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The Little 500 (also known popularly as the "Little Five"), is a bicycle race held annually during the third weekend of April at Bill Armstrong Stadium on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. It is attended by more than 25,000 fans each April. The race was founded in 1951 by Howdy Wilcox Jr., Executive Director of the Indiana University Student Foundation, who modeled the race after the Indianapolis 500, which his father had won in 1919. Racers compete in teams of four, racing relay-style for 200 laps (50 miles) along a quarter-mile (440 yards) cinder track. Thirty-three teams are selected in qualifications trials to compete in the main race. Money raised by the event goes towards a scholarship fund for working IU students.
Events surrounding the race
Billed as "The World's Greatest College Weekend," the race has expanded into a whole week of activities since its original founding; the Women's Little 500 (100 laps, or 25 miles) was first held in 1988 and continues to be run each year, and other events such as the Little Fifty Running Relay Race and Alumni Races add to the festivities. Infamous cyclist Lance Armstrong said that the race was "the coolest event I ever attended." During his run for presidency the then senator Barack Obama made an unannounced visit to the Little 500 woman's race in 2008. The race has raised more than $1 million in scholarship money over the years.
Special rules for the Little 500 race include:
- All riders must use the official Little 500 bike that is provided to them for that year. There can be no toe clips or grips, kick stands, water bottles, air pumps, untaped or unplugged handlebars, or any other add-on accessories.
- For the safety of all riders, hard helmets must be worn and buckled at all times, as well as biking gloves.
- Each team is required to complete 10 exchanges (5 for the women) during the course of the race.
- At the 198th lap (98th for the women), all riders not on the lead lap will be asked to move to the back or exit the pack. This is done so that all teams in contention on their last 2 laps can make their attempt to win the race. Teams which do not comply with this rule are believed to be impeding the progress of another rider and will be given a 5- to 20-second penalty or even disqualification, depending on the severity of the violation.
Little 500 bikes
Little 500 bikes are identical, single-speed (46x18), coaster brake racing bicycles with 700c wheels, 32mm tires and flat rubber pedals. The unusual specification originated with the famous AMF Roadmaster bicycles of the 1960s and 1970s, once the sole bicycle type used in the event. There are two different versions of the bike for men and women, with the only difference being frame size. Every year a new version of the specified bicycle type is purchased, with two given to each team. A deposit of $400 must be placed for both bikes. At the end of the season, teams are given the option to keep their race bikes or to return them back to IUSF in exchange for their deposit. Returned former race bikes are kept at the track and rented out to those teams that lack bicycles meeting Little 500 specifications.
A student desiring to participate as a rider in the Little 500...
- Must be a full-time undergraduate student enrolled at Indiana University Bloomington Campus during the fall and spring semesters of the year of participation.
- Must have a cumulative GPA of 2.00 or better
- May only compete up to four times in a five-year period
- Must be an amateur
- No substance abuse of any type is tolerated.
- For a team to be eligible, at least one member must attend all race information meetings and turn in the final four cards with the names of the team's riders for that year.
Following the release of Breaking Away, a real-life Cutters team was formed. They are students who are traditionally either Bloomington locals or at the very least non-Greek, and have been tremendously successful, winning multiple races.
The Little 500 includes four other series events in addition to the race, itself: Qualifications, ITTs, Miss-N-Out, and Team Pursuit. These events are held not only for fun, but so that teams can scout out the competition and get a feel for that year's race field. As well, these events ensure that all the members of a team, not just those competing in the actual race itself, can still participate and compete.
Qualifications, commonly known as "Quals," is the first and one of the most important series events. Qualifications is a four-lap race around the track to see which team can get the fastest cumulative time. These times determine if a team qualifies to race in Little Five and if so, then where in the field of the top 33 teams they will be placed. Teams start the race lined up in 11 rows of three, starting with the pole winner up front on the inside, and teams choose their pits and jerseys in the order in which they qualify, so this is another reason to qualify high. Each team is given three attempts to qualify. The reason for this is in case a team botches an exchange, then they still have two more chances to qualify. The way that a team can botch an exchange is if a member falls and takes the bike down with him, or if the team does not perform the exchange in the given distance, marked by white lines on the track. A team can use as many as four riders or as few as two riders. But whatever number of riders they use to qualify is the fewest number of riders they can use for Little Five. Meaning that if a team qualifies with four people, then that team must race with four people. But if they qualify using only three people, then they can use three or four people on the day of Little Five.
Individual Time Trials, known as ITTs, are just what they sound like. Like a qualification, an ITT is a four-lap (one mile) sprint around the track. But unlike a qual, it is performed individually. It is a test of both speed and sprint endurance. There are up to four riders on the track at a time. One rider is placed at each turn of the track. The riders line up with the start/finish line that is drawn in white on the track. Then a race official will come behind the rider and hold his bike steady so that the rider can set both feet on the pedals. In recent years, there has been a five-beep countdown, but in 2007 a gun start was used. The riders begin from a dead stop and race around the track. It is possible to catch other riders on the track while racing, but it is important not to draft. If a rider is caught blatantly drafting off of another rider, he is automatically disqualified. This race is a good way for individuals to measure their own personal ability against other riders.
It has been suggested by some that this is perhaps the most interesting of all the series events, including the race. In this event there are heats of 5-8 riders, depending on the number of riders signed up for the day. Riders all start on the same line and are given one lap to get the position they want and to gain some speed. Once they cross the start line again, the race begins. The riders race around the track and every time the pack crosses the start/finish line, the last one to cross is out and must leave the track. Riders keep racing until there are only three riders left. These three riders move on to the next round. This process continues until the final heat of eight. In this heat, riders continue to race and get out until you have the last three and then they commence a one-lap full-out sprint and the first-, second- and third-place winners are determined by the order in which the riders cross the start/finish line.
This event is geared more towards the team rather than the individual. In this event two teams of four must race around the track in a pace line for 15 laps (3.75 mi) for the men and 12 laps (3 miles) for the women, each team in hot pursuit of the other since they start on opposite ends of the track. Each team can have only one person drop out of the pace line during the course of the race. Meaning that only three team members need to finish. The team's time is taken as the time of the 3rd rider to cross the line. The two fastest teams then match up against each other for a final head-to-head competition to determine the champion of the event (separately for the men and women). This race is a good test to see which is the best team. In order to do well in this event, teams must have good communication skills as well as good drafting skills. This event really proves the cliché that "you're only as fast as your slowest rider."
The events of the Little 500 were dramatized in the 1979 Academy Award-winning movie Breaking Away, which depicts a group of Bloomington townies who enter the race as the "Cutters" (from the local Indiana limestone stonecutters) to defeat the favored fraternity team. Thirty years later, in 2009, Smithville produced the half-hour-long documentary Ride Fast, Turn Left that followed four teams preparing for and competing in the race. In February 2015, 'One Day in April' was released which depicts two men's and two women's teams' preparation and dedication preceding the race.
Highlights of the 1981 race were shown on ESPN and the first major coverage was by CBS Sports Saturday for the 1982 race. CBS's auto racing announcer, Ken Squier called the race with Dave Blase providing color commentary. The races have also been broadcast live on the Indiana University student radio station WIUX and on television since 2002 on AXS.tv (formerly known as HDNet), which is owned by Indiana University alumnus Mark Cuban.
List of winners
|1951||South Hall Buccaneers||2:38.00|
|1952||North Hall Friars||2:26.06|
|1953||North Hall Friars||2:28.28|
|1955||South Cottage Grove||2:36.25|
|1956||Phi Gamma Delta||2:31.13|
|1958||Phi Kappa Psi||2:17.23|
|1959||Phi Kappa Psi||2:25.20|
|1960||Phi Kappa Psi||2:21.47|
|1962||Phi Kappa Psi||2:17.26|
|1963||Sigma Alpha Epsilon||2:17.04|
|1964||Beta Theta Pi||2:22.35|
|1965||Phi Gamma Delta||2:17.18|
|1966||Phi Kappa Psi||2:16.51|
|1967||Phi Gamma Delta||2:15.37|
|1968||Phi Kappa Psi||2:12.51|
|1969||Alpha Tau Omega||2:27.45|
|1970||Sigma Phi Epsilon||2:15.56|
|1971||Alpha Tau Omega||2:12.19|
|1975||Phi Gamma Delta||2:14.00|
|1978||Phi Kappa Psi||2:12.12|
|1982||Phi Delta Theta||2:03.33|
|1985||Alpha Epsilon Pi||2:05.13|
|1987||Phi Gamma Delta||2:03.57|
|1995||Phi Gamma Delta||2:08.45|
|1996||Phi Delta Theta||2:08.58|
|1999||Sigma Phi Epsilon||2:12.27|
|2001||Phi Delta Theta||2:16.55|
|2006||Alpha Tau Omega||2:08.11|
|2012||Delta Tau Delta||2:20.19|
|2013||Beta Theta Pi||2:07.34|
|2014||Black Key Bulls||2:09.35|
|2015||Sigma Phi Epsilon||2:07:58|
- The Little 500: The Story of the World's Greatest College Weekend, ISBN 0-253-33573-6
- "2006 Little 500 Rider's Manual"