BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (VN) — It would not be a surprise to see a kitchen sink sitting in the Cutters’ pit after Saturday’s Little 500, as everything else was thrown at them in an effort to dethrone the team seeking a fifth straight win.
Wind, rain, cold, the jeers of other teams’ fans — even a crash that put them an entire lap down on the leaders was not enough, as seniors Eric Young and Zach Lusk took turns pulling, un-lapping themselves in time for Young to sprint for the team’s 11th win in Little 500 history.
“We were pretty confident we could get a lap, whether it be off the front or off the back,” the team’s coach Jason Fowler said. “It happened to be off the back but we got it back then raced aggressive.”
The crash took place in turn three, the farthest point away from the Cutters’ pit next to the first turn. And the Little 500 rules state that either the rider resumes riding from that spot or, if unable, a teammate can run across the infield with a new bike and exchange with the downed rider.
In this case the Cutters’ bike was inoperable, and unlike some other crashes this was not deemed a threat to the safety of the field so no yellow flag was given to neutralize the field. Phi Delta Theta and Black Key Bulls then got together and put nearly a lap on the Cutters and other teams involved in the crash before Lusk could run to the crash with the spare bike and resume racing.
“Zack responded really quickly so that was great,” said Young. “We tried to chase and get back (the lap) but they caught us. Then it was two teams we had to try get away from to un-lap.”
The only bright spot for the Cutters was that the crash happened around lap 85, giving them 115 laps to chase. While the Phi Delta Theta and Black Key Bulls pits were shaking hands on their good fortune and striking an obvious union to put the Cutters away — coordinating their exchanges and working together — the Cutters were not panicking.
“I ride with these guys a lot and race with Eric so I know what they are capable of,” said Fowler. “It was early enough … and I saw some other guys puking on their bikes (from the pace) but our guys were OK, so I knew we could get it back.”
The Phi Delts and Black Key Bulls kept the pace high and covered the initial attempts of the Cutters to break away. So the Cutters sat in and remained patient, waiting for an opportunity.
Eventually Young was able to get away on the other teams’ exchanges and built a gap that he extended to nearly a half-lap on his own. Then his teammates took turns holding the lead while Young rested. Lusk took more time out of the lead and then took his rest.
Eventually the gap was just 15 seconds and Young came back into the race to finish it off.
“They were tired and we were tired, but we knew we were strong enough,” he said. “Phi Delt really laid it down, they dropped everybody else!”
The effort by the Phi Delts eventually shed the Black Key Bulls from the lead and put them alone on the front.
“We just killed it, trying to get that lap which we had,” said Sven Gartner.
The Cutters “worked their asses off and got back up there,” he said, adding, “Not much you can do — (Young) is such a damn good rider; respect to him.”
“The goal was to get a lap and then keep a lap,” Phi Delt coach Brian Drummond said. “Unfortunately there were not enough teams in our boat — there were more teams a lap down than a lap up.”
The Cutters’ efforts also dragged a few other teams that were a lap down back to the lead group, including Delta Tau Delta and Sigma Chi.
“We came back from three wrecks … today was a lot of fighting for us,” said Sigma Chi’s John Strickland.
Strickland said that the initial plan was to work to get back on the lead. But at the same time it is hard for the other teams to pull with Young, knowing his strength in a final sprint.
“Delts was a really strong team and we worked with them,” Strickland said. “Then we had to work with Cutters but Eric Young is one of the best to come through here so we had to sit on his wheel. He is such a top-category rider. At the end of the day we gave it all we had and tried.”
Despite having three teams sitting on his wheel as he regained the lap, Young had enough in him to get back on at lap 193 for the finish. But unlike previous years, the final sprint was chaotic, with other teams seemingly confused as to what lap the race was on. Phi Delts came in for an exchange to put their sprinter on the bike as the chief steward waved the white flag, signaling one lap to go. And that was all Young needed as he cruised to an easy victory to finish his collegiate career.
“The whole race was kind of confusing,” Young said, laughing. “I’m not sure what happened — maybe the announcer was off, and they might have wanted to exchange with two laps to go. But once you see the white flag you know it’s one lap to go!”
Check back Monday for a feature on Eric Young and his pro contract with the Bissell pro team.
- 1. Cutters
- 2. Phi Delta Theta
- 3. Sigma Chi
- 4. Delta Tau Delta
- 5. Acacia