In 1950, the president of the IU Foundation, Howard S. "Howdy" Wilcox, saw a need to raise awareness for the IU Student Foundation, raise scholarship funds for students working while in school and bring the University closer together.
That same year, according to the City of Bloomington website, Wilcox saw students having their own bicycle race on campus in what is now Cook Hall, sparking the idea to create the Little 500 race. Since Wilcox’s father, Howard Wilcox Sr., had won the Indianapolis 500 in 1919, he was very familiar with the idea of racing and designed the Little 500 race to be a replica of the famous car race.
The following year in 1951, after the IU Student Foundation spread the idea around campus, 37 teams signed up to attempt to qualify for the first Little 500 race. After Qualifications, the 33 teams with the best qualifications times took the track on race day, kicking off what would become one of the longest running IU traditions.
The Little 500 was originally created for only men to race, until the winter of 1986 when women pushed for a Little 500 race of their own. Previously, women who were interested in cycling could only compete in the Mini 500, a tricycle race, which started in 1955, in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall where riders competed on custom-made trikes. But the event did not compare to the actual race in their eyes.
The legacy of the women’s Little 500 race is now built upon four friends of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, Lee Ann Guzek Terhune, Martha Hinkamp Gillum, Darcy Fieck and Kathy Cleary Kallne, who all had a shared interest in cycling.
In 1987, this group of four women attempted to qualify for the men’s Little 500 race. When it was the women's time to carry out its attempt, they dropped the bike during an exchange on two separate attempts. The team had to wait until the end of the day for another attempt.
During the third attempt, the women of Kappa Alpha Theta were able to qualify. This did not last long as the team finished with a time of 3:03.72, later being bumped out of their qualifying spot by teams with better finishing times. After the 1987 qualifications were over, the women of Kappa Alpha Theta officially placed 34th, one spot short of being able to race in the Little 500.
Later in this same year, the IU Student Foundation announced the creation of a women’s Little 500 race. The following spring, in 1988, 31 women’s teams registered to race. While Willkie won the inaugural race, the women of Kappa Alpha Theta who fought for the creation of this event, came in second.
This year will be the 67th running of the men’s and the 31st running of the women’s Little 500. Even after all these years, current race director Andrea Balzano said there is nothing like it.
“It develops student leaders, it brings people together and it creates memories for a lifetime," Balzano said. "I really love being involved with this event. The friends that students make through IUSF and the Little 500 — whether they’re riders or Steering Committee alumni — last a lifetime.”
The Little 500 race still continues to provide scholarships for students, and in her time as a student at IU, who graduated in 2014, Balzano was one of the students who earned one.
“IUSF and the Little 500 provide scholarships for dozens of students on campus and that is really life changing,” Balzano said. “I was the recipient of IUSF scholarships as a student, and giving them out now is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.”
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