In my head, right now I’m hearing “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, except for all the references to activities associated with the winter holidays. But much like Christmas, there is a lot of anticipation, and preparations are being made for family and friends to visit for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500.
It didn’t use to be this way. Growing up in southern Illinois, Dad always had the race on TV, so I was well aware of it. Likewise, Dad often had golf on TV, but that didn’t turn me into a golfer. However, moving to Indianapolis within five miles of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a step in the right direction. Then working for the American Dairy Association of Indiana really moved the needle! It has really been an incredible experience being involved, even slightly, with the tradition of the Drink of Milk in Victory Circle.
This tradition began with a simple request. When Louis Meyer, the first three-time winner, won his second Indy 500 in 1933, he asked for a cold glass of buttermilk to quench his thirst. Three years later, Louis repeated the win and was photographed drinking his buttermilk. For the next two decades, the Milk Foundation presented milk to race winners off and on. But in 1956, Tony Hulman made the Bottle of Milk a permanent part of the Victory Lane (now Circle) celebration. Writer Pete McEntegart’s “The 10 Spot” on si.com the Sports Illustrated web site – declared the Indy 500 to be the “Sports World’s Coolest Prize”. That’s some tradition, isn’t it?
Did you know that there are others in Victory Circle who also get a bottle of milk? Not only is the winning driver handed a bottle of milk; the winning team owner and the winning chief mechanic are also recipients of their own commemorative bottles. And who is handing out those bottles? Two Indiana dairy farmers! A new board member from Milk Promotion Services of Indiana (the parent company of the Dairy & Nutrition Council and the American Dairy Association of Indiana) is chosen each year by his/her peers to represent all of Indian’s dairy farmers in Victory Circle. The first year, the board member serves as the “rookie milkman” and the second year as the “veteran”. It’s an honor that is taken quite seriously. The milkmen don’t just show up on race day and that’s that. No, there is a fair amount of work that goes on before the big day. Media training, interviews, and bottle hand-off practice, to name a few. This is not something that’s generally a part of life on a dairy farm!
So this year when you watch the Victory Circle activities, look for the two men in cow-spotted hats. You’ll see that, in fact, Winners Drink Milk!