflin each found their own glory onboard a Big Base in those years. Eventually a redesigned engine, one based on smaller production cases and flywheels would replace the small-batch, board track Big Base behemoths. The new 8-Valve machines more closely resembled Hedstrom’s initial attempt at the OHV platform which he introduced back in the Spring of 1911 and would feature a variety of track configurations and yield a larger production volume. Ultimately, Hedstrom’s OHV design would carry the company to the victor’s circle and set innumerable speed records well into the 1920’s, and despite its status as one of the first overhead valve motorcycles in America, the 1911 8-Valve remains to this day Indian’s most successful application of the design.

Comment