Why Do Indy 500 Winners Drink Milk Instead Of Champagne?

Motorsport / 7 Comments

It's a tradition that refuses to die.

One of the most prolific and perhaps oddest traditions in just about any sport is the famed drinking of milk by the winner of the Indy 500. As the famous saying goes, "Winners Drink Milk," and for the 107th running of the race ice cold milk will be waiting in the wings and a Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Convertible will be setting the pace out front.

But how did we get here and why do we continue it? When other motorsport winners drink something as classy as Champagne, why are Indy 500 winners still drinking something as common as milk?

As with many traditions, it sort of started out of nowhere.

According to the American Dairy Association Indiana, the year was 1933, and Indy 500 winner Louis Meyer crossed the finish line to win his second Indy 500 (he would later become the race's first three-time winner). Exhausted from his four-plus hour drive, the driver reaches the podium and curiously requests a glass of buttermilk (a beverage that was much more palatable back then than the buttermilk we have today).

American Dairy Association Indiana
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis Motor Speedway

He had been taught from a young age that milk was the best thing on a hot day, and in his moment of glory drank it in front of thousands of spectators and the press.

The dairy industry took note, and although they made some inquiries to continue the tradition, it faded away due to the race's hiatus during WWII and new ownership of the track thereafter. Until 1954, that is, when the American Dairy Industry offered drivers $400 and chief mechanics $50 if the driver drank milk in Victory Lane.

This was enough to entice drivers, and in 1956, it was made an official part of the celebrations by Tony Hulman. Ever since, milk has been consumed by every Indy 500 winner, with one notable exception being Emerson Fittipaldi's faux pas in 1993 of rebuking the milk and drinking orange juice instead. He claimed it was to promote the citrus industry of his home country of Brazil, but it angered fans royally and convinced drivers never to make the same mistake again.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Today, each driver is asked about his milk preference before the race with the choice of fat-free, 2%, or whole milk. According to the American Dairy Association, the most popular option is whole milk.

The milk is delivered to the winner by the Official Milk Person, a position that takes three years to work up to with the dairy farmer starting as the Rookie elect, then the Rookie Milk Person, and then finally the Official Milk Person. To train, the Rookie Milk Person delivers the milk to the Chief Mechanic and the Team Owner, and once they're trusted not to drop the milk, the following year they deliver it to the winner. This year, the Official Milk Person is Kerry Estes, and the Rookie Milk Person is Alex Neuenschwander.

The lucky driver that will be given the famed milk bottle is still anyone's guess, but we know we know when it's over, history will be made and more than one name will be etched into the history books.

American Dairy Association Indiana

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