Walking into an incredible room full of tables and Indy 500 décor was not what I initially expected for the Fastest Rookie Luncheon. Upon learning about the event on my first day, just eight days before the actual event took place, I was expecting a small get together that included the rookies of the Indianapolis 500, a few Indiana Dairy farmers, and our staff from the American Dairy Association Indiana. Little did I know that this luncheon would include the four rookie drivers, many dairy farmers from across the state, the mayor of Indianapolis and the Senior Leadership Team from the various state and regional dairy associations. In addition to the incredible crowd of attendees, there was an amazing assortment of dairy products, including: various cheeses, milk, and a milkshake station. My favorite by far, had to have been the milkshake station. The flavor that I tried was birthday cake (this year’s signature shake at the Indiana State Fair Dairy Bar), and it was the most delicious milkshake I have ever had!
Aside from the wonderful food being served at the luncheon, the overall programming of the event was exciting and entertaining, too. This year, the theme of the luncheon was “Jeopardairy”. This program included a team of the four rookie drivers playing against a team of four Indiana Dairy Farmers in a game of race-related and dairy-related Jeopardy. Watching the two teams in action during the game was quite amusing. Robert Wickens, one of the rookie drivers, continuously rang in with the cow bell to answer questions before they were even asked, usually answering incorrectly, and subsequently muttering that the game was “rigged”. His competitiveness, and spontaneous, humorous outbursts, helped motivate the farmers to become more invested to win. While the rookies did not even come close to beating the amazing Indiana Dairy Farmers, they helped add an extra entertainment factor to the entire event. I was impressed that the rookies came out of their shells and had fun with the gameshow piece of the luncheon.
After the game of “Jeopardairy” had concluded, Vince Welch, the host for 20 years, kept rookie driver Matheus Leist on stage for an awards presentation from a few of the Dairy Association Board Members. Leist was honored with gifts from the American Dairy Association Board members because he is this year’s fastest rookie. In all of the excitement, Leist was very modest when interviewed on stage by Welch, which was very impressive since Leist is still a teenager at 19 years old. The only time Leist did stray away from his modest tone was when Welch asked him if he had ever dreamt of winning the Indy 500. With a huge grin on his face, Leist responded with a joyous statement that he had dreamt of winning many times leading up to Sunday’s race. Leist then returned to his modest tone, mentioning that he was positive that all drivers at some point have dreams of winning the prestigious Indianapolis 500.
Once Leist had concluded his interview on-stage with Welch, he returned to his seat. Welch continued on with closing remarks, which included all four of the rookie drivers “practicing” drinking the milk in Victory Circle if they win the race Sunday. The four drivers stood up and led a toast of milk throughout the room. It was quite an incredible sight to see. I can’t imagine being in their shoes just hoping that I wasn’t jinxing myself by participating in trying the milk that would be awarded on race day. All four rookies happily engaged the crowd and showed their appreciation for the tradition of drinking milk by taking a large swig of the milk they had in hand.
Upon the closing remarks from Vince Welch, two of the rookie drivers, Kyle Kaiser and Zach Claman De Melo, both ventured outside of the luncheon room to visit our lovely dairy cow onsite. Both Kaiser and Claman Demelo attempted to milk the cow, but both were unsuccessful. However, afterwards both Kaiser and Claman De Melo thanked the American Dairy Association for giving them the attempt and opportunity to check off items on their list of firsts.
As the last of the guests left the luncheon, I was left at a table in the back of the room to re-evaluate the luncheon that had just taken place. Upon recapping the events, I couldn’t help be feel so proud that I am a part of the organization that put on the entire event. In addition, I was already thinking to next year’s luncheon and what new ideas I could bring to the table to continue to improve the event each year. I can’t wait for what’s in store moving forward with the Indianapolis 500, and I hope my recap of next year’s Fastest Rookie Luncheon triumphs over this year’s event. Until next time…