The Strangest Indy 500 Tradition
A racing event with a history as long as the Indy 500 is sure to have spawned more than a few traditions, but the “Milk Drinking” post-race ritual is surely the strangest. It was way back in 1936 that the curious practice of the race winner drinking a bottle of milk first began, and it has continued virtually without interruption ever since.
Picture the Winner’s Circle following the 1936 Indianapolis 500… veteran race driver Louis Meyer has just won his third Indy 500, the first driver to do so. Starting 28th in a thin field of just 33 cars, Meyer won the race after leading for 96 of 200 laps and was one of just 10 drivers still in the race as the checkered flag waved. The 32-year old Meyer had to be exhausted, yet what did he ask for when race organizers offered him something to drink? Milk. Buttermilk, actually, an unlikely thirst-quencher but one Meyer’s mother had always offered him on especially hot days. Meyer lived until the ripe old age of 95, so maybe buttermilk’s restorative properties are more than just an old wives (make that mothers) tale.
In any case, the dairy companies who began sponsoring the Indy 500 and contributed to the race purse had a vested interest in seeing their product share the spotlight in victory lane. Of course, a little financial incentive was needed to encourage reluctant drivers who may have preferred chugging something, anything else after enduring 200 dusty laps at The Brickyard – the current sponsorship by the American Dairy Association has risen to $10,000.
Only one driver disdained the dollars since Meyer established the tradition: Emerson Fittipaldi in 1993. Fittipaldi, Brazilian by birth, owned orange plantations in his home country and made a point of downing a cool glass of OJ to highlight his product.