Why 500 Miles of Indianapolis’ winners celebrate with a bottle of milk? 

Tradition has it that winners of the 500 Milles of Indianapolis celebrate their triumph by drinking a bottle of milk. This custom is unique to the Indianapolis 500 and it is unheard of in any other motorsport speciality across the world.



Used as we are to see the victor shower himself and everyone around him in champagne, it is particularly amusing to see the winner of the legendary race drinking the white liquid.


Which is the origin of this tradition? 

The happy coupling of the bottle milk with the victory at the 500 Milles of Indianapolis came to be in the last century, specifically on the 30th of May, 1936.

On that day, Louis Meyer would seal his third triumph on the legendary race, which was first disputed in 1911. After crossing the checkered flag, the driver from New York was exhausted and very thirsty.



And so he requested his favourite drink, a bottle of buttermilk. The driver enjoyed the cold drink while still inside his car; a scene that was immortalized by a photographer


(Wilbur Shaw, winner of 1940)


The 500 Milles of Indianapolisone of the most prestigious sporting events in Americahad enormous media repercussion and the image was seen everywhere in thecountry. 

A farmer with great commercial foresight

Incidentally, one of the millions of Americans that saw the snapshot turned out to be a member of the regional association of dairy farmers. He immediately realised the business opportunity and made a plan to take advantage of Meyer’s celebratory ritual to promote their products throughout the nation. 



The final push needed to consolidate the use of milk as the official celebratory drink in 500 Milles of Indianapolis came from Meyer himself. He was already a national legend, having been crowned three times at the Brickyard, when he famously declared that milk was the drink of champions.



Those words sealed the beginning of the famous tradition which still stands today, only to be interrupted between 1947 and 1955, due to very poor milk production.

Traditions are sacred

Contrary to what one might think, this is a very deep-set tradition among the followers of the sport in North America. Nothing exemplifies the sacredness of the ritual as the famous incident which occurred in 1993 involving Brazilian driver Emerson Fittipaldi.



After winning the 500 Milles of Indianapolis race, the foreign champion had the audacity of not celebrating in the customary way, but with an orange juice instead. The public was furious in reaction to what they considered to be an unforgivable offence.

There were boooos and gestures of disapproval coming down from every corner of the stands. The protest reached such levels that ‘Emmo‘ gave in and drunk the famous bottle of milk.



It seems that the ill-chosen gesture was due to the fact that the driver from São Paulo had an orange farm in his native country, that he also wanted to promote in the United States.

Despite Fittipaldi’s capitulation to the demands of the public, spectators never forgot his affront, booing him again on the track a whole year after the infamous incident.


The milk menufull, semi or skimmed

Anecdotally, 500 Milles of Indianapolis race organisers offer all participants a choice between whole, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk and subsequently the list with each driver’s preference is made public. Americans don’t waste any opportunity to start some amusing traditions.


500 Milles of Indianapolis: Wikipedia, Indy500.

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