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IU students on the Little 500; what to do and where to go



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Riders in the pack ride their final laps at the men's race on April 22, 2017. The first race, featuring only men, happened in 1951. Rose Bythrow Buy Photos

For the past 67 years, IU and Bloomington have celebrated a classic event. 

The Little 500 lasts one weekend, although some would argue that it has its own season entirely. It is a tradition that involves competition, fundraising and excitement. The Little 500 race is a relay bike race made up of at least four members on a team. Through the festivities the IU Student Foundation raises scholarship funds for students.

The first Little 500 race, featuring only men, was in 1951, and the first women’s race was in 1988.

Decades later, the Little 500 now attracts national attention with an average attendance of 25,000 each year. The race has brought many celebrities to Bloomington in its history, including actor and comedian Bob Hope; David Letterman; Seymour, Indiana, native John Mellencamp; and Lance Armstrong. But even through this, the Little 500 has held true to its traditions, while also creating new ways to celebrate the event and enjoy the City of Bloomington. 

For many students, there is only one way to start the Little 500 season — by watching the Academy-Award-winning movie "Breaking Away." This film shows the trials and triumphs of Bloomington residents, who were not students, that form a team to compete against the teams at IU. The non-students called themselves the Cutters and won the race. Now, only students may register for the race, but racers still model their teams after the Cutters

Sophomore Dylan Horowitz, who bikes for Alpha Epsilon Pi, said this is a movie the team has watched many times.

“Watching 'Breaking Away' the night before the race has always been a tradition for the team,” Horowitz said. “I know a lot of other teams have the same tradition. The movie really captures the Little 500 spirit.” 

Before all the action, many students partake in events around IU to get in the Little 500 spirit. The annual Cream and Crimson Game between the football team is set to take place the Saturday before the Little 500 races on April 14. It will be at 4 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.

Just a few weeks before bikers take to the track to compete, students go to Bill Armstrong Stadium to witness qualifications. This is when each team must complete four laps as fast as they can to earn their place in the race. 


The Independent Council trades off bikes during the women's 2017 Little 500 race. Rose Bythrow Buy Photos


Either one rider can do all four laps ,or the teams can alternate riders between laps. If a team chooses to alternate riders, he or she must complete an accurate bike exchange. Senior Harvest Ham said this is one of the most enjoyable events of the Little 500 season

“Teams get to show off just how hard they train every single day,” Ham said. “For me, it’s the most exciting day of the year, and I love getting to see all the fans cheer on their teams.” 

The 33 teams with the best times will qualify to compete in the Little 500. IU sophomore Eleanor Berg, who rides for Alpha Phi, said qualifications are the most nerve-racking, but among the best experiences of riding in the race.

“Each team only gets three tries to qualify, so it definitely gets tense, but it’s a lot of fun, and seeing how the student body comes out to watch for this is really cool,” Berg said. 

Every bike team is required to participate in the spring series events. This includes Miss N Outs, which involves heats of bikers, who get eliminated one-by-one until the last biker crosses the finish line. The second spring series event is Team Pursuit, a timed event of 15 laps for men and 10 laps for women with two teams starting in opposite corners of the track racing against each other. The final spring series event is the Individual Time Trials, in which each participant bikes four laps for his or her best time. 

Each event goes toward the team total, which determines what jersey each team wears on race day. 

To celebrate the new winners of the Little 500 race, the Buskirk-Chumley Theater will be host to its annual Little 500 concert at 9 p.m. Friday, April 20. This year, Stalley will be performing the "Stalley Live for Lil 5" concert. 

Tickets for the Little 500 are available now for $35, but if you choose to purchase tickets the day of it will cost $40.  

IU sophomore Margot Cohen said no matter how you celebrate, the Little 500 season makes everyone happier. Cohen said there is a consensus of togetherness even through the competition. 

“I think I’m just happy to be here,” Cohen said. "This is something that isn't found at any other school, and even though everyone in the race is competing against each other, there is a sense of togetherness through the IU community, and it has a contagious effect on everyone.” 

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