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Rearview Mirror: The Mini 500

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A special miniseries dedicated to the great traditions that mark the annual homecoming game.

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Georgia Tech Archives/George C. Griffin Photograph Collection (https://history.library.gatech.edu/items/show/2929)

Three weeks until the homecoming football game. In the run-up to when toe meets leather against Duke, in fact one of our most-played homecoming opponents ever, the heat might break and fall may start to show in Atlanta, but the other things that change on campus in the interim - the pomp that is built and the activities that are played - keep some of Tech’s oldest and greatest traditions alive. Staring down the barrel of the first round of midterms can be daunting this time of year, but it’s the subtle shift that happens in early October each year - lighter diversions and good, clean fun - that reminds us of some things that truly make Tech unique.


This week, it’s time for something different here at Rearview Mirror. Switching hats from history geek to traditions buff, with homecoming coming up fast, it’s fitting to expound on three of Tech’s most storied traditions - the trifecta of the Mini 500 tricycle race, the Freshman Cake Race, and the Wreck Parade. It’s somewhat strange to pick the youngest of the three major homecoming traditions as the starting point in this series, but I’m the captain here, so buckle up. Since we advance linearly through time and the Mini 500 is the first key event of homecoming, let’s take a look at the annual race.

Though the first sanctioned running of the Mini 500 was in 1969, the actual tradition dates back further than that to some vintage fraternity shenanigans. How did it start? Why do men build bridges? (Author’s Note - That one’s for you, @StephenMurphey). It all started because of girls. First admitted to full-time, undergraduate education at Tech in (spoiler alert, we haven’t gotten to it quite yet in Rearview) 1952, a common sight began to crop up - underclassmen having to pedal tricycles to class. This was, of course, to embarrass the boys in front of the increasing population of females. By the late 1960s, sensing an opportunity, the Ramblin’ Reck Club organized the first race.

Before the race begins, there are several rules to consider. All tricycles are standard red Radio Flyers. This is an issue. Red is a color fit only for a distinct Steve Spurrier-hating, weird spiky shoulder pad-wearing, excessive structural support-ing group of people who will not be named, as we all know. So, in order to compete, every speck of red must be covered by something more fitting and spirited. All of the original wheels must be replaced, but the new wheels cannot exceed the original wheel diameters by more than one inch. Other modifications are not necessarily required, but encouraged. The seats should be reinforced, or at least made more comfortable. During the race, three wheel rotations are required in the pit area.

And Crees heaved.
The Christopher Paschal Photography Collection

The race has been contested at several lengths over the years, with ten laps for women and fifteen for men having a lot of staying power, though the past few years has seen an eight lap race for both genders. A lap consists of a single trip around Peters Parking Deck. The starting line, situated near the Stephen C. Hall Building and Chi Phi along Fowler Street, yields to pit row as racers head north. The pits for all 51 teams are laid out on the inside of the track along the first straightaway, with spectators lining the opposing curbs. The first turn, from Fowler onto Fourth, is sneakily difficult. The first leg, which is mostly flat, gives way to a right hand turn that slopes down into the northern side of the course. Hug the turn too tightly, and not only are you running the risk of wiping out because of the sharp turn and immediate grade change, but there’s huge storm sewers set into the inside of the corner, as well. Many upperclassmen, having seen the race before, will ditch the crowded Freshman Hill and pit row spectator areas in order to marvel at fifty unsuspecting tricycle riders wiping out both because of overconfidence or under preparation. The low point in elevation of the course happens outside the vehicular entrance to Peters Parking Deck. Afterwards, racers round the corner from Fourth to Brittain Drive for the second long straightaway. As they pass Alpha Phi, they turn onto Bobby Dodd Way. In the shadow of Bobby Dodd Stadium, under the watchful eyes of, you guessed it, a giant video board (but also Bobby Dodd), comes the most arduous part of the race - the climb up Freshman Hill. And then, as simply as ever, the fourth turn is rounded into the finish line. Rinse, repeat seven more times, and perhaps your favorite team will finish as a champion.

Watching fifty one teams compete for the trophy is fun, but an underrated part of the race is watching Tech ingenuity shine. Some fascinating modifications, still falling within the design specifications, are bound to crop up every year. Sounds like innovative design and manufacturing to me. It’s the perfect and most endearingly friendly way Tech comes together as a community to exhibit engineering prowess. That is the spirit of the Georgia Institute of Technology, literally creating the next great racer out of the terrific heritage we as fans, family, and alumni share. The Mini 500 may be only be celebrating its fiftieth homecoming, but its a logical extension of the spirit passed down from founders like John Hanson and Lyman Hall through to old timers like John Saylor Coon, D.M. Smith, and John Henry “Uncle Heinie” Henika, down to icons of the Institute today like president G. P. “Bud” Peterson for the past 130 years. Tech traditions are so special to us because they’re the unique embodiment of what we cherish about being helluva engineers. Like the video says, it’s bigger than just tricycles - the race is special because it brings out the best in Tech in one of the most unique traditions on any campus anywhere.

When it’s all said and done, the Mini 500 leaves us with memories to cherish and stories to tell. Whether that memory is wiping out on the back corner of the opening straightaway or having your back wheels fall off not ten feet from the finish line of the final lap, not everything - or, usually, anything - goes to plan. But for the fun, the experience, and the tradition that brings us all together, it’s all worth it. It’s one of those things that makes the Georgia Institute of Technology so much more than just fifteen hours of class a week, four walls and a roof for four years, and three meals a day. It’s special to who we are. Even if it means finishing that last lap an hour after the rest of the teams have gone and the course is all but deserted. In the rain.

A special thanks to From the Rumble Seat’s Nishant Prasadh, Kieffer Milligan, Stephen Murphey, and Christopher Paschal, 100 Things Yellow Jackets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, my esteemed colleagues and friends in the Ramblin’ Reck Club, including the T-Book staff, and the Georgia Tech Archives for the background information and images used in writing this column. These columns are truly the aggregate of all the things we as Tech fans hold dear. Week in and week out, being able to learn new things and explore things already known, with the help of the staff of FTRS and other historical Tech buffs outside the staff is something I look forward to every Wednesday afternoon.


If you have any events or ideas you would like to see investigated, leave a comment below. Happy homecoming season, and go Jackets!