Obama takes in "Little 500" bike race in Indiana

April 11, 2008 6:40:46 PM PDT
When in Indiana, one must do the 500. The Little 500, that is - the Indiana University bicycle race that inspired the 1979 movie "Breaking Away." Barack Obama waded into Bill Armstrong Stadium on Friday and was greeted by a colorful array of spandex and a raucous student body. The race announcer credited him with bringing the good weather.

Friday's race was the women's contest - 32 teams in a 100-lap relay race around the stadium's quarter-mile track. This was THE sporting event in town. Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan, celebrating his birthday, was there. Local bars carried the race on television. And, of course, Obama and his entourage caused their own commotion.

The Illinois senator climbed to the receiving stand and waved, but he made no remarks. He then walked along the edge of the track as students and race participants strained to shake his hand or take his picture.

He signed Kruzan's birthday card - an image of Obama in shorts and boxing gloves over the name "Barocky." He greeted Hoosiers women's basketball coach Felisha Legette-Jack in the infield. And he stayed long enough to sing "The Star Spangled Banner" (hand over his heart) and watch the first few laps of the race.

It's easy to assign cheap metaphors to these events. "Breaking Away" was the story of a Bloomington teenager and his blue-collar friends who challenge the college kids in the big race. Obama, who draws enthusiastic support from college crowds, has had less success with working-class voters.

So who was Obama rooting for? He didn't say.

A few minutes later, in downtown Bloomington, he drew a crowd of hundreds to the street as he made his way through Nick's English Hut, a popular and cavernous beer and hamburger pub. The race continued on television screens.

"Who's winning the race, guys?" he asked some well-wishers inside. "Anybody know?"