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Saturday was a perfect day for racing. The sun was out. The track was fast. The crowds came, and oh, what a treat they got. One thing is certain, the 2013 Little 500 men's race will go down as an instant classic.
From the moment the green flag dropped at Bill Armstrong Stadium, the race maintained a dizzying pace. The top teams took turns at the front of the pack, riders looking over their shoulders more than at the track ahead of them. The attacks were fast and furious, stretching the field out so much so that at Lap 65, nearly half of the teams had fallen off the lead lap.
As in the women’s race (after Lap 4), the men mostly stayed upright early. The first crash came just after the halfway mark, when Air Force and Forest Cycling riders collided and hit the cinders hard. The Forest racer walked off with assistance, cinder burns all over his kit, while the Air Force rider was carted over to the medical tent. Nothing appeared to be broken, but I didn’t see either back out on the track.
The next big crash came on Lap 122 just out of Turn 1. Multiple teams went down, and a couple of bikes actually got stuck together. Wright Cycling was involved in the crash and finally fell of the lead lap. After qualifying 31st and starting in the last row, Wright stayed with the lead pack nearly the entire race and finished in 11th place, earning the Dixie Highway Trophy signifying the team that improved by the most positions during the race. Wright won the award in 2012 to boot.
The last 15 laps were special.
The "attacks," as they were, in this race started with the Black Key Bulls sending T.C. Dennis ahead of the entire field. Beta Theta Pi was the first to respond, with the Cutters and defending champions Delta Tau Delta glued to its wheel. Just as BKB was reeled in, Phi Delta Theta released an attack of its own. Again, they were reeled in by the Betas.
Exchanges occurred every few laps as riders gave it all they had. Cutters’ Timothy Nixon handed off the bike to Kevin Depasse and needed help back to the pit. A Beta rider fell to the track and called out for assistance to stand back up. The proverbial "tanks" of these men were empty—and five laps remained. That’s when the Betas made their move and launched an attack that would decide the entire race.
Beta rider Will Kragie separated himself from the field, but Delts rider Paul Smith wasn’t ready to give up his title just yet. At Lap 199 it was apparent those two were on their own, as Phi Delta Theta, Cutters, and BKB couldn’t keep up.
Turn 3 has been the topic of debate since the checkered flag flew. Delta Tau Delta claims its rider was bumped; Beta Theta Pi says the same thing, accusing the Delts. But whatever the case, Kragie and Smith "traded paint" coming into Turn 4, setting up a photo finish. Spoiling the repeat victory the Delts dreamed of, Kragie crossed the finish line first and pumped his arms in victory as his teammates jumped up and down in pure elation.
“We started from the bottom; now we’re here!”
The Beta Theta Pi fraternity house's entire brotherhood poured onto the track, most with looks of pure shock on their faces. A member of the last winning Beta team from 1964 was present, soaking in the moment. It was a scene for the ages, complete with snapback hats and professional banners made well before the race congratulating the boys on their victory. If that’s not confidence, I don’t know what is.
With their brothers all around, the team of Kragie, Eric Anderson, Matt Green, and Tom Laser hoisted the Borg-Warner Trophy, thus capping off the 63rd running of the men's Little 500.
Photos by Michael Schrader and Jonathan Streetman
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