Indy 500 Milk Drinking Explained - One of the Oldest and Most Unique Tradition

The Indianapolis 500 is one of the most important competitions in motorsport history, being part of the Triple Crown of Motorsport, alongside the F1 Monaco Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Le Mans event.
Indy 500 milk drinking tradition 8 photos
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway/Twitter
Indy 500 milk drinking traditionIndy 500 milk drinking traditionIndy 500 milk drinking traditionIndy 500 milk drinking traditionIndy 500 milk drinking traditionIndy 500 milk drinking traditionIndy 500 milk drinking tradition
But we are not here to talk about the long history of this competition or its meaning. If you ever watched a race, you probably saw something weird at the end. On the podium, the drivers did not get the usual champagne. Instead, they receive a good and healthy portion of milk. Let's see how this unique tradition started.

Well, the first appearance of milk was way back in 1936, at the 24th edition of the Indy 500. Louis Meyer, who had won his third race in Indianapolis, pulled his car into the pits after almost five hours of intense racing, exhausted and dehydrated. As a result, he requested a glass of buttermilk because he believed in its refreshing qualities. A wise guy saw this and immediately started to make inquiries for milk to be the podium drink for the racing drivers.

The 1936 Indy 500 race is a pioneer event for other reasons. It was the first Indy race where the Borg-Warner Trophy was given, and the first time the official pace car was gifted to the winner. The tradition was repeated for the following years but took a brief pause between 1946-1955, when the officials no longer offered milk at the speedway.

However, in 1956 destiny was rooting for milk to succeed. Race winner Pat Flaherty had a medical problem, suffering from calcium deficiency, meaning he was drinking milk regularly. So, besides the traditional water given at the end of the race, Pat drank a whole bottle of milk while asking for a second one. This was another victory for the white drink.

Indy 500 milk drinking tradition
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway/Twitter
Until 1993, everything was nice and straight, but two-time Formula 1 World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi (1972, 1974) almost ended everything. After winning the event, he pushed away the milk bottle to drink orange juice. It was all a marketing strategy because the Brazilian driver was promoting the Brazilian citrus drink industry.

Emerson Fittipaldi was highly criticized at that moment, so he gave all his money won at the Indy 500 to charity. A nice gesture to be forgiven by a whole country, but the Americans didn't forget that easily. For example, in 2008, the two-time F1 champion was still booed by fans when he drove the pace car. That should be a lesson to never mess with tradition.

In 2019, Brooke Williams, director of communication for the American Dairy Association Indiana, said the organization hadn't offered buttermilk as an option since the poll was started in the mid-90s because it is not the same drink as it was in 1936.

Indy 500 milk drinking tradition
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway/Twitter
Modern buttermilk is regular milk with a culture, and sometimes salt for flavor, being a different type of beverage because of its sour taste. As a result, every driver is asked before what type of milk they prefer, to avoid another 1993 breakdown.

For the 106th edition of the Indy 500 race, 33 cars are participating for a chance to win this prestigious competition and enter the history books. In those 33 entries, we have already established drivers like Juan Pablo Montoya, who seeks to grab his third win at the famous track, or Helio Castronoves, who wants to get a record-setting fifth win. Besides, we have seven hungry rookies who wish to show their value against the very best.

In less than two weeks, the Indy 500 will unfold, and we will see who deserved the so-desired bottle of milk. Until then, stay tuned with us for more updates about the event.
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About the author: Silvian Irimia
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Silvian may be the youngest member of our team, being born in the 2000s, but you won't find someone more passionate than him when it comes to motorsport. An automotive engineer by trade, Silvian considers the Ferrari F50 his favorite car, with the original Lamborghini Countach a close second.
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