BLOOMINGTON – All it really takes to ruin a team’s Little 500 is one crash.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon had two, one on lap 28 and then another on lap 102. Both incidents left lead rider Joe Krahulik bloodied and seeking medical attention while his teammates scrambled to make up for lost ground.
The crashes were the type of nightmare situations that take teams completely out of Little 500s, let alone title contention. But even after being knocked down twice, SAE rebounded to finish second behind Delta Tau Delta in one of the more adversity-filled races a team could have.
“It’s hard to be disappointed with everyone’s effort,” said senior rider Andy Krahulik. “To come back from all that, that’s something I’m going to remember forever.”
SAE entered Saturday’s race as one of the clear favorites thanks to a rider lineup headlined by the Krahulik brothers, who finished first (Joe) and second (Andy) in Miss-N-Outs after Joe, only a sophomore, won ITTs.
Even after a pair of crashes nearly left Joe physically unable to race, SAE got the scenario it wanted with Joe taking the white flag just ahead of Black Key Bulls’ Nick Hartman and Delts’ Luke Tormoehlen.
But by the time the three teams made it into Turn 3, Tormoehlen had already made his race-winning move and built up enough space for a comfortable win by a margin of 1.06 seconds over Joe with Brauchla trailing just behind in third.
“Tormoehlen from Delts just had a hell of a finish,” Joe said. “Nothing I could have done better.”
Immediately after his postrace interviews, Joe went back to the medical tent to get additional treatment for the cuts and bruises he suffered. The most gruesome injury came to his left thigh where he sported a gory injury about the size of a softball.
Blame the second crash of the day for that particular injury. He fell on lap 102 when several lead teams, including Cutters and Sigma Phi Epsilon, crashed going into Turn 1 to bring out the first and only caution of the day.
A number of riders said the cinders going into the turns were looser than they’d expected, causing havoc all day. Joe said he went into the turn a little too quickly and paid the price for the smallest of mistakes.
“It was a little loose and just slid out,” he said. “It caused a little pandemonium. Luckily, my team made it back into the mix.”
Joe had the awareness to pick up his bike as quickly as he could find it before riding around and exchanging to older brother Andy during the caution period. Andy then went off to the races to make up for the ground on the track that SAE lost, though it could have been even larger had it not been for the caution that slowed up the pace.
It was a sequence of déjà vu for SAE after Joe had fallen down earlier in the race with Wright on lap 28. Not even 10 laps after going down, his teammates had already made up the gap and were with the lead pack again.
“It wasn’t really that big of a scare,” Andy said. “We were just worried about how hard Joe fell and then to see him go down a second time, I thought he was done for the day. I was preparing for the sprint.”
Andy’s fears were never realized because Joe deemed himself worthy of getting back onto the track.
He showed little signs of being hurt, making the moves other teams have become accustomed to seeing out of the second-year rider. When SAE needed him the most, he put the bike in a position to win, but ultimately came up a few bike lengths short.
“Obviously we wanted to win, but there’s a lot of luck involved in winning this,” Joe said. “We did the best we could.”
The second-place finish was a bittersweet end to a race where things just didn’t seem to want to go right for SAE. At the end of the day, Andy said he was happy his team managed to go out on its own terms.
That much was only appropriate considering the seniors vowed to “go out like Kobe” in their final race, a nod to Kobe Bryant dropping 60 points in his final NBA game. They just had to navigate a little more trouble than any of them could have foreseen before going down fighting.
“We were going out like Kobe today,” Andy said. “I think we did that.”