Indiana Daily Student

Little 500 full of tradition, history

Alpha Delta Pi fans cheer on their riders during Little 500 Qualifications at Bill Armstrong Stadium. Alpha Delta Pi qualified 22nd with a time of 3:04:08.
Alpha Delta Pi fans cheer on their riders during Little 500 Qualifications at Bill Armstrong Stadium. Alpha Delta Pi qualified 22nd with a time of 3:04:08.

To the students of Indiana University, it’s not just a bike race. It’s the Little 500.
Each spring, hundreds of students turn into athletes in the largest collegiate cycling race in the country and the biggest intramural event at IU when they ride in the Little 500.

Modeled after the motor race that takes place 56 miles away at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Little 500 sends four-person teams in separate races for men and women around a quarter-mile track.

Howdy Wilcox, then-executive director of the Indiana University Student Foundation, founded the Little 500 race in 1951, 32 years after his father won the Indianapolis 500.

The race has since been featured in the 1979 movie “Breaking Away,” which tells the tale of an underdog team of locals who work to win the race. The team acquires the nickname “Cutters” after the phrase used as an insult to stone cutters who worked at Bloomington limestone quarries.

Similar to the traditions of kissing the sidewalk and drinking cold milk that accompany the Indy 500, the Little 500 is full of the traditions of mounting Schwinns and crashing on Turn Three.

But it’s also an experience — one that former Cutters rider Eric Young will never forget.

Young, a four-year rider for the historic Bloomington team, crossed the finish line first each of his four years riding in the Little 500 — a feat no other rider had done before.

The Cutters rider had always planned to go to graduate school for neuroscience following his time in Bloomington. He had never heard of the Little 500 before his first year at IU, but four championships and one contract later, Young became a professional cyclist for Bissell cycling.

“I did not think I would be earning money to race until my senior year,” Young said. “I learned a lot from Little Five — a lot about teamwork and perseverance. It definitely defined my college experience.”

Coordinated by the IU Student Foundation, the Little 500 helps raise money that goes to working student scholarships. Little 500 has raised more than $1.5 million in scholarships since its inception.

And though it is an intramural event, Wing It! rider Abigail Legg said most teams don’t treat it like one.

“We train about six days a week,” Legg said. “We change our diets around Little Five. We change our class schedules around Little Five. ... You’re part of something so much bigger than yourself and much bigger than just a bike race in April.”

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