The Month of May is always special around our office. The Drink of Milk in Victory Lane is something we hold near and dear to our hearts. But there’s another Indy 500 tradition that we’re fond of that isn’t as well known.
Since 1975, the American Dairy Association Indiana has honored the Fastest Rookie driver who qualifies for the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. This is the longest running continuous sponsorship at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and it’s one that we treasure. The term “rookie” might be a little misleading, as all of the drivers that are part of the Fastest Rookie Luncheon have many years of experience and miles under their belts. They are part of this event during their first year driving in the Indy 500. The winning rookie is determined by recording the fastest four-lap average speed among his or her fellow rookie competitors on Qualification Day.
The very first Fastest Rookie as Bill Puterbaugh who, in 1975, qualified with a time of 183.833 mph. Rick Mears broke the 200 mph barrier for rookies just a few years later in 1978. The fastest rookie qualifier – to date – was Tony Stewart with a four-lap average of 233.100 in 1996. Think this could be the year that record is broken?
Sid Collins served as the first emcee of this event, held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Motel. From there it moved to the Brickyard Crossing and Paul Page took over emcee duties. Now the luncheon is held at the Plaza Pavilion at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Vince Welch has served as emcee for at least the past 15 years, interviewing each of the rookie drivers, letting those in attendance get to know the newest Indy 500 drivers. For someone not familiar with Indy 500 traditions, the guest list might seem like an odd combination of dairy farmers and race teams. But for those who are Indy 500 fans, it makes perfect sense! Besides those with a connection to either dairy or IndyCar, media from far and wide are interested in this event, especially if any of the honorees are from other countries.
While we learn a little about the rookies, they learn about some of the traditions surrounding the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. One of those is the singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana”, which is done at our luncheon. And of course, the ceremony ends with a milk toast, wishing all the drivers a safe and fast race. A number of familiar faces have been honored as our Fastest Rookie – Chip Ganassi, Michael Andretti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Danica Patrick, Marco Andretti, and Josef Newgarden, to name just a few. Who will be this year’s Fastest Rookie?