He's seen the movie. He's heard about the hype. But still ...
"I didn't realize how big this was until I came a part of it," Jacob Smith said about the Little 500 relay-style bicycle race, traditionally held in late April at Indiana University.
Munster resident Smith is a junior at IU studying finance, accounting and technology management. This year he's taking on bicycle team management as he is the captain of the Dodds House racing team, one of the 33 qualifying teams for this year's race to be held April 26 at the Bill Armstrong Soccer Stadium.
Dodds House recorded a qualifying time of 2 hours, 30 minutes and 45 seconds, good enough for the 16th slot.
Smith has been part of the Dodds House Little 500 team since he was a freshman. He didn't go to Bloomington with a strong cycling background.
"I played soccer, football and swam in high school," said Smith, a Munster High School graduate, "but obviously I knew I wasn't going to do that here."
During his first year of residency at Dodds House, Smith was recruited to be part of its Little 500 team. This year is his first as team captain.
"It wasn't something I campaigned for," Smith said. "It may have been just my turn to do it after the other guys graduated."
As team captain, Smith organizes workouts — including core training — while making sure all the registration paperwork is in order and the subtle modifications to the standard-issue bikes are in place. He also has to make the "final four" decision in determining the Little 500 race-day squad.
"We have five cyclists on our team, but only four can be part of the race," Smith said. "It's a tough decision, but mostly it's a cut-and-dried decision when you consider the (individual) times recorded at the 'Team Pursuit' competition (April 13) weeks before the Little 500."
The event was founded in 1951 by Howdy Wilcox Jr., executive director of the Indiana University Student Foundation. Modeling the race after the Indianapolis 500, which Wilcox's father won in 1919, the Little 500 also consists of 200 laps — but on a quarter-mile track compiling 50 miles.
Dodds House has won the Little 500 twice: in 1998 and 2005. Beta Theta Pi won last year's race.
"Usually, the team to beat are the 'Cutters'," Smith said of the perennial power, which has won six Little 500 races over the past 10 years — five straight from 2007-2011.
Apart from the storyline of the acclaimed film Breaking Away, the "Cutters" are not comprised of non-enrolled locals. All Little 500 participants are required to be IU undergraduates with at least a 2.0 grade point average.
"This year's race should be up for grabs," Smith said. "Many of the stronger cyclists from last year have graduated, and most of the teams are pretty young."
Smith plans to take an intern job in Arizona during the summer before returning to Bloomington next fall. If he again participates in the Little 500 the following spring, it will be his last, as students are only allowed to compete four times.
"From what I understand, it's the only intramural sport that gets national television exposure," Smith said. "We can thank (IU grad and Dallas Mavericks owner) Mark Cuban for that."
The movie helped, too.