How the Indy 500 Winners’ Milk Celebration Got Its Start

[[{“value”:”The 2023 Indianapolis 500 winner Josef Newgarden celebrates in Victory Circle at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with an ice-cold bottle of milk from American Dairy Association Indiana. The 2023 Indy 500 “Veteran Milk Presenter” Kerry Estes, who handed Newgarden the bottle of milk, is at far left. Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

One of the biggest traditions every year with the Indianapolis 500 is the glass bottle of milk given to the winning driver—presented by American Dairy Association Indiana—as part of the celebration immediately following the race.

According to Donald Davidson, Historian Emeritus with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that tradition first started nearly 90 years ago.

“Louis Meyer, who ended up winning the race three times, regularly drank buttermilk. That’s what he drank on a hot day. He used to say that the tradition started in 1933. Well, he may have drunk milk in ’33, but we have no photographic record of that,” says Davidson.

“We do know Louis Meyer wins again in 1936 and then he’s given this bottle of buttermilk and it was photographed. Apparently, some executive in the in the milk industry saw that and thought, ‘You know, what great publicity!’”

Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Louis Meyer, who started the tradition with drinking buttermilk after winning the race. Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Davidson says the tradition really didn’t pick up until more than 20 years later.

“In 1956, it was a cash prize if the winner drank milk [after finishing], he got $300 and the chief mechanic got $50.  As luck would have it in 1956, [Indianapolis 500 winner] Pat Flaherty drank milk regularly anyway because he had some kind of a bone condition. Milk been offered every year since and now it’s a lot more than $300,” according to Davidson.

Now, that prize from American Dairy Association of Indiana is $10,000 for the Indianapolis 500 and $500 for the winning crew chief.

Every year, before the race, each of the drivers are asked about their preference of whole milk, two-percent or fat-free milk to sip on should they win. One of three bottles is chilled and ready to pull out and hand to the winning driver in the Winner’s Circle.

The milk preferences for each of the 33 drivers in the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Graphic provided by American Dairy Association Indiana.

Click BELOW to hear C.J. Miller’s conversation with Donald Davidson, Historian Emeritus with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, about how the traditional bottle of milk celebration started at the Indianapolis 500.

Alexander Rossi is handed the celebratory milk after winning the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Photo courtesy of the American Dairy Association Indiana.

 

Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves drinks his celebratory milk after winning the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500. However, Castroneves added strawberry flavoring to his milk bottle before taking a celebratory sip. Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

 

Donald Davidson, Historian Emeritus with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, poses with Hoosier Ag Today’s C.J. Miller at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.

 

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