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The milky tradition associated with the Indy 500

Written by Vyas Ponnuri

The Month of May. Fast Friday. Bump day. Special entries for just Drivers scrapping for every spot possible to have a shot at winning “The greatest spectacle in racing.” 200 laps of racing the week after, to etch their name onto the famous Borg-Warner trophy. Kissing the bricks on the start/finish straight after winning the race. 

Image Credit - Karl Zemlin

These are just a few traditions followed during the popular Indy 500 weekend, the atmosphere often buzzing with the sights and sounds of one of the biggest races held in North America. Part of the triple crown, which consists of three famous motorsport races right from the earliest times of motorsport, you can already see why the Indy 500 is renowned even in the present day. 

The Indy 500 has been a fixture on the motorsport calendar ever since 1911, when American Ray Harroun triumphed in a 500-mile race held at the speedway, having come out of retirement to race in the event.

The race has gained plenty of fame ever since, becoming a worldwide attraction ever since, and forms a part of the triple crown of motorsport, along with the Monaco Grand Prix and the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

However, ever since the 24th running of the Indy 500, a popular tradition has taken the showpiece event by storm, and become an exclusive tradition to the event: “Winners drink milk”. 

Josef Newgarden celebrates a typical Indy 500 tradition; Credit - Chris Owens

Milk at the Indy 500 — a tradition dating back to nearly nine decades

Yes, the origins of milk at the Indy 500 can be traced way back — almost nine decades back in time, to 1936, the 24th running of the event. The 1936 Indianapolis 500 would go down in history as a popular outing of the event, with as many as three different Indy 500 traditions debuted on the same race weekend. 

Apart from the winner sipping milk to celebrate his triumph, the Borg-Warner Trophy was introduced during the same race weekend. Sponsored by automotive supplier BorgWarner, a miniature replica of the actual trophy is awarded to the race winner every year, while the real trophy is kept at the museum on the racetrack’s premises. 

Another tradition debuting in the 1936 running of the event was the winner receiving a replica of the pace car, with the winner of the 24th Indy 500 Louis Meyer receiving the keys to the Packard pace car for the event, based on a suggestion made by pace car driver Tommy Milton. The trio of traditions have now become an integral part of the showpiece event in the States. 

The story of milk associated with the Indy 500 can be traced back to race winner Louis Meyer’s gesture back in 1936. Meyer, a New Yorker by birth, was advised by his mother to drink a glass of milk on hot days, to stay cool. 

On a hot day at Indianapolis in 1936, Meyer crossed the line to win the 24th running of the Indianapolis 500, and as he made his way into victory lane, he climbed out of his car, and asked for a glass of buttermilk, continuing a lifelong practice. With that, Meyer had started a ritual, exclusive to the Indy 500 even today. 

Louis Meyer kickstarted the tradition of drinking milk in victory lane; Credit - Mike Williams

A brief deviation, and return to the milk tradition

However, this young tradition would be done away with post the World War, with milk replaced by a jug of “Water from Wilburn”, with ice cold water quenching the thirst of the drivers on the hot days when the race was held. 

However, milk would make its return to the popular event in 1956, as dairy companies began to sponsor the event, and use the event as a platform to promote their products. The ritual of drinking milk in victory lane resumed, once again. 

Only once has a driver gone against this age-old ritual, back in 1993 when Emerson Fittipaldi gulped down orange juice after winning the Indy 500. He later explained why he did so, as he was trying to promote a juice brand from his home nation. Having owned large swathes of farms back home, he was looking for a way to promote his drink, and viewed the popular 200-lap race as the perfect platform to market his product. 

As you would expect, he was raucously booed by the fans, some even cursing him for breaking the tradition. Nevertheless, Fittipaldi would indeed sip on milk, albeit at the behest of team owner Roger Penske. He would donate the prize money received from the American Dairy Association (ADA) to charity. 

Nevertheless, drivers have generally respected the tradition of drinking milk in victory lane ever since, although drivers yearn for the return of buttermilk, in honour of Louis Meyer and his gesture. 

The drivers are asked for their milk choices ahead of the showpiece event; Credit - IndyCar

What are the milk choices available to the drivers?

The drivers are usually asked for their milk choices prior to the main race weekend, and this event is often a major point of interest among the fans. 

Each driver has three options of milk to choose from: Whole milk, skim, and 2% milk. Additionally, drivers can even opt not to choose any type of milk, and list their choice as ‘no preference’. Lactose-free milk is also an option available to the drivers, albeit upon their request. 

However, special options such as chocolate milk have been done away with, as chosen by former Formula One race winner, and two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya in the past. 

Montoya and Ed Carpenter marked out chocolate milk as their preference ahead of the 2021 Indy 500, however, they were mandated to choose from the trio of options available to them, and that the chocolate milk was just a write in. 

Buttermilk hasn’t been an option available to drivers, however, that hasn’t stopped them from opting for it as their preference in the past. One-time IndyCar podium sitter Simona de Silvestro opted for buttermilk ahead of the 2021 Indy 500, but much like Montoya and Carpenter, mandated to opt from the available choices. 

So, why is buttermilk not in the milk choices for the Indy 500? According to an ADA spokesperson, the association realised the difference in the buttermilk made during Meyer’s time and in the present day. IndyCar echoed the ADA’s statement back in 2019, stating their decision to include milk choices that would be easier on a driver’s thirst or stomach after a three-hour race. 

However, if drivers do indeed wish to have a glass of buttermilk, they will gladly be offered the drink ahead of the race, to discover how it tastes. This is the closest the drivers get to Louis Meyer’s tradition, albeit until buttermilk returns as a choice available to the drivers for the event. 

Alex Neuenschwander will deliver a bottle of milk to the 2024 Indy 500 winner; Credit - American Dairy Association

Who supplies the milk, and hands out the milk to the drivers?

The American Dairy Association (ADA) is responsible for the tradition surrounding the Indy 500, the association supplying the milk choices for the main event. Since 2005, they have nominated two Indiana farmers each year who provide the winning driver and constructor a bottle of milk each. 

Initially, this gesture used to be handled by a member of the ADA Indiana board member. However, a milk selection committee has been formed, to handle matters pertaining to the farmers handing the milk in victory lane, opening up the opportunity to perform this unique gesture to many more dairy farmers within the state of Indiana. 

The two dairy farmers are even given their own titles: Rookie Milk Presenter, and Veteran Milk Presenter. The rookie milk presenter hands over a bottle of milk to the owner of the winning team and the chief mechanic, while the veteran milk presenter hands over milk to the winning driver. 

Alex Neuenschwander, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, and 2023 rookie milk presenter, will serve as the veteran this time around, awarding a bottle of milk to one of 33 drivers taking part in this year’s running of the Indy 500. Abbie Herr will take up the role of the rookie this time, handing over a bottle of milk each to the winning team’s owner and chief mechanic. 

The drivers have made their choices known for this year’s Indy 500; Credit - American Dairy Association Indiana on X

So, what have the drivers chosen for this year’s Indy 500?

The drivers have revealed their milk choices for the 108th running of the Indy 500, with 26 opting for whole milk, five have opted for 2%, while two drivers have opted for skimmed milk. No driver has made any choices beyond the trio offered to them. 

Here is the full list of drivers and their milk choices, should they win on Sunday:

  • Marco Andretti — Whole

  • Marcus Armstrong — Whole

  • Tom Blomqvist — Whole

  • Agustin Canapino —Whole

  • Ed Carpenter — Whole

  • Helio Castroneves — 2%

  • Conor Daly — Whole

  • Scott Dixon — Whole

  • Marcus Ericsson — Whole

  • Santino Ferrucci — Whole

  • Pietro Fittipaldi — Whole

  • Romain Grosjean — 2%

  • Colton Herta — Whole

  • Ryan Hunter-Reay —Whole

  • Callum Ilott — Whole

  • Kyle Kirkwood — Whole

  • Kyle Larson — Whole

  • Katherine Legge— Whole

  • Christian Lundgaard — Skim

  • Linus Lundqvist — Whole

  • Scott McLaughlin — Whole

  • Josef Newgarden — Whole

  • Pato O’Ward — 2%

  • Alex Palou — Whole

  • Will Power — Whole

  • Graham Rahal — 2%

  • Christian Rasmussen — Skim

  • Sting Ray Robb — Whole

  • Felix Rosenqvist — Whole

  • Alexander Rossi — Whole

  • Takuma Sato — 2%

  • Kyffin Simpson — Whole

  • Rinus VeeKay — Whole

Do make sure to tune in to this year’s running of the Indy 500, to witness the continuity of this ritual, and stay on to witness the milk presenters awarding the bottles of milk to the winners, and the scenes of the victor spraying milk all over themselves on the podium. It is a tradition not to be missed!


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