In 1951, Indiana University held the first Little 500 bicycle race. The race came about in response to an informal bike race the previous fall, set up by IU Student Foundation president Howdy Wilcox. Since then, the IU Student Foundation has raised over $1 million in conjunction with the race. Over the course of the past 60-plus years, the "Little 5" has become more than just a race – it has turned into the last big party week for IU students, before they buckle down for Finals and leave for the summer. In fact, it has become so ingrained in the culture of Bloomington that President Obama made a campaign stop at the race before the 2008 Democratic Primary.
The race, of course, is structured like the Indianapolis 500. Like
the Great American Race The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Little 500 consists of 200 laps around Bill Armstrong Stadium. (The women’s race, which began in 1988, is 100 laps long.) Also similarly to Indy, both races have 33 starting participants. The riders for each team come primarily from Greek houses or residence halls – last year’s champion in the men’s race was Beta Theta Pi and the women’s champion was Delta Gamma. However, several independent teams of students also exist, the most famous of which being the Cutters, who first entered – and won – the race in 1984.
The Little 500 went Hollywood in 1979, thanks to the film Breaking Away. The movie, which is a paean to not only the race but also the city of Bloomington and its quarries, won an Oscar for Best Screenplay, and features a group of local residents (the Cutters) that enter the race against IU students. The movie is a great coming-of-age film, filled with romance, class struggle, and of course, a climactic scene at the Little 500 itself. Luckily, it is available to stream instantly on Netflix, if you want to watch or rewatch it this weekend.
No Little 5 post would be complete without stories and memories about past Little 5 weekends or races. Which is where I turn it to all of you. Feel free to post your memories in the comments – they can be about the race itself, or just the fun times that have taken place over the years.