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First-Timers' Guide to IU's Little 500

It's arguably the world's greatest college weekend. Here's why.

So you’ve decided to attend this year’s Little 500 bike race in Bloomington. Whether it’s your first or if you’ve attended annually since glory days at IU, I can say one thing for certain—you are using your time wisely. Arguably the world’s greatest college weekend, the Little 500 is something everyone should check out.

We will have a preview about the racing teams involved on Friday, April 19. Now, well before the green flag drops at Bill Armstrong Stadium, here is IM's primer on what to expect at the track, from unpredictable weather to the crowds in the stands to the actual racers zipping around on single-speed Schwinns:

  • The Little 500 was first raced in 1951 on the Bloomington campus. Its purpose was to raise scholarships for working students. According to the Indiana University Student Foundation, 7,000 attended that race and nearly $6,000 was raised. The race is now held in Armstrong Stadium and more than 25,000 fans make the pilgrimage each year, but IUSF’s mission is still the same, and the organization has awarded more than $1 million to racers and deserving undergrads.

  • The race itself consists of 200 quarter-mile laps for the men and 100 such laps for women around a cinder track. Teams of four take turns sending one rider out into the pack and exchange whenever necessary. Exchanges can be tricky and will result in at least a couple crashes in both races this weekend.

  • The atmosphere at the track is electric. Coaches hold up signs riders to “burn” (or exhaust) their energy to get ahead of the pack before an exchange. Fans yell whatever comes to mind. Racers yell at each other to stop pushing them into the gutter. It’s crazy, and it's to be enjoyed. But you’re going to relish it even more if you come prepared, so here’s a list of things to pack before you head to the track.

RACE-DAY ESSENTIALS:

  • Your ticket. I mean, come on.

  • Sunscreen. You’re going to want to get there at least an hour early, and the race itself lasts a couple of hours. Best not get "lobstered" if you can help it.

  • A poncho. I know, that’s the opposite of sun protection, but such is Indiana weather. Weather.com says there’s a 20-percent chance of rain for the women’s race on Friday, which means it may very well see something short of a monsoon. Bring along a couple of plastic baggies for your electronics. I once had the spectator next to me offer $20 for the only one I had, so bring two.

  • DON'T try to bring any food or drink in, or you’ll just be donating to the nearest trash receptacle. (The same may hold true for umbrellas.)

  • Wear layers. If you’re in the stands it can get awfully cold in the shade, and just as hot when the sun beats down. Everyone stands the entire time, too, so comfortable shoes are a must.

  • Grab a pit guide. The Indiana Daily Student always puts out a nice guide that will show where all the teams have their pits along the track, this so that you can plan your seat accordingly. You can also see which teams are wearing which jerseys.

NOTES & MISCELLANY

  • Women’s race will start at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 19

  • Men’s race will start at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 20

  • Tickets: $25 adults, $10 children 10 and under. The ticket office is at the front gate. Come early; lines will be long.

  • Park in the Assembly Hall parking lot and walk up to the track.

  • IU alum Mark Cuban’s www.ASX.tv will air both the men’s and women’s races live for those who can’t make it this year.

  • I’ll be live-tweeting both races when I can from @DrIndianaJon