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Historically dominant Fiji looks to return to top spot


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By Charles Scudder



On the ground floor of the Phi Gamma Delta house, there is a room with walls covered in photos of the Little 500 race from years past.

They are from the first 17 years of the race, when the Phi Gamms never finished out of the top 10.

They are from the 1985 race, when the team had its lowest showing of 28th place, and from the past 17 years since the team’s last win.

Along another wall, there are framed photos of Fiji brothers holding up the Borg-Warner Trophy after winning the race in 1956, 1965, 1967, 1975, 1987 and 1995. There’s one empty frame on the wall with a piece of paper taped up that reads, “RESERVED FOR 2012.”

On the way to the team’s bike room, riders, such as junior Matt Andress, see the faces of Fijis from the past.

“We see it constantly and daily, and it serves as a constant reminder of what we can do,” Andress said, staring at the photos on the wall. “There’s just so much tradition.”

All that tradition means little when it comes to race day, especially with the Fiji team this year consisting of two juniors, one sophomore and three freshmen.

“It is hard, too, ’cause we have won so many times and coming up not having much experience before,” Andress said.

Who will be riding on race day is still to be determined, but with three rookies, the team had to hit the ground running this spring to be prepared for race day.

“Starting out on the track was definitely nerve-racking, but staying here spring break was a huge advantage,” freshman Sam Reed said.

For many of the riders, Fiji Cycling is a family affair. Reed’s father rode in the 1982 Little 500. Junior Will Boeglin has had a brother in the race since 2007.

“One word that sums it up is pride,” Reed said. “I don’t know how to explain it. You want to make the fraternity proud. You want to make the alumni proud.”

Fiji Cycling is rated first overall, according to Indiana Daily Student historical rankings. It doesn’t have the most wins of any team, nor has it won since the 1995 race, but it has consistently placed well since the race began in 1951.

The team has won a race in each decade except for the last. Its final opportunity was last year’s race, but a crash during qualifications put it back in the pack. When the checkered flag fell, the team had climbed 17 spots to place 15th overall.

This year, Fiji Cycling qualified fifth, the same as it did in 2010, when it placed third in the race. This year, the team is looking to fill that seventh frame in the house on Third Street.

Boeglin said the team has added new coaches, intensified training and stayed in town for spring break to train at Bill Armstrong Stadium.

“Going in this year, it’s just about being consistent,” Boeglin said. “As great as it is to get fifth in quals, it doesn’t end there.”

Through the spring series events, the riders all agreed that success in the final race was more important than winning any single event. Even in quals, they knew it was only one step toward a final goal.

The Fijis won the race in 1956, 1987 and 1995 with the same or lower pole position.

The riders are always talking about the long haul. Quals is important, but isn’t everything. Spring series events are fun, but not the team’s goal. They’re thinking race day and beyond.

Although independent teams, such as the Cutters, have seen success in the past five to 10 years, the riders of Phi Gamma Delta are thinking of more than 60 years of consistency on the track. They are thinking of their part in the long-term story of the Little 500.

“It means a lot of tradition or history,” Andress said. “Not even in respect to Fiji, you know?

“Everyone involved with Little 500. It means a lot to ride with Phi Gamma Delta on the front, but it’s more than that.”

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Phi Gamma Delta junior Matt Andress completes his team's final lap during Little 500 Qualifications on March 24 at Bill Armstrong Stadium. Rabi Abonour Buy Photos
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Phi Gamma Delta rider John Hunzicker is congratulated by supporters after the team's heat in Little 500 Qualifications on March 24 at Bill Armstrong Stadium. Rabi Abonour Buy Photos
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The 1956 Phi Gamma Delta Little 500 team poses with late IU President Herman B Wells after winning the race. Courtesy photo / Photo Courtesy IU Archives Buy Photos
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The 1956 Phi Gamma Delta Little 500 team poses with singer and actress Denise Lor after winning the race. Courtesy photo / Photo Courtesy IU Archives Buy Photos
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The 1987 Phi Gamma Delta Little 500 team poses with their trophy after winning the race. Courtesy photo / Photo Courtesy IU Archives Buy Photos
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Junior Matt Andress warms up with his Phi Gamma Delta teammates before Little 500 Qualifications on March 24 at Bill Armstrong Stadium. Rabi Abonour Buy Photos

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