IU grad working on
documentary celebrating Little 500
On Campus: Mike Wright
Twenty years ago, there was the award-winning film Breaking Away.
More recently, the history of the Little 500 was chronicled in a
Now, a documentary about the race is in the works.
Free Wheels — The Tradition of the Little 500 is scheduled to be
available in time for this spring's festivities associated with the
50th running of the men's Little 500 at Indiana University.
Kendall Harnett, an IU graduate and an alumnus of Bloomington
High School South, got the idea for producing the film when he was
interviewed by John Schwarb, author of The Little 500: The Story of
the World's Greatest College Weekend.
The project does not attempt to plot the book on film, he
explained, although it was used as a resource and a guide in doing
"I talked to him and thought this was a great opportunity for a
documentary," said Harnett, who produces commercial and corporate
film pieces in the Chicago area.
"It combines the things I am passionate about — Southern Indiana,
cycling and film-making."
As a student at IU, Harnett rode for the 1989 Little 500 champion
Cinzano team and later coached the Landsharks women's team.
Like the majority of those who participate in the event, the
Little 500 experience has remained with Harnett. IU Student
Foundation Director Randy Rogers said he hopes that's what the film
will show in a way that can't come through in word form.
"What Kendall is doing is putting some emotion into what it takes
to be part of the race, what it takes to be part of this history,"
"Riders really work at this almost year-round. You don't just
pick up a bike before the race and do it. It becomes a part of your
life and part of your love for IU."
Harnett couldn't agree more. Producing a documentary, while a
learning experience for him, also was a way to make his own
"In this business (film) you are basically working for clients,
answering to the person who has the money," Harnett said. "Since
there's no money, I answer to me. It's been an amazing project."
Working on the film between and around contracts, Harnett said he
has been shooting for about a year and a half. He estimated the
total cost will reach $150,000, which he hopes to recover by having
outlets air the film. But cost hasn't been a driving force behind
"If I can have a good time and recoup my costs, that's my goal,"
He said he's not trying to make the Little 500 any more
significant than it is, but in doing the film he has recognized a
kinship among all riders.
"I'm using it as a metaphor as this important moment in students'
lives when they are about to go off into the world but first laying
it all on the line for two hours," he said.
"This moment has to transcend the simplicity of the event. I
really believe there can be this kind of awakening."
The documentary will have three elements, he said. First is a
historical point of view, examining the major events of the Little
500 and their social impacts.
"I'm working hard to make it not just about the facts," he
Harnett followed two teams throughout the last year for the
second element of the film. He went to Florida with them, shooting
footage on the students' spring break training trip, then
qualifications and the race.
"That is to demonstrate how the traditions that have existed for
49 years are still prevalent, even if they are not aware of it,"
The third part of the film will contain short vignettes,
re-creating certain events with a narrative to explain the
"One thing we did recently was to re-create Howdy Wilcox's
discovery of the race," he said. "We went over to Wright Quad, chose
an old-looking corner, got a young actor to play Howdy and restaged
this bike race around the dorm."
Harnett said shooting will continue through January with plans to
make the finished product available for the 50th anniversary
celebration in the spring.
Rogers said the film project, now that the book also is out,
signals the time for the celebration to begin.
"Getting all of these things in place speaks well for the program
and the history of the event," Rogers said. "Now it's time to
celebrate, time to take a look at all of these things. Obviously,
there is a reason they are being done."
Reporter Mike Wright can be reached at 331-4373 or by e-mail at