Indy 500: Here's Why Milk Is Poured Over the Winner

The Indianapolis 500 is finally here, which means it's time to honor one of the most famous — and longest running — traditions: dousing the winning driver in ice cold milk.

The tradition may be a little weird, but it's something viewers and attendees have come to look forward to each year. Drivers also seem to love it, and even pick which kind of milk they want to be showered in should they take the top spot in the race, according to the American Dairy Association of Indiana (ADAI).

Per the organization, most drivers choose whole milk with 2 percent not far behind. Drivers Ed Carpenter and former Dancing With the Stars alum, James Hinchcliffe, however, noted that if they could, they would have picked buttermilk. Sadly, it's not part of the tradition — not anymore anyway.

So, where does the milk tradition come from? SB Nation reported that it was started by Louis Meyer, a three-time Indy 500 winner. After crossing the finish line in first place in 1933, Meyer requested a glass of buttermilk, which his mother had told him was ideal on hot days. The race occurs annually in May, a typically warm month, and the cars create additional heat on and around the track.

He made the same request in 1936 when he won yet again. That time, he swigged the thick concoction straight from its glass bottle. The win marked his third and final Indy 500 win, but his legacy lives on in the form of tradition. From that year on, more and more Indy 500 winners started drinking milk after winning the race.

It officially became a tradition after a Milk Foundation executive came across a photo of Meyer drinking from the glass milk bottle. Per race track legend, the milk big wig vowed to see to it that every Indy 500 winner celebrated with a sip of ice cold milk from the on out. SB Nation noted that t here was a stretch where milk wasn't officially part of the post-race celebration, but that changed in 1956.

Milk companies, seeing an opportunity to capitalize, started sponsoring the Indy 500 and promoting their product by giving each winner a bottle of milk. Now-a-days, the ADAI offers a $10,000 award to any Indy 500 winner who drinks milk in the victory lane.

Before the big race, ADAI polls each driver about the kind of milk they'd like. The only options are whole, two-percent or fat free. It's unclear whether ADAI would provide lactose-free milk to a lactose intolerant driver.

The tradition has evolved some over the years into full-on milk showers, but is still observed to this day. The ADAI takes the tradition very seriously, hiring folks to guard, transport and deliver the milk on race day. Each bottle arrives to the winner in engraved bottles. Those responsible for the roles are dairy farmers voted into their respective positions by other dairy farmers, SB Nation said.

There are two key roles in the milk delivery, each handled by rookie milk-industry people. The first-year rookie gets to award bottles of milk to the winning car owner and chief mechanic. A second-year rookie gets to award a bottle of milk to the winning driver.

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Fans take the milk tradition equally serious. In 1993, Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi opted for orange juice over milk. According to SB Nation, he owned a citrus farm and wanted to promote the industry. Fans responded by booing him, which he tried to curb by taking a swig of milk after the fact. He was booed during an appearance in Wisconsin about a week after the race.

The Indianapolis 500 airs on NBC Sunday May 26, with festivities starting as early as 11 a.m. ET.

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