Say the words ‘8-Valve’ to a motorcycle collector and watch their ears perk up.  That’s how potent the history of these exotic machines, built by both Indian and (later) Harley-Davidson, are in the story of American board track racing.  It’s the most romantic era of motorcycle competition, mostly because of the extraordinary danger of the sport, it extreme toll on riders, and the bare-knuckles competition between brands that understood racing was the cheapest form of advertising.  It was ‘Race on Sunday, sell on Monday’, and even if your star rider slipped on the two miles of oily pine 2x4s laid at a 50degree angle, and lost his life… well, that was a headline too. For a time in the 1910s, every major and many minor cities in the USA featured banked-track ovals with wooden surfaces, called either motordromes, autodromes, or board tracks.  By the late 1920s they were all gone, destroyed by fires or bulldozers, and few missed the ‘murderdromes’, as they were dubbed in the press.  Other forms of racing quickly supplanted the boards in the public’s imagination, with hillclimbing becoming the most popular motorsport in the USA by the late 1920s, and dirt track racing the most popular in the world.

One of four genuine Indian 8-Valve racers known to exist, and the only one in a ‘Marion’ keystone frame. [Mecum]
The racers in all these competitions were specialized and honed to freakish extremes, often bearing no relation to the road-going products of their manufacturers, and Indian was the first to introduce such exotica on the track.  The Indian 8-Valve was designed by Oscar Hedstrom in 1910 solely to return Indian to the top of the racing game, where it had established itself in 1902.  Hedstrom’s 4-valve cylinder heads solved major problems with valve cooling on the overhead-valve concept, before direct lubrication was added to valve trains in the late 1920s.  It was well understood that overhead valve cylinder heads had better gas flow than inlet-over-exhaust valves, but valve breakages from overheating on 2-valve motors were common.  Hedstrom’s use of four smaller valves meant the valve train components were lighter and smaller, giving better longevity and easier revving, while possessing improved gas flow characteristics and thus producing more power.  The 8-Valve was immediately successful in racing, and earned its legendary status as a motorcycle of extraordinary technical innovation, and a devastating racer that totally dominated Board Track competition for years.

The Indian factory racing team in the 1910s with an 8-Valve racer. [The Vintagent Archive]
The extraordinary machine in these photos is one of only four genuine Indian 8-Valve racers known to exist today. We know it’s genuine as the bike has significant documentation and a known history from new, with photos of owners dating back decades, and much research done by former owner Daniel Statnekov.  It is the only known surviving example of a factory-built Indian 8-Valve racer in a ‘keystone’ or ‘Marion’ frame, which this machine pioneered, and was used by Indian subsequently with its sidevalve racers of the 1920s as a very light and very short-wheelbase racing frame.  The keystone frame was a clever use of the engine cases as a stressed member of the frame, by the simple expedient of cutting out the frame’s bottom tubes.  This lowered the center of gravity, which vastly improved the handling, and also gave a shorter wheelbase, which made the bike more nimble.  To complement the short and low frame, Indian built a shorter version of their racing front fork, which this machine possesses, and an enlarged fuel tank for long-distance racing – typical Board Track races of the era were held over distances from 100 to 200 miles, and stopping to refuel could mean the difference between winning and losing.

What a motor! A true innovation in design from 1911, and refined over the years, a bit. This is a second-generation example, a ‘small base’ 8-Valve. [Mecum]
This unique ‘Marion’ 8-Valve was presumably first used by the factory with its own racing team, and period photos show just such machines being raced by the factory in 1915.  While the 8-Valve was dominant on the track, Indian was developing its first side-valve roadster V-twin motor – the Powerplus – that same year.  Its designer was Charles Gustafson, who had previously designed the first sidevalve motorcycle engine in the USA for Reading-Standard.  Gustafson knew he could develop his Powerplus engine to produce more power with more reliability than the 8-Valve, and soon the Marion frame was raced with special Powerplus motors, which were indeed better for long-distance racing…but not faster.  This 1915 racer is a second-generation ‘small-base’ version of the 8-Valve, and was quite simply the fastest motorcycle in the world for decades. A list of speed records with this second-generation Indian 8-Valve included: 1 mile at 115.75mph by Gene Walker at Daytona Beach in April 1920, and 1 mile at 132.52mph by Jim Davis in April 1922.  Such speeds would not be equaled by FIM-certified land speed record racing until the 1930s.


The business side: while totally restored, this bike is known genuine, with a documented chain of ownership since the 1920s. [Mecum]
This 1915 Marion 8-Valve was originally purchased from the factory in the early 1920s by Waldo Korn, a professional rider for both Indian and Excelsior.  After a period of racing, Kern sold the Marion in the 1940s to Dewey Simms, a legendary tuner and racer, who used the machine for demonstration laps at events in the 1950s and 60s, including the Springfield Mile track.  Photographic documentation of Simms with this machine in that era are included with the sale: also included are the unique aluminum valve covers visible in the photos.  Note also the tunnel fabricated into the oil tank to allow clearance for the rear cylinder’s exhaust pipe.  Simms sold this machine on April 7th 1966 to Renton WA collector Gary Porter, and in turn Porter sold it in the 1990s to historian/collector Dan Statnekov, who described it as ‘running but tired, with terrible paint.’  He leaned on surviving racing machines, racers, and historians to bring the Marion 8-Valve to perfect and running condition.

Veteran board track racer Jim Davis hunkers down on this machine in 1960 at the Springfield Mile, with owner Dewey Sims standing left, and Floyd Clymer announcing. [Mecum]
This is a unique and hugely important 1915 Indian Marion 8-Vavle racer, and its meticulous restoration was judged at an astonishing 100 points at the 1998 Perkiomen AMCA National meet, and took the Red Wolverton Award for the best restored racing machine.  It was also featured in the Guggenheim Museum’s 1998 ‘Art of the Motorcycle’ exhibit, and is included in the exhibit catalog on page 124.  This 1915 Indian racer is the most important American motorcycle for sale in this decade, without question: while other machines might be the flavor du jour, there is no motorcycle as rare, and none as legendary, as a real Indian 8-Valve.  It’s coming up at Mecum’s Monterey auction Aug 17-19 2023.  [Note: Mecum is a sponsor of The Vintagent]



Paul d’Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.


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