why do they drink milk at the indy 500

Imagine participating in a grueling three-hour event that leaves you physically exhausted. You're dehydrated and need some kind of fluids to quench your thirst. Preferably water or a sports drink of some kind. Instead what you're handed is an ice cold bottle of milk. While that may not sound the most pleasing, for the 33 drivers participating in Sunday's 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 (noon ET, ABC), sipping milk afterward would be a gratifying experience. "I had always dreamt of drinking that milk," said Ryan Hunter-Reay, 2014 race winner. "When it actually happens and they hand you the bottle you're like, БWow, this is the moment I've been waiting for all these years. ' Then you take that sip. It tasted excellent. "
When an event has been going on as long as the Indianapolis 500, traditions are naturally going to form. The Greatest Spectacle in Racing is no exception: During pre-race ceremonies a military marching band plays "Taps," someone will sing "Back Home in Indiana Again" and a member of the Hulman family (the owners of the track) gives the command for "Gentlemen, start your engines! " These are just a sampling of the customs that occur on a yearly basis. But among the many traditions associated with the Indianapolis 500, the sipping of milk in Victory Lane holds a special place because of what it signifies. In a poll recently conducted of the 27 living race winners by the, 13 said swigging milk in celebration was their favorite tradition. "It was the best afternoon milk I've ever had," Tony Kanaan, 2013 race winner, told SB Nation. "It never tasted better. " Chocolate Milk was NOT an option. Sorry to break so many cocoa-loving hearts! БОе Б Indiana Dairy Assoc. (@INDairy) The practice of the Indianapolis 500 winner sipping a bottle of milk began when Louis Meyer won the 1933 race and asked for buttermilk following the nearly five-hour event.


That was what Meyer's mother had always told him to drink as a boy growing up when he was thirsty, track historian Donald Davidson told SB Nation. Three years later when Meyer again won the race he repeated his request, this time receiving the buttermilk in a glass bottle. A dairy executive for the Milk Foundation saw footage of Meyer drinking milk and realized the marketing potential. Henceforth, every winner from 1938 to 1941 sipped milk, as did the 1946 victor. (Indianapolis went dormant during World War II. ) But in 1947 every winner began declining to drink milk immediately afterward, instead opting for cold water delivered in a silver cup handed to them by former three-time winner and then-track president Wilbur Shaw. Engraved on the cup was the saying, "Water from Wilbur. " Like many things in racing, it took a monetary incentive for drivers to fully embrace the idea of swigging milk as a celebratory gesture. Starting in 1956 the winner was paid an additional $400 if they drank a bottle of milk. Sunday's winner gets a $10,000 bonus from the American Dairy Association. Only once since has a winner snubbed the tradition. When Emerson Fittipaldi won the Indianapolis 500 for a second time in 1993, he elected instead for a bottle of orange juice. So defiant was Fittipaldi, not only did he push away an initial offering of milk, he then eschewed a second attempt while being interviewed on national television, telling someone off-camera, "No, I'm not having the milk, sir. " And what was Fittipaldi's reasoning? Financial, of course. The Brazilian owned orange groves and thought it made better business sense to drink a product he produced rather than an alternative. The decision turned the once-popular driver into a bit of a villain, Davidson said.


Fittipaldi received resounding boos during introductions in a race the following week at the Milwaukee Mile. "That just goes to show you how important this tradition is," Davidson said. "He found that out the hard way. It changed his career. " Nowadays no driver would even think for a second to pull a stunt similar to Fittipaldi's. To drink milk at Indianapolis is a sign of accomplishment, something one strives for. "My 3-year-old is putting a lot of pressure on me, he wants to pour milk on his head someday," Ed Carpenter said. "That's my biggest motivation, to not disappoint him. " On Sunday, the milk that the Indy 500 winner will drink is kept in this cooler and protected by a security guard. On Sunday, bottles of two-percent, fat-free and whole (the three options drivers can select) will be laying on a bed of ice inside separate medium-sized portable coolers. To assure the milk becomes ice cold, none of the coolers are opened until it's time to hand the specific bottle to the winner. The three coolers are protected by a security guard stationed inside a suite during the race. "Indianapolis has a lot of traditions, but this one is especially meaningful," Davidson said. "It means a lot to a lot of people. " You know this much about the Indy 500, which is set for this weekend: The winner gets a big bottle of milk to drink, and the driver sometimes pours it over his or her head in celebration, which seems kind of gross. But we here atВ For The Win had so many questions about the unique tradition, and the good folks at the American Dairy Association Indiana who are in charge of delivering the bottles on race day helped us answer all of them. Here s what we found out. Why does the winning driver drink milk? Let s get this one out of the way first. From the 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. Is the milk that s used for the winner from a special or specific farm? ADAI spokesperson Jenni Browning told us that the milk is purchased locally, although she couldn t specify the brand. She did say there are special square quart glass bottles used and that those bottles are engraved for the winning driver, team owner and chief mechanic. Who s in charge of the milk on race day? Special designated milk people. And they re actually called milk people? В They re dairy farmers voted in by the Association s board (made up of fellow farmers) and have a two-year term. The rookie gives the milk to the mechanic and owner, while the second-year milk person gets to hand the dairy product to the winning driver. The milk people are Indiana dairy farmers and they take much pride in this responsibility, Browning said. They work 24/7 being a dairy farmer, taking care of their cows every day and become very passionate about creating a wholesome food to help feed their community. So, to be able to provide that very product they produce to a race car driver who has worked so hard to get where they are, itвs a very special moment in time. Can drivers request specific kinds of milk? Yes. They re polled each year and asked for a preference of type, although no flavors are allowed.


Here s this year s list, which has a whole lot of whole on it: What if a driver is lactose intolerant? Browning says the Association hasn t run into that problem, but they could provide lactose-free milk if that was the case. Itвs a tradition. Not everybody enjoys milk but just because itвs happening at that point and because itвs got that meaning, all of a sudden milk tastes very good, even if youвre lactose [intolerant]. So does that mean there s been a driver who s risked some intestinal discomfort just for tradition s sake? Hmm. How is the milk delivered each year? A day before the race, it s purchased and given to the milk people in three bottles. On past race days, Browning drove it along with a police escort, but this year, an armored truck will deliver it, and it ll be taken along with the milk people to a suite. Around lap 175, down it all goes in an ice-filled cooler to the green room and when the race is done, it s delivered. How do the milk people know which milk to deliver? The aforementioned milk list will be in their hands, and each of the three bottles is filled with different types skim, 2 percent and whole. The milk person tasked with delivering the stuff to the driver will consult the list and give the correct bottle to the winner. Are there any other traditions associated with milk at the Indy 500? There are newer ones, at least for the milk people: This year s vet, Joe Kelsay, threw the cooler of ice on his partner at the 2016 Indy 500, so we ll see if 2017 rookie Kim Minich does the same to him. Browning also reports Joe will be wearing handcuffs to connect to the cooler, which is pretty awesome. But that s how important milk is to the Indy 500. More Racing! Dale Earnhardt Jr. accidentally ignited a NASCAR Twitter discussion about The Notebook

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