On the cinder track at Bill Armstrong Stadium, Luke Tormoehlen leaned into the Turn 2 curve on his single-speed bike and accelerated as 25,000 fans roared.
Tormoehlen, of Seymour, knew he had to kick to the finish because he was third at the white flag on the final lap.
After blowing past a pair of cyclists by Turn 3, he sprinted to the finish with no one in sight.
The Indiana University student’s fraternity had done it. Delta Tau Delta won the Little 500 men’s race.
“I was in good position going into Turn 2 and just launched from the second wheel,” Tormoehlen said. “I knew if I could have the lead by Turn 3, then probability was on my side to win because only two races — in 1982 and ‘84 — did the person leading Turn 3 not cross the finish line first.
“So, I dove into turn three with the lead, leaned into the curve and accelerated out of turn four to the finish line. I had no idea it wasn’t close until I saw pictures after the race.”
The first thing Tormoehlen did after crossing the finish on Saturday? He followed through with his left hand in a basketball motion while still riding.
“In 49 states it’s just basketball, but this is Indiana,” Tormoehlen quoted. “I found out soon after the Pacers won game one behind a big game from Paul George. I then spotted the Delt, RJ Stuart, who won for our program in 2012 and pointed to him as I was coasting back to my pit to celebrate with my team: he meant so much to this program and won our fraternity its first championship.”
The Little 500 is a cycling race held during the third weekend of April at IU and was founded in 1951 by Howdy Wilcox Jr., who modeled the race after the Indianapolis 500.
A relay-style event, the Little 500 men’s race features 33 teams comprised of four cyclists along a quarter-mile track.
The cyclists combine for 200 laps, a 50 miles race.
With the huge popularity surrounding the event, a movie called “Breaking Away” was made in 1979.
Tormoehlen, a senior at IU, raced the event in the past but came up short on each try.
“This is my third Little 500,” Tormoehlen said. “My sophomore and junior years, our teams came so close. We wrecked on the second to last lap my sophomore year, and last year we attempted to break away with 20 laps to go but fell short.”
“It’s a unique event because it’s a team race in an individual sport. I couldn’t have had the opportunity if my team didn’t put me in a position to win, and they deserve a lot of credit. My life has revolved around this race for three years now, and all of the training, the domestic and collegiate racing, time commitment, the wrecks and race tape are all worth it.”
Freshman Griffin Casey and sophomores Will Lussenhop and Jack Moore competed with Tormoehlen in the race.
“We were so young, and we really didn’t have that good of a spring compared to the other teams,” Tormoehlen said. “Our second-best rider wasn’t able to ride in the race, and we found out about that in March. I met with the other three, and I told them to believe in the program, the training and the coaching. They really responded and rode out of their minds on race day. They believed.”
After meeting with family and friends, Tormoehlen spoke with his former cross-country and track coach at SHS, Randy Fife.
“(Fife) came up to me at the end of the race, and I told him, “You started it,” Tormoehlen said. “(Fife) said, ‘You finished it.’ He meant so much to my athletic career and my life.”
Tormoehlen said that high school athletics prepared him for the Little 500.
“High school athletics and athletics in general taught me how to hurt, how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he said. “How to want success more than you want air to breathe. How to lead and that making your teammates better is more beneficial to you than just focusing on your own success.
“The only thing I can compare it to is advancing to state as a team in 2011 in cross country. To put the training in numbers, in high school I peaked at 70 miles a week for five straight weeks. Cycling requires 10-20 hours a week on the bike. A goal, a purpose, a work ethic and an internal belief is the key to success.”
Many counted the Delts out before the race even started.
“I’m a stats and data guy when it comes to decision-making, but this year, I learned to ignore probability when you are the one that gets to dictate the outcome. We were underdogs. We had two quotes in our bike room from other teams: ‘Delts won’t be contenders on raceday’ and ‘I’m not worried about Delts.’
“A BKB came up to me after our below-average Team Pursuit run a week before the race and said, ‘I honestly feel sorry for you. I know how much it means to you.’ They counted us out, and it’s that much sweeter.”
He started cycling his sophomore year because he didn’t feel like he was involved his freshman year.
“I needed to find something to fill my time — my competitive void — and to give me purpose,” Tormoehlen said. “I lacked motivation, and rushing a fraternity and its bike team helped me regain that sense of purpose, motivation and fire.
“In high school, I was a runner, and I always enjoyed endurance sports. The transition to cycling was because of the Little 500. I think it is one of the most entertaining sporting events in the country. I like the idea of working daily toward an ultimate goal, and this gave me that.”
Tormoehlen will graduate with a degree in management and entrepreneurship from the Kelley School of Business.