BLOOMINGTON | Racing heatedly down to the last moments, Munster’s Eric Anderson and his team of top-seeded Beta Theta Pi riders ended Indiana University’s 63rd Annual Little 500 the same place they began it: First.
It was the fraternity’s first Little 500 win since 1964.
“It’s been quite a journey, but we pulled it off,” Anderson exulted, kissing the trophy as his squad took to the podium to bask in the win.
Anderson’s squad of four seniors dominated for much of the race, taking a strong straightaway lead for several laps before the squad faced consistent challenges down to the wire.
“There were a lot of strong teams out there this year,” Anderson observed.
Last year’s winning squad of Delta Tau Delta chased – and at times surpassed – the Betas amid the final five laps of 200, a 25 mile ride many describe as “America’s Greatest College Weekend.” The final moments witnessed a nail-biter of a duel between Beta rider Will Kragie and Delta Tau Delta's Paul Smith.
Ultimately, the Betas took the checkered flag with a time of 2:07:51.
“We had 14 years of combined experience between the four of us,” Anderson explained. “We’re all seniors, so it was going to be our last race, and our last set. We wanted to win.”
The riders, dressed in the traditional green jerseys of the race’s top seed, were buoyed on by the cheers of their fraternity brothers, friends and families.
As the race neared its conclusion, fans in the packed stands chanted the fraternity’s name, alternating it by humming “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes, the riders’ unofficial theme song.
With the win, however, that tune soon changed to Queen’s “We are the Champions,” as a flood of Beta backers flooded the field, some dressed in gray Little 500 shirts proclaiming “One last ride…the steaks are waiting.” Others wore the fraternity’s red, white and blue hockey jerseys.
“This is unreal,” Beta brother J.D. Saporta of Chicago shouted. “These guys worked really hard for this.”
Watching proudly was Greensburg’s Phil Goddard, a Beta Theta Pi brother who, 49 years prior, had been one of the four riders responsible for the fraternity’s last Little 500 win in 1964.
“I’m excited,” said Goddard. “I thought these boys were going to win last year, but they had a little bad luck in the last laps. These are good, strong riders, but it takes luck. One of the riders I had riding with me said it’s less good luck, and more the absence of bad luck.”
Anderson’s team drew Goddard into their victory circle, hugging the older man. Anderson even placed his colorful racing cap across the senior’s head as cheers rose from a crowd several hundred deep.
The 201st lap, taken slowly as a victory tour, with a cheering crowd circling the track behind the winning squad, was likely the sweetest: took that one slowly, Anderson riding a specially made Schwinn, one of 200 crimson and cream bikes custom ordered by IU for the annual race.
Holding an energy drink aloft in a toast, steering with one hand, Anderson grinned widely.
“Unbelievable,” he shouted. “Just unbelievable.”
Other local riders included Valparaiso's Greg Nowak (Kappa Sigma, 10th), St. John's Austin Venhuizen (Delta Upsilon, 15th), Crown Point's Neal Ward (Forest, 16th), Chicago Heights' Francisco Borrayo (Delta Chi, 26th) and Dyer's Max Mills (Collins Buccaneeers, 29th).