When Jetblach crashed around turn four just before lap 150 in the men’s Little 500, Phi Kappa Psi, the leaders who were about to lap the field, went down too.
Phi Kappa Psi needed to change its bike — the handles were sideways — and lost its lead. Jetblach was three-quarters of a lap back and seemed to be out of the race.
But both teams clawed their way back to the front. On lap 197, when another crash in turn four took out most of the leaders and put the race on yellow, Jetblach and Phi Kappa Psi, separated by Cutters, were in the front.
“If lightning comes out of the track on race day you should act like you expected it,” Jetblach coach Courtney Bishop said.
That left just two laps to determine the 2021 Little 500 champion. On the final sprint, nobody was able to catch up to Jetblach senior Rob Krahulik.
The first thought in Krahulik’s mind as he crossed the finish, hands in the air, was that he hoped it was the last lap.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Krahulik said. “I just wanted to be back down there, I wanted to go back to the pit. I was so high on emotion.”
When Jetblach crashed, Krahulik was the one who sprinted across the field to get on the back and get his team back into the race.
His chase helped Jetblach catch up, before the team’s other three riders took over. Krahulik didn’t get back on the bike until lap 192.
“Basically it was, ‘you three guys have to get [Krahulik] to the end,’” Bishop said. “That’s what they did.”
When the race went yellow five laps later, Bishop felt good. If the race ended that way, Jetblach would have won since it had the lead when the yellow flag waved. Bishop said he was also comfortable with Krahulik’s ability to speed up.
“I don’t really remember much of that last lap,” Krahulik said. “I just remember going fast, looking behind me and just checking to make sure no one’s close.”
With the large lead, it looked like Phi Kappa Psi controlled their own destiny for the second consecutive time.
In 2019, Phi Kappa Psi was in first on lap 199 when they made a bike exchange that cost them the race.
“The original plan wasn’t to get a lap,” Phi Kappa Psi junior Andrew La Valle said. “It was more, if there’s an opportunity, [Delta Gamma] did it this morning, and I was like ‘let’s go give it a try.’ It worked, to my surprise.”
La Valle had nearly pulled a full lap ahead when the Jetblach rider fell in front of him. He tried to get to the infield but didn’t make it past the bike.
All La Valle could think was not again.
It was one of three crashes for La Valle during the race.
“When I wasn’t crashing I was having a great time out there,” La Valle said.
By the end, La Valle had run out of energy for the final sprint. Phi Kappa Psi finished fifth. Cutters finished second and Sigma Phi Epsilon finished third.
Wednesday’s race was Bishop’s last. To commemorate the Jetblach teams wore custom “Last Dance” shirts.
“It feels good to go out getting something done right,” Bishop said. “The guys really trained hard and executed the way we planned.”