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 "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).
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 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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.