For all the laps Joe Krahulik has ridden, there’s still one lap that haunts him.
It’s the last lap of the 2016 Little 500 that lingers as motivation for Krahulik, as fuel for when workouts get tough. On that lap, Krahulik had a chance to win the race for Sigma Alpha Epsilon, but he was outsprinted by Delta Tau Delta’s Luke Tormoehlen. He was "dusted" as Krahulik called it.
Just over a second separated Krahulik from Tormoehlen. A second separated victory from agony.
“It was tough because my teammates did a really great job,” Krahulik said. “Really, it was my fault we didn’t win that one because I crashed twice.”
It was improbable that he was even out on the track for that sprint. After the race, Krahulik learned he had sustained a concussion in one of those crashes, but that didn’t stop him.
That was his sophomore year, and two years later, he’s grown from that experience. In the field of this year’s Little 500 riders, he’s had arguably the most individual success without coming away a Little 500 champion. He won the ITTs this season and in 2016, along with finishing second in 2017. He won Miss-N-Out in 2016.
“Joe has a crazy work ethic,” said Robert Krahulik, Joe’s younger brother and current freshman rider on SAE's team. “He’s willing to put in a ton of work and dedicate his focus to what he does. He’s very intense and that rubs off on the rest of the team. He’s motivated to just be the best.”
Little 500 has become a family affair for the Krahuliks.
Andy Krahulik rode for SAE and graduated in 2016, while Robert joined the team this season. Their dad rode in the Little 500 when he was at IU.
Growing up with Little 500 posters plastered on their walls, the kids watched their dad train in their basement as they watched movies. They were the only kids in their neighborhood with bikes with drop handlebars. Bikes were a source of freedom so they could go ride to see their friends.
Their dad took them to the Velodrom, a cycling track in Indianapolis, when they were in elementary school, yet biking wasn't their primary focus as kids. All three kids swam at North Central High School in Indianapolis.
Andy attributes Joe’s success in ITT’s to his time in the pool.
“For that, it probably goes back to a swimming background,” Andy said. “One of his prime events was the 200 freestyle, which takes a little under two minutes and its four laps essentially. So, I think just having that experience knowing how to pace something like that pays off.”
In his junior year at IU, Joe was always going to have to be the leader after SAE lost three riders of its 2016 team, but he was thrust into an even bigger role after two riders left the team near winter break.
Instead of being able to avenge the 2016 loss with an experienced roster, Joe had to focus on teaching his new teammates pretty much everything. He sacrificed individual training to make sure the new riders were doing everything right.
For Joe, the experience guiding those riders was gratifying as he had the opportunity to guide them and watch all the growth they made.
“As a person, I was pretty quiet before and I definitely liked the role I had sophomore year where I motivated sometimes, but most of the time, I got to keep my head down and work really hard,” Joe said. “So, to grow as a person, it was monumental to lead these guys.”
Even though the team was inexperienced, SAE finished fifth last year. They were a crash on Lap 170 away from being able to have a good chance of winning the race.
“For him kind of going through that for one season and learning what it actually takes to not be the star rider, but to be kind of the every day coach and the leader,” Andy said. “After that, this year’s been a breeze.”
It wasn’t natural for Joe, but he became a strong leader for SAE.
“He’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around quite frankly,” senior SAE rider Sean Marks said. “He leads by example day in and day out. He eats, sleeps and breathes Little 500. He’s made of something of else.”
Joe’s dedication to the Little 500 is something that stood out to Tormoehlen.
After Joe was defeated by Tormoehlen in 2016, the pair talked following the race and became friends. Joe turned to Tormoehlen for advice last year dealing with how to lead a team with rookies.
This year, Tormoehlen has given him strategy advice and how he was stayed so fresh for that final sprint, but that last lap doesn’t come up.
For Tormoehlen, Joe reminds him of himself and has “it." Tormoehlen said Joe has both the mental and physical makeup to be successful.
“He's a student of the race and he's all in,” Tormoehlen said. “He's been all in. He has unwavering confidence and it shows in his riding and in the way, he presents himself.”
Joe has an intense desire to win the Little 500 in his last attempt, but he’s happy with everything he has put into the race and his career so far.
“I have to be satisfied,” Joe said. “Obviously, I want to win and that would be the nice endpoint. As far as what I’ve got out of the Little 500, I’ve made some of the best friendships in my college career. It’s really guided me.”