May 21, 2024
Melinda Head

Countdown to the Indy 500

Where Winners Drink Milk

On Sunday, May 26th, 32 men and 1 woman will start their engines and rocket around the 2.5 mile, 4-banked corners of Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the quest for an ice cold quart of milk – skim, 2% or whole (with the choice of lactose-free or not), according to the winning driver’s preference. Buttermilk is not offered, nor is chocolate, strawberry, banana or coffee-flavored milk.

In 2023, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden won the Indy 500 and is seen here drenching himself in whole milk. Newgarden has qualified 3rd for the 2024 Indy 500, behind teammates Scott McLaughlin (1st starting position) and Will Power (2nd) – the last time Team Penske secured the top 3 starting grid spots was 1988

This year Alex Neuenschwander, a 4th generation dairy farmer from Bluffton, Indiana, will be the Veteran Milk Presenter. Last year, he passed his rookie presenting duties, delivering milk to the winning team owner (Roger Penske) and chief engineer (Luke Mason). This year he’s been promoted to the milk run at the Winners Circle.

Alex Neuenschwander of Neu-Hope Dairy in Bluffton, Indiana, will present a quart of milk to this year’s Indy 500 winner. Interestingly, Bluffton is nicknamed the “Parlor City” because it had some of the first clean, paved streets; back in the day, the parlor in one’s home was where guests were greeted and it was always the cleanest room in the house

The roots of this tradition date back to 1936, the same year the Hoover Dam was completed. It was the inaugural year during which the now coveted 5’4”, 153 lb., sterling silver Borg-Warner Trophy was offered, with 3-time Indy 500 winner Louis Meyer its first recipient. He asked for and received a “refreshing” swig of buttermilk after his gruelling victory from 28th position on the starting grid.

The tradition became a permanent fixture of the Indy 500 experience when the American Dairy Industry decided to offer $400 to the winner and $50 to the winner’s chief mechanic in 1954. What a stroke of marketing genius!

The coveted Indy 500 milk bottle

The only driver who has ever broken with this tradition is 2-time Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi, who, in 1993, chose to drink orange juice instead – as a nod to his Brazilian orange plantation. After a huge public outcry and an apology, no Indy 500 winner has dared to refuse milk ever since.

If you aren’t lucky enough to be in the famous Snake Pit as part of this weekend’s Indy 500 festivities, and/or if you find yourself needing more excitement before Sunday’s 108th running of the Indianapolis 500, I encourage you to watch “Winning” (1969), a classic Paul Newman (who raced cars in real life) film about a race car driver who aspires to win the Indy 500.

“Winning isn’t everything. It’s just all there is.” (Paul Newman)

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About the Author

A serial entrepreneur, Melinda is a sociologist and statistician who believes there is no currency with greater value than knowledge

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