I grew up in the south suburbs of Indianapolis, about an hour north of Indiana University in Bloomington. My family and I were always IU basketball fans, but beyond that we didn’t pay too much attention to the school.
The Little 500 bike race – a huge spring tradition at IU – didn’t hit my radar until my teen years, when the need to party seemed to overcome a lot of other, more productive responsibilities. On more than one occasion, some of us would drive an hour south just to see how wild we could get on a cool, spring evening in a Big 10 college town.
The drive seldom disappointed as Bloomington was then – as today – alive with partiers and related illicit revelry throughout Little Five week. Students are everywhere, walking in groups from house party to house party, bar to bar. For high school kids like us, it was easy to blend in and have a good time.
But, sadly, partying during Little 500 week was about all I knew of this legendary Hoosier event. Sure, I’d watched “Breaking Away” and it hadn’t interested me that much then.
However, a few years later, I got a different view of the race. It wasn’t the race itself, but a post-victory celebration for the Cutters cycling team, of which a few of my former high school friends were members.
These guys, Jim Kirkham and others, who were avid high school cross country and track athletes a few years prior, had just won the 1992 race and it was then that someone explained to me how the race works and its significance.
Another long gap ensued as I started a family and went to work in the newspaper business. Years later, overweight and on the edge of 40, I got inspired by Lance Armstrong’s story and took up cycling as a way to regain some semblance of fitness. That led to an enthusiastic interest in all things cycling, including bike racing, which I’ve still never done, but have watched with interest both in-person and on TV.
I also watched a number of cycling films and documentaries, including “American Fliers”, a lackluster 1985 cycling drama starring Kevin Costner, and, more notably, “Breaking Away”, the Academy Award-winning 1979 comedy-drama set in Bloomington and featuring the Little 500 race.
Perusing cycling-related videos on YouTube one snowy Indiana afternoon in 2011, I came across a video of The Cutters in action in an earlier Little 500 race. A coach was interviewed; it was Jim Kirkham, one of my high school friends and a former winning Cutter who stuck around Bloomington and continued to help recruit and coach budding cyclists in the Cutters program.
Having spent a good part of my career in photojournalism, I thought the colorful, fast-paced event would provide great subject matter for my lens. I was right.
The Little 500 racing teams are always decked out in a spectrum of colors, with each hue denoting each team’s respective place in the 33-bike starting lineup.
Enjoying the fruits of their hard pre-race training regimen, the Cutters are normally in green: poll position, the fastest qualifier. Other teams wear teal, blue, red, and other colors. On a sunny spring day, a photographer could have a worse setting. So, I thoroughly enjoyed each of the three races I was lucky enough to shoot.
I hope you enjoy the photos!