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Tuesday, May 28
The Indiana Daily Student

sports little 500

Black Key Bulls makes last-minute charge, wins the 73rd men’s Little 500


After fans and riders filed out of Bill Armstrong Stadium, after Queens’ “We are the Champions” played and after trophies were hoisted on the podium while fans cheered, Black Key Bulls riders exited across the infield. They were alone, laughing, arm-in-arm with wreaths of flowers hanging around their necks, soaking in every moment of their day. 

“It’s crazy. It’s perfect,” Black Key Bulls’ freshman rider Wiley Close said postrace. “It’s like a Cinderella story.” 

Black Key Bulls’ 2024 season is a testament to reaffirmation. It failed to qualify for the race last year, leaving out possibilities and prompting “what ifs.” 

But its presence this year was made clear. Its two Team Pursuit squads made the final round of Team Pursuits. It placed third at Qualifications and finished out the year by winning the 73rd running of the famed race. 

Its dominance in the race, however, didn’t show until the last 30 laps. 

Within the chaos of exchanges on lap 44, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Phi Gamma Delta snuck away from the field. The main chase pack, comprised of Sigma Phi Epsilon, CUTTERS, Chi Alpha, Delta Tau Delta, Phi Gamma Delta and Black Key Bulls, attempted to claw back.  

“Once we got to lap 120 and Sigma Alpha Epsilon had a 22-second gap, we were like, ‘Holy crap, we need to get them right now,’” Black Key Bulls’ captain Jack Handlos said.  

Black Key Bulls sat in the main pack all day, taking turns setting pace at the front but never attempting to break away.  

The team planned to make a move near lap 150, Handlos said. And at lap 180, 29 laps after catching SAE’s breakaway, Black Key Bulls charged ahead by themselves. 

“It was terrifying,” Handlos said. “When you think that you have the possibility to win, you get the tingles, you get the adrenaline. Like, ‘Wow, this is in reach.’” 

BKB quickly opened the gap to nearly a half-lap and emptied their legs. 

“I thought, ‘I’m in so much pain,’” Handlos said. “But you have to push to that new level. It’s just something you have to do. It’s beating yourself mentally and saying, ‘Shut up, legs.’” 

After monster efforts by the riders, they began feeling fatigue. With six laps remaining, Wiley Close got on the bike for Black Key Bulls. 

Close cautiously mounted the bike. It had a stripped seat bolt, and the seat post slipped all the way down, forcing him to exchange after only two laps of riding. 

With the slow acceleration by Close and the bike’s faulty seat post, the chasing pack began to narrow its gap. The pack included CUTTERS, Delta Tau Delta, Sigma Phi Epsilon, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Chi Alpha and Phi Delta Theta. The effort was led by CUTTERS’ Judah Thompson. 

“Judah was freaking fast,” Close said. “He kind of scared the shit out of us, I’m not going to lie.” 

With four laps to go, Will Wagner mounted his bike. He maintained speed throughout as Thompson and Delta Tau Delta’s Josh Herbst attempted to catch him in the final moments. 

With only a two-second gap between himself and the sprinters, Wagner crossed the line with his hands in the air. Black Key Bulls’ win and comeback to the race was solidified.  

McGuire Wolfe, Handlos and Close hugged as Wagner slowly rounded the outside of the track.  

In attendance was Close’s dad, Brent. Brent was a Black Key Bulls “steerman” in the Ball State Bikeathon from 1990-1995, where the team originated. He caught riders as they came in for exchanges. 

“I’m really beyond words,” Brent said. “I’ve cried more today than I’ve cried in years. It’s a big thing for Wiley. He said he wanted to race all four years, and for him to win his first — its beyond imaginable.” 

After the race, Wiley planned on joining BKB members, alumni and supporters in celebration.  

“I’m enjoying every moment,” Wiley said. “Because who knows? I may never win again.” 

While a future win isn’t guaranteed, the team is sure to remember its journey over the last year, ending in one of the greatest comebacks in Little 500 history.

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