Remembering Bill Hahn Sr.

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Remembering Bill Hahn Sr.

words by Bill Hahn Jr. 

Eight years ago, the motorcycle high-performance world mourned the loss of an icon, as a living legend passed to the other side. My father Bill Hahn Sr. was one of the most unique people one could have the rare opportunity to know. He was a technical genius, operating on multiple levels simultaneously, seemingly light years ahead of his contemporaries. Watching him from afar as a child, I nonetheless was taken in by his charismatic, no-holds-barred method. Besides, he was my Dad!

His influence on me as an adult was much greater than in my childhood when I grew up with my mother some two thousand miles distant from him. Many would logically assume that I grew up with him if only based on my near-identical pursuits, but this was not the case. Engines and racing and the creation of things with one’s hands and mind were always around, as my stepfather’s family were also car racers and technicians and handymen…but love them dearly as I do, what Dad had was stratospherically advanced in comparison. Once I was old enough to no longer be fettered by the challenge of distance, it was just a matter of time before I would follow in my father’s huge footsteps.

ing Bill HahIn my early 20’s, l would drive to see Dad at the dragbike races in the Midwest which were within shooting distance of my much-loved daily driver, a ’68 Camaro. With a 4:10 gear, no air conditioning, windows down, screaming the engine along for hours on the highway…it was some of the most glorious transportation I’ve ever enjoyed to and from races!

When I’d arrive, he’d take me to his Kawasaki Funnybike and show me what’s up. “Look at this, Billy. Hemispherical combustion chambers, fuel injection, turbocharging, methanol fuel. That thing you’re driving? That old stovebolt is an ancient artifact. You need to step up to what’s hot now!”

I’d reply, “Yeah, Dad, it’s awesome. I love it, but you know how I am about my cars, I’m a muscle(car)man through and through, they are my life!” We’d laugh, he’d slap me on the back, and a-racing he would go.

Sooner than later, I’d hit a chasmic crossroads with that Camaro. Its sweet L88 Big Block failed spectacularly, destroying all the major part$. I was now in a tight spot. The car was already well overstressed, needing significant chassis and driveline work to even be viable at the speeds I was achieving, much less to go any quicker. Now I needed an entire engine too. It was too much for this young man’s budget, and so I finally decided Dad was right. I was going to build a dragbike instead! So I shoveled a basic 454 back into the Camaro, sold my pride and joy to buy a van, and got started building my first dragbike.

The day I would tell him of the glorious news is forever etched in my mind. I excitedly called him up, told him I was going to build a bike, and was met with stony silence. “Dad, did you hear me?” His now-audible reply was a deep groan-growl-murmur, not the cheerful “All Right!” I’d expected. “Dad, what’s wrong? I thought you’d be thrilled, you’ve been urging me on!”

He finally spoke, “Yeah…but I never thought you’d actually DO it!”. Wow, was I ever flummoxed! It was then that his underlying fear finally surfaced: “Oh man. Your mother is going to KILL me!” Now it was crystal clear 😀
So it began. He got over it quickly, and it turned out Mom was barely surprised, certainly no stranger to my adventurous ways. With his guidance from a distance, and all my own sweat, tears, and cash, the turbocharged Kawasaki Z1-R I built in 1984 would propel me to world records and IDBA Rookie of the Year in 1985, none of which would have been possible so quickly without his help.

Dad had one other fear of me taking on such intense racing…he knew it would hook me for life. He’d always wanted his son to eclipse him, to grab that golden ring, to use the family gifts to soar higher than he had.

Dad, I’d never compare my accomplishments to yours, but a life spent racing and developing is soaring about as high as a human can fly. You put me at least ten years ahead of other racers my age, practically ensuring early success, and I’ve been proud to run that ball upfield. Our cumulative effect over the generations to our shared motorsport has been substantial and exceptional, and I’ve also had the opportunity to branch that legacy out into other motorized pursuits. That’s as good as it gets.

I owe my fascination with extreme forward innovative desire to Dad. Sure, he taught me much about technology, and how to best leverage it. But more than that, he taught me to be relentless. To be endlessly incisive and curious. To keep throwing my mind and efforts at a challenge until I owned it, and to then use the result to lever myself even higher. Then to do it again. To infinity.

In an ever-changing and challenging world, racing is one of the last bastions of men succeeding wildly despite humble backgrounds and resources. So it was with Dad and I. Racers never turn it off. Racers make it happen. Racers dare each other to reach ever higher, then dare themselves to surpass themselves. It is an ethos, a way of life, a way of never settling for what’s easy. Easy is not fun. Easy is not challenging. Easy makes us anxious, unsettled. We aren’t just adrenaline junkies on the track, but in life as well. Easy just doesn’t fit in.

Dad wasn’t “easy” on any level, but his dedication was pure and complete. I can now but wonder what track I’d have taken were he not in my life. It may have been similar, but lacking his example of relentlessness and endless fascination, it would not have been as excellent or fruitful. Of this I am eternally aware and grateful.

Dad, race in peace. From wherever you watch your family on Earth, I know you’re cheering us on. We are champions, and we will, we WILL, rock you.

– Bill Hahn Jr.

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