The Indy 500 milk tradition, explained: Why does the Indianapolis 500 winner drink milk?

Each sport has its original traditions. Hockey players grow beards in the playoffs, baseball players don’t talk about a pitcher when he’s perfect, and Indy 500 winners drink milk in the winner’s circle.

The Indy 500 is full of lore, but only one driver can participate in having an entire bottle of chilled milk thrown in his face.

The practice has crowned every race since 1956, but its roots actually run deeper. The images are iconic, and this year someone else will be able to make the most important choice: whole, 2% or skim?

Why does the Indianapolis 500 winner drink milk?

Like any great story, this one has an escalation. Louis Meyer started the hallowed tradition of drinking milk after his second Indy 500 victory in 1933. He sipped a glass of milk, saying his mother told him a glass of buttermilk was the best thing to drink on a hot day.

MORE: Indy 500 qualifying results: Pole, starting lineup for 2022 race at Indianapolis

After his third victory in 1936, Meyer abandoned all sense of decorum. He took a sip of milk straight from the bottle, probably disgusting everyone there rather than inspiring awe. A photographer snapped a photo of Meyer drinking said milk, and it spawned a tradition like no other.

It was not until 1956, however, that the practice really took hold. Pilots now do this every year, but between 1946 and 1955 there was a break. Today, each driver is asked before the race about his preference, and he can choose between whole, 2% and skimmed milk.

Why did Emmerson Fittipaldi drink orange juice?

One driver decided to go cute with tradition, and as George Bluth Sr. would say, it may have ended in a slight betrayal.

Emmerson Fittipaldi, owner of an orange grove, drank orange juice in the winner’s circle in 1993 before quickly chasing it away with traditional milk. Not for nothing, but it’s a disgusting combination.

Fittipaldi was booed for his crimes, but he got the last laugh. He was honored by the Indiana American Dairy Association Last year. Let no one accuse our lords of Big Milk of not having a sense of humor.

Can drivers drink buttermilk?

The real question here is: drivers want to drink buttermilk? Buttermilk is no longer made in the same way as it once was. It now has a sour taste which is not particularly palatable as it has become mass produced.

According to the Indy Stardrivers will have to prove themselves before they have buttermilk.

“(If) we see a driver having a big glass of buttermilk before the race,” Brooke Williams of the American Dairy Association of Indiana told the Star, “we’ll give them special (consideration). For now, we let’s keep to the three options (whole, 2% or skim).”

What milk have drivers chosen for 2022?

The drivers’ picks are for 2022. Here’s what each driver would drink in the winner’s circle if they won the race (plus their additional comments in parentheses).

Driver Milk
Marco Andretti Whole (without orange juice)
Ed Charpentier Whole (Provide buttermilk)
Helio Castroneves 2 percent (pink powder please)
Conor Daly Together
Devlin De Francesco Whole (chocolate)
Scott Dixon Together
Marcus Ericcson Together
Santino Ferucci Whole (frozen)
Romain Grosjean Together
Jack Harvey Together
Colton Herta Whole (Milk Chocolate)
JR Hildebrand Together
Ilott Callum Together
jimmy johnson Whole (Please make sure it is cold)
Tony Kanan 2 percent
Sage Karam 2 percent
Dalton Kellet Whole (fresh, cold milk)
Kyle Kirkwood Whole (iced please)
Christian Lundgard Together
David Malukas 2 percent
Scott McLaughlin Whole (Getting cold)
Juan Pablo Montoya No preference (chocolate)
Joseph Newgarden Together
Pato O’Ward Together
Simon Pagenaud Together
Alex Palau Whole (frozen)
Will Together
Graham Rahal Whole (Since chocolate is not an option and tradition matters)
Felix Rosenqvist Whole (Butter)
Alexandre Rossi Together
Takuma Soto 2 percent
Rinus Veekay Together

Driver Comment Levels

Adorably polite: Jimmy Johnson

Pink powder?: Helio Castroneves

Firm, but respectful: Alex Palau, Devlin DeFrancesco, Kyle Kirkwood, Dalton Kellett, Colton Herta, Santino Ferucci

Bordering on rude:Scott McLaughlin

Buttermilk: Felix Rosenqvist, Ed Carpenter

Oddly Passive Aggressive: Graham Rahal

Cheeky:Marco Andretti

Lying about not having a preference: Juan Pablo Montoya

Indy 500 winners since 2010

Year winning driver
2021 Helio Castroneves
2020 Takuma Sato
2019 Simon Pagenaud
2018 Will
2017 Takuma Sato
2016 Alexandre Rossi
2015 Juan Pablo Montoya
2014 Ryan Hunter Reay
2013 Tony Kanan
2012 Dario Franchitti
2011 Dan Wheldon
2010 Dario Franchitti

About Jimmie T.

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