Why Indy 500 milk? How tradition of victory lane celebration started

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The 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 takes place on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (watch the 2020 Indy 500 on NBC and the NBC Sports app).  Year after year, we’ve watched the winners celebrate their victory by taking a swig of milk on the podium and sometimes even topping off the moment of triumph by pouring it on their heads … but how exactly did the Indy 500 milk tradition begin?

How Indy 500 milk tradition began

In 1933, after earning his second Indy 500 win, Louis Meyer requested a glass of buttermilk—a drink he often had as a refresher on hot days. In 1936, Meyer claimed his third Indy 500 title and this time, he was photographed with a glass of buttermilk in one hand and holding three fingers up on the other. The photo appeared in the paper the following day, catching the attention of a dairy industry executive who requested that milk would be available to the winner each year. It took some time for the tradition to stick. From 1947-1955, the winner received water in a silver cup, normally presented by track president and three-time Indy 500 winner Wilbur Shaw, with the words ‘Water from Wilbur’ engraved on the cup.

In 1956, with Shaw having perished in a private plane crash in October 1954, the dairy industry posted a $400 bonus to the winner if they chose to drink milk in Victory Circle. And while the Shaw cup did remain for a few more years, milk has been part of the Indy 500 tradition ever since. Today, winners receive a $10,000 bonus from the American Dairy Association of Indiana.

Do you have to drink milk?

While drivers do have the choice, fans take the milk tradition very seriously. In 1993, driver and successful orange grove owner Emerson Fittipaldi wanted to promote the citrus industry and drank a bottle of orange juice after his second Indy 500 win. Fittipaldi was booed by fans, even after taking a sip of milk in an attempt to appease them. The decision tarnished his image for a period of time, and even got him booed at other IndyCar races.

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Can drivers make requests?

Yes. Every year, each driver is polled before the race to see what type of milk (whole, 2% or fat-free) they would like if they were to win the event. Flavors are not allowed, but drivers can request lactose-free milk if they have an intolerance.

Who delivers the Indy 500 milk?

There are two designated milk people—dairy farmers voted in from the American Dairy Association of Indiana’s board with a two-year term. The rookie milk person brings milk to the winning mechanic and owner, while the second-year milk person delivers the milk to the winner of the race. In previous years, the milk and milk people have been transported with a police escort or armored truck.

Tune into the race on Sunday, August 23rd at 1 p.m. ET on NBC to find out who will be drinking the milk in Victory Circle.

After New York whirlwind, Josef Newgarden makes special trip to simulator before Detroit


DETROIT – There’s no rest for the weary as an Indy 500 winner, but Josef Newgarden discovered there are plenty of extra laps.

The reigning Indy 500 champion added an extra trip Wednesday night back to Concord, N.C., for one last session on the GM Racing simulator before Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

After a 30-year run on the Belle Isle course, the race has been moved to a nine-turn, 1.7-mile layout downtown, so two extra hours on the simulator were worth it for Newgarden.

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“I really wanted to do it,” he told NBC Sports at a Thursday media luncheon. “If there’s any time that the sim is most useful, it’s in this situation when no one has ever been on a track, and we’re able to simulate it as best as we can. We want to get some seat time.

“It’s extra important coming off the Indy 500 because you’ve been out of rhythm for a road or street course-type environment, so I really wanted some laps. I was really appreciative to Chevy. There was a few guys that just came in and stayed late for me so I could get those laps before coming up here. I don’t know if it’s going to make a difference, but I feel like it’s going to help for me.”

After a whirlwind tour of New York for two days, Newgarden arrived at the simulator (which is at the GM Racing Technical Center adjacent to Hendrick Motorsports) in time for a two hour session that started at 6 p.m. Wednesday. He stayed overnight in Charlotte and then was up for an early commercial flight to Detroit, where he had more media obligations.

Newgarden joked that if he had a jet, he would have made a quick stop in Nashville, Tennessee, but a few more days away from home (where he has yet to return in weeks) is a worthy tradeoff for winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing – though the nonstop interviews can take a toll.

“It’s the hardest part of the gig for me is all this fanfare and celebration,” Newgarden said. “I love doing it because I’m so passionate about the Indy 500 and that racetrack and what that race represents. I feel honored to be able to speak about it. It’s been really natural and easy for me to enjoy it because I’ve been there for so many years.

“Speaking about this win has been almost the easiest job I’ve ever had for postrace celebrations. But it’s still for me a lot of work. I get worn out pretty easily. I’m very introverted. So to do this for three days straight, it’s been a lot.”

Though he is terrified of heights, touring the top of the Empire State Building for the first time was a major highlight (and produced the tour’s most viral moment).

“I was scared to get to the very top level,” Newgarden said. “That thing was swaying. No one else thought it was swaying. I’m pretty sure it was. I really impressed by the facility. I’d never seen it before. It’s one of those bucket list things. If you go to New York, it’s really special to do that. So to be there with the wreath and the whole setup, it just felt like an honor to be in that moment.”

Now the attention shifts to Detroit and an inaugural circuit that’s expected to be challenging. Along with a Jefferson Avenue straightaway that’s 0.9 miles long, the track has several low-speed corners and a “split” pit lane (teams will stop on both sides of a rectangular area) with a narrow exit that blends just before a 90-degree lefthand turn into Turn 1.

Newgarden thinks the track is most similar to the Music City Grand Prix in Nashville.

“It’s really hard to predict with this stuff until we actually run,” he said. “Maybe we go super smooth and have no issues. Typically when you have a new event, you’re going to have some teething issues. That’s understandable. We’ve always got to massage the event to get it where we want it, but this team has worked pretty hard. They’ve tried to get feedback constantly on what are we doing right, what do we need to look out for. They’ve done a ton of grinding to make sure this surface is in as good of shape as possible.

“There’s been no expense spared, but you can’t foresee everything. I have no idea how it’s going to race. I think typically when you look at a circuit that seems simple on paper, people tend to think it’s not going to be an exciting race, or challenging. I find the opposite always happens when we think that way. Watch it be the most exciting, chaotic, entertaining race.

Newgarden won the last two pole positions at Belle Isle’s 2.35-mile layout and hopes to continue the momentum while avoiding any post-Brickyard letdown.

“I love this is an opportunity for us to get something right quicker than anyone else,” he said. “A new track is always exciting from that standpoint. I feel I’m in a different spot. I’m pretty run down. I’m really trying to refocus and gain some energy back for tomorrow. Which I’ll have time to today, which is great.

“I don’t want that Indy 500 hangover. People always talk about it. They’ve always observed it. That doesn’t mean we have to win this weekend, but I’d like to leave here feeling like we had a really complete event, did a good job and had a solid finish leading into the summer. I want to win everywhere I go, but if we come out of here with a solid result and no mistakes, then probably everyone will be happy with it.”