November 13, 1999

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 book.

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 the documentary.

"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," Rogers said.

"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 statement.

"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 the project.

"If I can have a good time and recoup my costs, that's my goal," Harnett said.

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 said.

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," Harnett said.

The third part of the film will contain short vignettes, re-creating certain events with a narrative to explain the significance.

"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