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The legacy of Little 500



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The Borg-Warner Trophy sits on the track Saturday before the 2019 men’s Little 500 at Bill Armstrong Stadium. Cutters took first, Bears camein second and Black Key Bulls placed third. Peter Talbot Buy Photos

After the women’s and men’s Little 500 races concluded April 12 and 13, it marked races 100 and 101 in Little 500 history.

There have been 69 men’s races, starting in 1951, and 32 women’s race since 1988, making the Little 500 a tradition like no other at IU.

Each year, the bike spectacle brings in around 25,000 people to the Bloomington community to be a part of the historic race.

The race was founded by Howdy Wilcox Jr., who was the executive director of the IU Foundation in 1951. Wilcox modeled the race after the Indianapolis 500, which his father won in 1919. The winner of the first men’s Little 500 in 1951 was the South Hall Buccaneers, who represented the Collins LLC.

The women used to compete in a tricycle race the night before the men’s Little 500 until a group of four women from Kappa Alpha Theta attempted to qualify for the men’s race in 1987. They were one spot short of qualifying, and instead of trying again the following year, they opted to pursue starting a women’s race, which took place the next year on April 22, 1988. The winner of the inaugural women’s race was Willkie Sprint.

The size of the field for the Little 500 is maxed out at 33 teams, and each team can have up to four members compete in the race. The men race 200 laps, which is 50 miles, and the women race 100 laps, or 25 miles. Money the event makes goes toward scholarships for the students competing.

The fastest men’s time recorded in history was in 1986 when the Cutters finished in 2:01.4. The fastest women’s time was in 1989 when Beyond Control finished with a time of 1:06.58.

In the months leading up to the event, there is a chain of competitions called the Spring Series, which consists of Individual Times Trials, Team Pursuit, Miss N Out and Qualifications. All four of these events are preludes to the race itself and give riders the opportunity to get a feel for the competition and get seeded for the actual race. 

Before each race, members of the IU Student Foundation are announced, and special guests ride around in pace cars. Each team and rider get announced as they walk a lap around the track at Bill Armstrong Stadium. The national anthem begins, and someone parachutes their way to the center of the infield from a plane with an American flag parachute. The Grand Marshal tells the riders to mount their bikes, and the competitors take three warm-up laps as the IU fight song is sung. Finally, the green flag is waved, and the race begins.

Everything that leads up to that green flag brings constant screaming from the crowd as it anticipate the start of the race.

Despite this year’s Little 500 being one of the lowest in terms of team participation, the races still delivered. Teter squeezed out an exciting victory in the women’s race, and the Cutters followed suit the next day.

It’s a tradition that all IU students will celebrate in one way or the another.

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