Like most sports, professional auto racing has plenty of strange and longstanding traditions. On the NASCAR side of things, you’ve got the Grandfather Clock trophy at Martinsville Speedway and the kissing of the bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Speaking of IMS, perhaps one of the weirdest traditions in racing comes from IndyCar, specifically the Indy 500, also known as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” As the winner receives the coveted Borg-Warner Trophy, they also engage in one time-honored celebration: They drink milk.
Where does this drinking milk tradition come from anyway? Well, according to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it all dates back to 1936.
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Louis Meyer regularly drank buttermilk to refresh himself on a hot day and happened to drink some in Victory Lane as a matter of habit after winning the 1936 race. An executive with what was then the Milk Foundation was so elated when he saw the moment captured in a photograph in the sports section of his newspaper the following morning that he vowed to make sure it would be repeated in coming years. There was a period between 1947-55 when milk was apparently no longer offered, but the practice was revived in 1956 and has been a tradition ever since.
As you can probably imagine, IndyCar racers have come a long way from just drinking a glass of buttermilk. In fact, in recent years, drivers have actually given their milk preferences to the American Dairy Association of Indiana (the official milk delivery service of the Indy 500), should they win the big race. Yeah, this whole milk-drinking tradition is clearly a pretty big deal.
In the poll below, you can check out the preferences of this year’s drivers, including Marco Andretti, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves, Alexander Rossi, and Scott Dixon.
As if all this weren’t weird enough, the American Dairy Association of Indiana has designated “milk people” to give out the celebratory milk to the winning team. Yep, they’re literally called “milk people.”
They’re actually dairy farmers, voted for by the ADAI board, with two-year terms. Who knew milk could be such a political enterprise? At the end of the race, the first-year milk person hands out the milk to the owner and mechanic, while the second-year milk person has the distinct honor of presenting the bottle of milk to the winning driver.
Now, I wonder what happens if an Indy 500 winner is lactose intolerant?
This post was originally published on May 23, 2019.