The past three years, I’ve been really confident in picking a race favorite. This year, more so than any of the past four years, seems to be a complete toss up.
It seems cliche to say it because it feels like it’s said every year, but there’s really a range of about 6-8 teams that could win the race, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least. There’s so many variables this year, and so, so many strong teams, it makes choosing a winner exponentially difficult.
On paper, Beta Theta Pi should be the favorite. They return all four riders from a strong team last year, and have arguably the best individual rider in the field in Chris Craig. But they start 17th. Will they have problems getting to the front? Could an early crash set them back? And the team finished sixth in Team Pursuit. Why weren’t they in the final?
Phi Delta Theta seems like it finishes in the top 3 every year. Each year, you think it might be their time, their year to finally stand on top of the podium and hoist the trophy. They have one of the best competitors and fastest riders in the field in Rob Lee. Can Lee, in his third Little 500, finally take his team to the top? Or will something small hold the team back from glory once again?
Black Key Bulls are the defending champs, won the spring series, and dominated Team Pursuit, which, as stated before, is one of the greatest indicators of race day success. However, they only have one rider with race day experience. Experience, too, usually tends to be important in this race. Do they have enough?
There’s Delta Tau Delta, who will be wearing the same jersey they won the race in in 2012, who doesn’t necessarily have one premier individual rider like some of the other teams, but has looked extremely strong overall. It’s their first race without Paul Smith, their star sprinter who graduated in 2014. But as a team, they finished second in Team Pursuit, and overall had a very good spring. And Luke Momper is back for his fifth year at IU, his fourth Little 500 race. He’s one of just two champion riders (joining BKB’s Spencer Brauchla) who will take the track Saturday.
And of course, what would Little 500 be without the Cutters. They qualified extremely well (4th), have one of the best sprinters in the race in Nick Thiery, and yet they seem to be flying under the radar for some reason. How can the best team in Little 500 history, loaded with talent, fly under the radar?
Then there’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon starring the two Krahulik brothers, Sigma Phi Epsilon and its mix of youthful talent and Wright, the team who came out of nowhere to surprise everyone and take the pole. It’s a crazy year.
So, here’s my best guess at a top 5. I’ve correctly picked the race winner two out of the last three years. This year, it felt like throwing darts at a board. But that’s what makes it fun, and that’s why we all love this race. It all comes down to one day. Thirty-three teams, only one is a champion.
1 Black Key Bulls
2 Phi Delta Theta
3 Beta Theta Pi
4 Delta Tau Delta
Darkhorses: Sigma Phi Epsilon, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Wright
It’s just too hard for me not to pick BKB to repeat. They have one of the strongest rosters in the race, They’re starting on the outside of Row 2, meaning they shouldn’t get mixed up in any early problems. They have a good pit spot. They have the talent. And their Team Pursuit dominance was not something to be overlooked. I’m picking The People’s Champs to reign again.
Despite not having an extremely impressive spring overall as a team, I still expect Phi Delta Theta to be right in it at the end. Rob Lee is the most experienced sprinter in this race, and he’ll will his team to the front in the closing laps if he has to, but I expect Phi Delt to be in the lead peloton all day long. The last time they finished outside of the top 3 was 2009. Don’t expect that to change.
Beta is going to have some work to do on race day. Starting in the middle of the field could be troublesome, especially if there’s bad weather. Their pit location isn’t quite ideal, either, being bunched up with other teams coming off of Turn 4. But if there’s any team that can overcome those two obstacles, it’s Beta.
The Delts really surprised some people this year. Last year’s rookies in Luke Tormoehlen and Anthony Vicino showed vast improvement this spring. Alongside Momper, it makes for quite a team, which showed in Team Pursuit. Only once since 2003 has a team that finished in the top 2 in Team Pursuit NOT finished in the top 5 in the race.
Cutters returns three riders with experience, two of whom are seniors. Nick Thiery, the sophomore who was in last year’s race, has the experience now to compliment his talent. The Cutters are back.
Sig Ep has one of the most experienced sprinters in the race in Nick Torrance, and one of the best rookies in the race in Charlie Hicks. Add in another experienced rider in Sam Anderson, and you can’t count them out. SAE quietly finished fifth in the spring series, and it has two top riders who happen to be actual brothers in Andy and Joe Krahulik. Wright, a perennial winner of the Dixie Highway Award, won’t win this year, starting on the pole. They’re always strong in the race, can they stay strong when they start at the top?
Chris Craig, Beta Theta Pi
Spencer Brauchla, Black Key Bulls
Rob Lee, Phi Delta Theta
Nick Thiery, Cutters
Nick Torrance, Sigma Phi Epsilon
Andy Krahulik, Sigma Alpha Epsilon
Luke Tormoehlen, Delta Tau Delta
Michael Khamis, Phi Gamma Delta
Rookies of the Year
Tyler Hart, Black Key Bulls
Joe Krahulik, Sigma Alpha Epsilon
Charlie Hicks, Sigma Phi Epsilon
Nick Hartman, Black Key Bulls
Dixie Highway Award
Beta Theta Pi