April 20, 2012  |   By Tom Surber

Indianapolis 500 Inspires Little 500 Bike Race At Indiana University

The world-famous Indianapolis 500 Mile Race inspired what evolved into the “World’s Greatest College Weekend” when the inaugural Little 500 bicycle race took place in 1951 on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington.

An event that has grown substantially through the years, more than 25,000 people attend the Little 500 races every year, with the proceeds used for student scholarships at IU. The 2011 races allowed the IU Student Foundation to give more than $35,000 in scholarships.

It all began in 1950 when IU Student Foundation Executive Director Howdy Wilcox saw students pedaling on bicycles around his building on campus while mimicking the Indianapolis 500. Wilcox, whose father, Howdy, was the winning driver in the 1919 Indianapolis 500, came up with the idea of using a bike race on campus as a fundraising activity. The inaugural Little 500 was held the following year.

Just like the Indianapolis 500, teams qualify for the cherished 33 spots in the field, and the race begins with 11 rows of three bikes each. Teams are made up of as many as four riders per team competing on identical single-speed bikes. A minimum of 10 exchanges are mandatory for the men’s race, and for the women’s race, which began in 1988, at least five exchanges are required over 100 laps.

A connection between the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Little 500 has continued through the years. The Little 500 is led every year by an Indianapolis 500 Pace Car provided by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and in recent years, Delta Chi fraternity, which won the men’s Little 500 race eight times between 1973 and 1993, has proudly worn the name of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on its competition jerseys.

An additional tie-in between the Indianapolis 500 and the Little 500 occurred in 1988 when driver Phil Krueger’s car appeared on Indianapolis 500 race day with the name “Cutters” on each side pod. Operating with a shoestring budget, Krueger, who finished eighth in the race, chose the name “Cutters” to appear on his car after seeing it in the 1979 Hollywood production “Breaking Away.”

The movie told the fictional story about a rag-tag quartet of Bloomington, Ind., teenagers who were allowed to enter the Little 500, and they went on to shockingly win that year’s race. A “Cutters” team has competed annually at the Little 500 every year since 1984, winning the men’s race a record 12 times. The “Cutters” enter this year’s Little 500 with a five-race winning streak.

Bill Armstrong Stadium on the IU campus will be the site for this year’s Little 500. The women’s race will take place at 7 p.m. Friday, April 20, with the men’s race at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 21.

The 96th Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for noon (ET) Sunday, May 27.