Kappa Alpha Theta senior Grace Bennett ran away from the field to win the 30th running of the women’s Little 500.
But, within moments, she was enveloped by a mob.
Friends swallowed her up in group hugs. Bennett’s mother held her by the chin, looked her straight in the eyes and said “I’m so proud of you, I’m so proud of you. I love you.” Bennett started crying as they fell into each other’s arms.
“It’s surreal, you know? They know … ,” Bennett said, pausing to fight off tears. “They know much I care about it, and how much I care about the team. It’s amazing. Everything I do is because of them.”
It was quite the performance for the now-seven-time champions. In the 70th lap, the Thetas broke away from the field, establishing a 16-second lead on second place. That advantage eroded in the next 20 go-rounds on the cinder track at Bill Armstrong Stadium. But when Bennett took the bike with three laps to go, she powered past the competition.
And it wasn’t even close. Theta registered a time of 1:10.05, almost a full four seconds ahead of Alpha Omicron Pi. Delta Gamma, in the poll position to start the race, finished nearly 10 seconds behind the Thetas.
Along with the decision to pull away from the field on lap 70, the Thetas also had to survive an eight-team crash on lap 35. Luckily, it happened right in front of Theta’s pit, and Sydney Keaton was able to pounce back on her bike and catch up to the lead pack.
“As soon as I saw her go down, I got off my bike and I ran to the infield to either get a bike or get her bike and go,” senior Evelyn Malcomb said. “Luckily, she got up like it was nobody’s business and took off. Thank goodness she snapped out of it and got on her bike. She didn’t lose that much ground, and then I went in and knew what I had to do and chased them down.”
Malcomb said she initially questioned coach Ryan Knapp’s decision to try and pull away on lap 70.
“That was not the plan,” she said. “We were going with it, and I already apologized to him for questioning it, because I was worried it wouldn’t stick. I had done a lot of work early in the race and I was worried I would lose some time on the laps where they needed me to hold the gap. But it worked. It stuck. Thank god it did.”
Theta’s lead diminished to seven seconds by the 93rd lap, and with only a handful of laps remaining, Alpha Omicron Pi briefly took the lead. After a couple of messy exchanges for the top two teams, Malcomb was able to hand off to Bennett for the stretch run, with Theta in the lead.
And then the Thetas pulled away for good. With a half a lap to go, public address announcer Chuck Crabb called what would soon become the Thetas’ seventh championship. This is also the program’s third title in the last four years.
Bennett pumped her arms as her bike glided past the finish line. Her teammates jumped up and down in the pit, grabbing at each other for hugs.
“I heard (Crabb) say that on Turn 3, and I don’t remember anything after that,” Bennett said, smiling. “That was the last push that I needed there, to hear that, and know I was that close to making it happen and my team was that close.
Malcomb just couldn’t believe it was over.
“It’s mind-blowing,” Malcomb said. “It just doesn’t feel real when they are coming across the line. You are like ‘That was it? That really was it? Are you sure that was the last lap? There’s not another one?’ It feels amazing.”