The term "Cutters" heard in the film is used to represent Bloomington, Indiana townies who work cutting rock in the local limestone quarries. The production team decided to call the Bloomington townies "cutters" because they felt the actual local nickname ("stoners" or "stonies") would draw a parallel to drug references for viewers who were not raised in the area.
The name of the bicycle race was "The Little 500". According to Indiana University's Office of Communications and Marketing, the Little 500 bicycle race began in 1951 as a fund-raiser for scholarship money for working students. The race was created by the late Howard S. "Howdy" Wilcox (Howard S. Wilcox), who patterned it after the Indianapolis 500, which his father had won in 1919. He was inspired by a bicycle race he saw involving students racing around a dormitory, with several women leaning out of windows and cheering them on.
The cycling team was based on the 1962 Phi Kappa Psi champions of the Little 500 race. This team included David K. Blase who rode 139 out of 200 laps and was the rider crossing the finish line when they won.
Steve Tesich based the Dave Stoller character on David K. Blase, who had once led a team to victory in the Little 500 and had an Italian fixation. Blase had a cameo as the race announcer in this movie.
In the scene where Dave admits to Catherine that he is not Italian but is actually a "Cutter" (one of the local residents), Catherine starts to walk off, then turns back and slaps him across the face. According to director Peter Yates, she did not 'fake' the slap but actually did strike him, and fairly hard at that. There were over 6 takes for this scene, with several on lookers flinching every time Dave got slapped.
The name of the central character name of Dave Stoller (played by Dennis Christopher) was an amalgam of the first name of real-life Little 500 Champion David K. Blase and the last name of Bob Stohler, the manager of its cycling team. Both of the film's top-billed actors were named Dennis (Dennis Christopher and Dennis Quaid).
P.J. Soles, who speaks fluent French, originally wanted the part of the French girl. She tried to audition in disguise by wearing a black wig and speaking in a French accent. But the part had already been cast and she was given the role of Suzy instead. Soles later wore the same black wig in Private Benjamin (1980).
The "Cutters" team won the race in 2004, the 25th anniversary of the film in a much similar fashion to the ending of the film by beating out the "ATO" team (but the team was made up of non-Greek students, two of which were Bloomington locals who were attending Indiana University).
The original "Cutters" team, created in 1984, after the movie's release, never included locals. Race guidelines now dictate that all racers must attend the University. However, in 1961 Normal University had a team in the race, finishing 21st.
The film spurred a short-lived 1980 prequel TV series of the same name _Breaking Away (1980) (TV Series)_. Actors Barbara Barrie and Jackie Earle Haley reprized their film roles for this one season television series.
According to "All His Jazz, The Life and Death of Bob Fosse" (1990; Da Capo Press, 1998) by Martin Gottfried, "David Begelman of CMA was looking for a project to interest Bob Fosse after he had completed Sweet Charity (1969). Begelman asked CMA associate Sam Cohn to find something to excite Fosse. Cohn represented Steve Tesich, who had written a screenplay that was being . . . shopped around. It was called The Eagle of Naptown because it was set in Indianapolis. Both Fosse and Begelman were excited about it. They met regularly to work out a production budget. Begelman took the [budget and the] script to David Picker, then president of United Artists, but Picker turned the project down". Ironically, ten years later when the movie was finally made, Tesich won the Oscar for his screenplay, beating out Fosse and Robert Alan Aurthur for their original screenplay for All That Jazz (1979).
First produced screenplay in a cinema movie for writer Steve Tesich. The picture was the first of two feature films about cycling for Tesich, the second being American Flyers (1985). Tesich was the only person from the film to win an Oscar, for "Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen", from the film's 5 Academy Award nominations.
At script level, the film originally existed in the form of two screenplays, one called "The Cutters" about the townie quarry workers, whilst the other, "The Eagle of Naptown", was about the Little 500 bike race. Both had been written by screenwriter Steve Tesich. The April 2000 edition of the magazine 'Indianapolis Monthly' says of this: "The screenplay that would eventually become Breaking Away (1979) was first titled The Eagle of Naptown. Director Peter Yates suggested combining it with another Tesich script, called The Cutters. He did, turning it into a script called Bambino". Reportedly, the "Bambino" title was then changed because it was felt that moviegoers would assume that the film was about Babe Ruth whose nick-name was "The Bambino".
Actor Dennis Christopher plays the lead role as a young man who is fascinated with everything Italian as he aspires to greatness as a bicycle racer. Ironically, Christopher is Italian-American whose birth name is Dennis Carrelli.