Sycamore Tricycle Derby
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A bit of history about the Trike Derby
The Sycamore Tricycle Derby and the Making of a Homecoming Tradition
By Cinda May, historian
On October 11, 1963, at 3:15 p.m. the students, faculty, and staff of Indiana State College witnessed an event destined to become one of the university’s most enduring traditions—The Sycamore Tricycle Derby. “The spectator interest in the Derby was very high,” reported the Indiana Statesman. “[People] were lined up four and five deep all around the track, hanging out of classroom windows, and standing on top of buildings so that they could get a good view of the race.” Johnny Shipman, U.S. Auto Club and assistant starter at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, dropped the green flag, first for the women’s powder puff division and later for the men’s race, a position he holds still to this day. Students representing Reeve and Parsons Halls and all of the sororities and fraternities pedaled children’s tricycles furiously for ten laps around a portion of the Old Quad. The winners of the first race were Reeve Hall for the women and Parson Hall for the men. The race was run on the sidewalk around the main Quad for four years using children’s tricycles. Teams consisted of both men’s and women’s organizations, derived from sororities, fraternities, and residence hall students. During the four years on the small tricycles, students began to take the race seriously. They sought a more competitive challenge and wanted a faster-paced race. Although no one knew it at the time, the “Trike Race” would become an integral part of Indiana State University’s homecoming tradition.
The contest altered in form as it moved from the Old Quad (1963-1966) to Marks Field (1967-1978, 1980-1991) to the ISU Driver’s Education Course at the Vigo County Fairgrounds (1992-1999) to Recreation East on the Indiana State University campus (2000-present). Terre Haute South High School furnished a home for the race in 1979. With each change of track, the race committee adapted the rules. The first fundamental alteration occurred when the students’ competitive spirit outgrew the Old Quad and the children’s velocipede. The desire for victory clamored for a more robust tricycle.
From 1967 through 1971, the race consisted of forty full laps for men and twenty half laps for women with the pits located at the front and the back of the track. The large number of participants required dividing the races into heats with the top finishing teams contending in the final feature events. Each team consisted of four riders. An ice cream social capped the occasion.
The Sycamore Tricycle Derby continued at Marks Field from 1972 to 1976 as forty full laps for the men and twenty full laps for the women. The teams consisted of six riders with one alternate. The woman and man with the fastest qualifying lap received the honorific of “Hot Wheels” for the first time in 1973. The race committee extended the women’s race to twenty-four full laps in 1977. The Sycamore Tricycle Derby returned to Marks Field in 1980 and the committee lengthened the women’s race to twenty-five full laps. In 2003, the women’s race was extended to 30 laps and the men’s extended to 42 laps.
In 2004 the Trike Committee in collaboration with Indiana State University’s Facilities Management Staff painted permanent pit and racing lines on the track at Recreation East.
The Michael Simmons Student Activities Center stands in testament to the endurance of a homecoming tradition. Dedicated on October 21, 2005, the building contains the Susan Bareford Memorial Classroom, storage for the trikes, restrooms, bleachers for onlookers, and a covered observation deck.
The impact of the Sycamore Tricycle Derby on its proponents is indelible. Riders across the decades speak passionately of the experience. Dedication, hard work, persistence, courage, cooperation, camaraderie, bonds that last a lifetime, all describe the meaning of trike to its participants
From its “kick-in-the-butt” origins in 1963 to its sophisticated organization in the twenty-first century, the Sycamore Tricycle Derby endures as a homecoming tradition at Indiana State University.
Questions? Contact Chelsea.Dolly@indstate.edu at 812-237-8974.